Family Life in Colorado

Snowshoeing at Brainard Lake

Jessica and I recently went snowshoeing at Brainard Lake Recreation Area in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. She often snowshoes at Eldora Mountain while I snowboard, but she’s been-a-hankering to go snowshoeing somewhere more picturesque and backwoods-y. It’s been a few years since we snowshoed at Brainard Lake, so we loaded up the gear and headed up one Saturday afternoon.

Brainard Lake is about an hour and fifteen minute drive from our house, and when we arrived around 1pm the parking lot was probably 90% full. Also, the wind was howling at a steady 25 mph with gusts of 50-60 mph. In fact, Eldora ski lifts were shut down that same afternoon due to the wind. The wind was so bad it was rocking our SUV, and we sat there debating whether we actually wanted to venture forth into the gale. In the end, we decided it probably wasn’t so bad in the trees, and we were already there, so we might as well make the best of it. It actually wasn’t that cold, maybe 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but that wind though…

Brainard Lake has many miles of trails, but not all of them are open to snowshoers, only to cross-country skiers. On this day, we took the main snowshoe trail, and didn’t make it to Brainard Lake, but we still had a good time. The trail was pretty crowded, and the wind was noticeable but not too bad in the trees, just as we suspected. But any time in the mountains is time well-spent.

Family Life in Colorado

Colorado Weekend: Fishing, Snowboarding, Snowshoeing

This past weekend was a “why doesn’t everyone live in Colorado” weekend.

Started out Friday evening with birding for Jessica and fishing at Sawhill Ponds and Walden Ponds for me. I only caught a tiny bass, but I never catch much at Walden or Sawhill, and this trip was no exception, but as usual it’s always great to be out there.

Fishing at Sawhill Ponds/Walden Ponds

Saturday Elijah, Jessica and I went to Eldora Mountain Resort for some snowboarding and snowshoeing. Eldora has an extensive Nordic trail system, but Jessica recently found the Jenny Creek Trail, the public snowshoe trail, so she and Elijah spent the day shoeing in the snow and the trees while I spent a couple hours snowboarding. The sky was stunning, the air was crisp, and while it wasn’t my best day, and the snow wasn’t great, I love any chance to get in the mountains.

Clouds above Eldora Ski Resort while Snowboarding/Snowshoeing

Finally, on Sunday Jessica and I trekked up to Wild Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park. We intended to snowshoe deeper into the park, but we forgot our park pass, so we went to Wild Basin which is one of the “free” entrances to the park with no pay station (at least during Winter). The trailhead is around 8500 feet, and with the warm 2016 Winter we’ve had (it was 50 degrees Sunday), there wasn’t enough snow on the trail to snowshoe so we headed off for a snowy hike. The trail heads to Copeland Falls, Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls (which we hiked a couple of summers ago), but in Winter you have to hike a mile or so up the road to get to the trailhead, and in the end we only went out 2.5 miles where we snacked and headed back. Still, any day in the mountains is a beautiful day.

St. Vrain Creek in Wild Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park

If anyone ever asks, this is why we moved to Colorado.

Family Life in Colorado

Ski Day at Eldora Mountain Resort

Nine members of the extended Family Vance family trekked to Eldora Mountain Resort the day after Christmas, and of course we caught the highlights on video. Cousins Lauren, Lindsay, Elijah and Josh hit the slopes, Aunt Lela and Jessica went snowshoeing, and the rest of us just drank egg nog with the elves (really!) in the lodge.

Elijah created this cray-cray fast-motion video, a nice capturing of our excellent day.

Family Life in Colorado

Snowshoeing From Bear Lake to Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

We recently snowshoed from Bear Lake to Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park on Christmas Eve day. It’s a beautiful trek, slightly uphill, through silent, snow-covered forest, with views of majestic peaks towering above. On the way, we crossed two frozen lakes: Nymph Lake and Dream Lake, both of them lovely in their own right. Dream Lake especially nestles in grandeur.

Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Snowshoeing across Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

My sister Valerie and her family were visiting from Texas, and after a day of skiing and snowboarding at Eldora we thought a quiet respite of snowshoeing would be a nice change. The kids didn’t want to go, so it was just Valerie, her husband Scott, Jessica and myself. We already own three pair of snowshoes, so we stopped at Estes Park Mountain Shop to rent the fourth pair. While their snowshoes are a bit beaten, they do the job, and at only $5/day, it’s a great bargain.

Bear Lake is one of the most popular spots in Rocky Mountain National Park, but when we arrived around noon the parking lot was less than half full. That probably had to do with the fact that the temperature was a balmy eight (yes, 8) degrees Fahrenheit. We bundled up, prepared ourselves for the cold, but in the end it really wasn’t that cold. There was no wind, and once you start stepping through the snow, you warm up pretty quickly. It’s only when you stop for photos or snowmen that your fingers and toes might get a little frozen. So just keep moving.

Jessica, David, Scott and Valerie snowshoe in Rocky Mountain National Park
Jessica, David, Scott and Valerie snowshoe in Rocky Mountain National Park

The snow on the trail was pretty packed down so there were some people not wearing snowshoes, but there are some pretty good inclines/declines along the way where snowshoes really help. Also, it’s fun to go off trail and find deep snow to trek through. On one excursion into the trees I was up to my waist. It’s a popular trail, so we were never long without other hikers nearby, but there were moments where it’s just you and your thoughts and nature, and that’s pretty special.

Logistically, the hike is about 2.75 miles round trip, with an elevation gain of just over 600 feet, with Bear Lake residing at 9475 feet elevation and Emerald Lake sitting at 10,080 feet. The trail isn’t marked as far as we could tell, but it’s impossible to miss and hard to go the wrong way. As mentioned, you cross Nymph Lake and Dream Lake, both frozen over, and the stretch after Dream Lake has the most elevation gain, but it’s nothing too hard (except for the guy from Georgia we talked to who said his heart was racing). The leg out to Emerald Lake took about 1 hour and 15 minutes (with stops for photos and water), and the trek back took about 55 minutes (downhill with less stops).

In the end, my sister and brother-in-law loved the trip and the walk through the snow. The beauty is overwhelming at times and the pleasure of warm exertion in a cold environment gives you a nice glow the rest of the day.

Life in Colorado

Brainard Lake Snowshoeing

Jessica and I snowshoed at Brainard Lake Recreation Area on Saturday Feb 28, 2015. It was a beautiful day with little wind, some early sun, and stunning scenery. The area received a lot of snow recently, so conditions for snowshoeing were excellent, but all the snow made for somewhat difficult snowshoeing in stretches.

Brainard Lake Indian Peaks

We arrived at the Brainard Lake winter parking area around 9:30 a.m., with the parking lot about half full. Many snowshoers and nordic skiers were milling about, preparing to embark on the day’s trek. There is a warming hut and bathrooms at the winter parking area which is convenient. With the temperature around 15 degrees when we arrived, and at an elevation of about 10,000 feet, we both wore several layers and mittens, but weren’t overly dressed. When you’re snowshoeing, fifteen degrees isn’t really that cold.

After looking at the Brainard Lake Ski and Snowshoe Map, we decided to take what we thought would be the “easy” route, and trek the Snowshoe Trail to Brainard Lake. The trails are maintained by the Boulder Colorado Mountain Club and were in excellent condition.

A short walk from the winter parking lot took us to the Red Rock Trailhead where we met up with the Snowshoe Trail. There are several other trails in the area, but many of them are for skiers only. Check the map for directions and instructions.


Brainard Lake Sunglass Reflection

The Snowshoe Trail runs south of the Brainard Lake road for about a mile and a half, through forest, over undulating slopes, and past meadows. Words really don’t do the beauty justice. The day was still and the snow was pure. Unfortunately we kept leapfrogging a pack of vociferous women which intermittently broke the silence, but even a sailor-mouthed twenty-something couldn’t ruin the simple majesty.

About half-way to Brainard Lake the Showshoe Trail crosses Brainard Lake Road, with a short hundred yard walk along the road. At this point you can continue along the Snowshoe Trail on the North side of the road, or take the road a shorter distance to the lake. We chose the trail and immediately had second thoughts. The trail is another one and a half miles to the lake, and much of it seemed to be uphill. Jessica was struggling, I was feeling it too, and we contemplated turning back. Our previous longest snowshoe trek was only a couple miles in Rocky Mountain National Park, so we were moving into uncharted territory. To make matters worse, we had forgotten to bring any food and were both already hungry.

We pressed on however, and soon reached the Pawnee campground. The Snowshoe Trail gets lost in the campground somewhat, so we just followed the two men who had just passed and who looked like they knew where they were going. In the event, we ended up just doing a big half-loop around the campground, and the party behind us followed us and were just as disappointed as us to have taken the unnecessary detour. Soon though, we were back on the trail, which was relatively flat at this point, and not too much later we reached Brainard Lake.


Brainard Lake Snowshoe Collage

There were quite a few people, snowshoers and skiers, at the lake, soaking in the awesome. As Jessica and I sat on lakeside bench, the Indian Peaks rose in the distance, the lake was frozen over, and we daydreamed about cheeseburgers. I walked out on the frozen lake, as many others were doing, we rested a bit more, then turned to make our way back.

Our trek back we took along the road, which made the return trip shorter and somewhat easier. It was unimaginably beautiful in places, the snow was more packed making the snowshoeing easier, and we stopped to identify birds (of course), talk to the occasional passerby, and fill our selves with the soulful spirit of the mountains, the snow and the world around us.

By this point, Jessica was being a real trooper, and I sauntered ahead, both of us ready to finish. The round-trip was five and a quarter miles, and we tore into the mandarin oranges when we reached the car. The parking lot was full at this point, we took one last look, and we were off to find our cheeseburgers.