Long Lake | Brainard Lake Winter Trailhead | Indian Peaks Wilderness
Nederland, CO | 01/06/19 | 7.75 miles | 837′ gain | Class 1
My first hike of 2019 was supposed to be a New Year’s Day hike, but plans changed and I went out with friends for New Year’s Eve instead. That coupled with a cold caused me to stay indoors for the first 5 days of the year (a real tragedy if you ask me!) But the following weekend I was able to get out with my friend Abigail and go for a good hike/snowshoe. I was feeling pretty desperate that everyone else already seemed to have at least 1 or 2 hikes in and I hadn’t even done 1 yet! I just needed to get out, get over my cold, and get the first hike of the year in the books!
Abigail’s suggestion was to do Lake Isabelle near the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. I hadn’t done much in that area so I was ready to check it out. However, it became obvious very quickly that with the winter road closure 3 miles from the trailhead for Lake Isabelle, we’d be looking at a much longer slog than either of us were really ready for (about 12 miles). So we ended up heading to Long Lake instead, a much more manageable destination.
We started at the Brainard Lake winter closure parking lot. At 8:30am, the parking lot was only maybe 1/4 full, surprisingly empty for that time of day. We spent a few minutes reviewing the trail map at the trailhead to plan our route. We would start on the Waldrop Trail, then cut over to the Snowshoe Trail which would take us all the way to Brainard Lake. At that point, we’d have to follow the main road to the Long Lake Trailhead, where we’d turn off and follow signs to Long Lake.
The Waldrop Trail started right behind the winter closure trailhead, and was well packed and well marked. We had our snowshoes with us but didn’t need them until we reached the Long Lake Trail. Both the Waldrop and Snowshoe Trails were pretty gradual so we made good time to Brainard Lake (2.5 miles in).
Once we got to Brainard Lake and popped out of the forest, the winds were absolutely cruel, whipping snow crystals into our faces. We debated whether we wanted to continue but Long Lake wasn’t much farther so we trucked on.
Walking the road around Brainard Lake was pretty uninspiring but I did enjoy crossing South Saint Vrain Creek, and it didn’t take us long to find the turn for Long Lake and make our way to the Long Lake trailhead (3 miles in).
From the Long Lake Trailhead, Long Lake was only about 1/4 mile away. Not far at all but we did find snowshoes to be helpful at this point. Very few people come in this far in the winter so the trail was not very well packed down. Soon enough we made it to Long Lake and we lucked out with having the entire place to ourselves!
I always find forested trails to drag on and on for the entire return trip. It’s hard to tell how far you have left because you can’t see your route, and everything kind of looks the same. Even though we’d only been hiking for a few hours, I was ready to be done and glad to see the car! The trailhead around noon was absolutely packed and every single parking spot was full. It took a bit of concentration to get out of the busy lot, but soon enough we were on our way home!