Site Details

descriptions and directions

Cottonwood Marsh photo by Peter Burke

Accessible Brainard Lake area - Boulder County
Aliases: Red Rock Lake, Mitchell Lake Trailhead, Long Lake Trailhead, Lake Isabelle, Blue Lake, Mount Audubon, Audubon (Mount)
Ownership: Federal - USFS
Description: This is one of the premier mountain recreation sites in the county, and it is almost always crowded. The road from Ward to Brainard Lake (FR 112) is about four miles long. At about the halfway point is Red Rock Lake. In winter, the road is closed at this point and all further access must be on foot (typically, on foot with snowshoe or ski attached). In summer there is a fee station here. About two miles beyond the fee station the road splits to encircle Brainard Lake and thereafter sends spurs off to two trailheads, the Mitchell Lake and Long Lake trailheads.

The area around Brainard Lake and its subsidiary trailheads contains the best road-accessible spruce-fir habitat in the county, and the vicinity can be excellent for birds like Gray Jay, Pine Grosbeak and Three-toed Woodpecker. Boreal Owls have been found in this area too, but they are difficult to get. In spring, they usually quit singing by the time the road opens, so finding them requires a potentially dangerous nocturnal snowshoe expedition through avalanche country. Later in the season, the similar-sounding Wilson's Snipe can confound the search. The best bet is probably to search the area in fall before the snows, playing a tape and hoping for a juvenile bird to come in. Note that the farther up the road, the better the habitat. The area along the road near Red Rock Lake is Limber Pine, not spruce-fir, and therefore not very good for Boreals.

If you want the tundra birds in Boulder County and don't mind a strenuous hike, Audubon Peak is the place to go. You will have to hike a steep mile from the Mitchell Lake trailhead to treeline, but once you get there, you get to spend a long time on the tundra. This is a good hike for ptarmigan (I see them here on about half my trips) and Brown-capped Rosy-Finch. To see the finches, you will need to be high up on the mountain itself--they actually breed behind Audubon on the rocky, snowy Paiute Peak. If you don't see them on Audubon, head over towards Paiute from the peak, exercising extreme caution on the rocks. The traverse to Paiute requires real mountaineering skill, but with luck you should be able to get close enough to find some finches without having to do any actual scrambling. Keep in mind that the long distance above treeline is both a blessing and a curse. If bad weather sneaks up on you from the other side of the Continental Divide, you will have no place to hide. Keep a very close eye on the sky, and come prepared for a serious hike of a 13,000 foot peak.

You may prefer to hike to Lake Isabelle or Blue Lake, at the base of these mountains where the tundra begins. Ptarmigan are possible here, but unreliable. But pipits abound, and Rosy-Finches can sometimes be seen, especially where snow persists in cliffy areas. Be very careful up there.

Habitat: Spruce-Fir Forest, Pond/Lake/Reservoir, Streamside Willow, Krummholz, Alpine Tundra, Cliff Face
Elevation: 10,300 feet
Directions: From Boulder, take Canyon Boulevard (CO 119) west from town to Nederland. At the traffic circle in Nederland, take CO 72 (the Peak-to-Peak Highway) north to the town of Ward. In Ward, turn left (west) off the Peak-to-Peak onto FR 112, which is the road to Brainard Lake.
Other Wildlife:
Other Attractions:

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Latest Brainard Lake area Sightings from eBird


CBRC Records from Brainard Lake area

SpeciesAccession No.Date(s)
Winter Wren2000-114 6/21/2000