Long Lake in Brainard Lake Recreation Area

On today’s hike I have the cutest little hiking buddy around. My 3-year-old daughter and I went on a .3-mile stroll to Long Lake which is located on the border of Brainard Lake Recreation Area entering into the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

Where is brainard lake recreation area?

Estes Park to Brainard Lake
From Estes Park, take Highway 7 to Highway 72 and then turn onto Brainard Lake Road. The drive takes about 50 minutes.

Brainard Lake is also 50 minutes from Boulder and an hour and a half from Denver. Nearby towns include Nederland and Ward. It’s convenient location makes this a popular destination. Plan for long lines at the entrance and limited parking at trailheads, especially on weekends and holidays.

BRAINARD LAKE RECREATION AREA Entrance Fee

A day pass to Brainard Lake typically costs $12 per vehicle during the summer season which is July through mid-October. Brainard Lake Recreation Area is managed by the US Forest Service. You can find more information about fees and guidelines here. We use our annual America the Beautiful pass which includes entry into national forest areas as well as national parks.

When we arrived late in the afternoon, no one was stationed at the entrance booth, so visitors were expected to go to a self-pay kiosk.

Indian Peaks Wilderness. Brainard Lakes Recreation Area. Long Lake trailhead. Hiking Colorado.

parking at long lake trailhead

There are thirty parking spaces at Long Lake trailhead. We were lucky to get a parking spot on this trip. On previous occasions, we’ve parked in the larger parking lot near Brainard Lake and hiked up to the trail. Because of COVID-19, the parking is further restricted to 80% capacity. Once the lots are full, no vehicles are allowed into the park until the next scheduled timed entry. The timed entries are at 6:00 am, 10:30 am, Noon, and 1:30 pm. There is additional parking at the Gateway Trailhead which is located outside of the paying station. Walking trails lead into the main park.

Indian Peaks Wilderness. Brainard Lakes Recreation Area. Long Lake trailhead. Hiking Colorado.

high elevation trails

The elevation of Long Lake is 10,521 ft. There is typically snow until July. It’s unbelievably green and there is an abundance of wildflowers. This area is breathtaking!

Indian Peaks Wilderness. Brainard Lakes Recreation Area. Long Lake trailhead. Hiking Colorado.

dog friendly hiking trails

Dogs are allowed at Brainard Lake Recreation Area if they are on leash. We featured this area in our post, Dog Friendly Hikes near Estes Park, Colorado.

Indian Peaks Wilderness. Brainard Lakes Recreation Area. Long Lake trailhead. Hiking Colorado.

Moose in brainard lake recreation area

On our drive out of the park, we spotted moose near Brainard Lake. We were able to capture these pictures from our car. It’s important to give moose a lot of space because they are fast, large, powerful animals.

Moose at Brainard Lake in Colorado

trail maps for hikes in brainard lake recreation area and indian peaks wilderness

The short walk to Long Lake and back was perfect for my daughter. It was fun to see the little boost to her self-confidence from getting my full attention and slowing the hiking pace to her level. She wanted to look at every rock and step on every tree stump. I don’t have the patience to indulge in this level of curiosity on every hike we go on. It was a special treat for us and I’m thankful for the mini-adventure.

If you want to hike further, there are plenty of options. This map shows the trailheads within Brainard Lake Recreation Area. You can access the Jean Lunning Trail and the Pawnee Pass Trail from the Long Lake trailhead. These trails will take you towards Lake Isabelle. Additional hiking information and an Indian Peaks trail map can be found here.

more posts featuring brainard lake recreation area

Add This to Your Hiking Bucket List! Blue Lake in Indian Peaks Wilderness

2 Day Itinerary with Toddlers in Estes Park

Brainard Lakes Colorado, Indian Peaks Wilderness

Wildflowers in Bloom: A Family Hike to Mitchell Lake

Wildflowers in Bloom: A Family Hike to Mitchell Lake

Recalculating. In a word that is how I can sum up what it’s like to hike with a growing family.

Earlier this year I wrote about one of our all-time favorite hikes to Blue Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. This summer, the 6.2 mile journey just wasn’t feasible with our 4.5-year-old and a 2.5-year-old. However, we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to visit one of our favorite places in Colorado, so we drove to Brainard Lake Recreation Area which is about 50 minutes from where we stay in Estes Park.

We have an America The Beautiful Pass which covers entrance into federal recreation areas including Rocky Mountain National Park and the Brainard Lake Recreation Area which is run by the U.S. Forest Service. For our family, the inclusive pass is a good annual investment.

Typically, I recommend hiking early in the morning to avoid crowds, but we took a chance and arrived at the park around 3:30 on a Friday afternoon just after a rain shower had rolled through the area. We were lucky to get into the park quickly (expect long lines on weekends/holidays). We also grabbed a parking spot at the Mitchell Lake trailhead.

Mitchell Lake Hike in Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Indian Peaks Wilderness. Features forest, lake, wildflowers, mountain views. Round trip 2 miles. Short family-friendly, dog-friendly hike. Mitchell Lake Trailhead

This is the same path you go on to get to Blue Lake, but we decided to hike to Mitchell Lake which is only 1 mile each way. My preschooler can hike this distance on her own.

This heavily wooded trail leads to Mitchell Lake
Tall pine forest

Good news for families with furry children – dogs are allowed here, but must be kept on a leash.

Dogs are allowed at Brainard Lake Recreation Area

We crossed a bridge over Mitchell Creek before officially entering into the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area.

A wooden bridge crosses over Mitchell Creek
Wooden bridge over Mitchell Creek

There is a lot of water along this trail which attracts mosquitoes. We regretted forgetting our bug spray as we were bombarded.

Mitchell Creek flows from Mitchell Lake
Mitchell Creek flows from Mitchell Lake

Most of the hike is heavily wooded, so views are limited until you arrive at Mitchell Lake which opens up to an impressive backdrop of Mount Audubon.

Mount Audubon

Even in early August, we found little patches of snow to play in.

Snow near Mitchell Lake in Indian Peaks Wilderness Area

Just seeing the stunning array of wildflowers makes this hike worth the drive from Estes Park. When you add in the lush forest and mountain views, it’s a 2 mile hike that is tough to beat! (just remember the bug spray!)

Wildflowers bloom near Mitchell Lake in Indian Peaks Wilderness Area