Brainard Lake Road
This is the easiest route in the area, of interest mainly to beginning snowshoers or anyone trying to make time on a level surface to Brainard Lake. It's useful when you want to reach some of the trails beyond as quickly as possible, or as a fast return if it's late or you're tired and not expecting great conditions. It is the (mostly) snow-covered paved road that leads west from the road barrier.
Portions of the road may be snow-free, which means you'll have to go off-trail. Therefore, you might find yourself shoeing along the road shoulder or the edge of the woods, or perhaps even removing your snowshoes for a bit and just walking. Just because you hike up the Brainard Lake Road, however, doesn't mean that you have to go back the same way.
Lefthand Reservoir Road
About 100 yards before (east of) the barrier gate at the end of the plowed section of the Brainard Lake Road, you will see on your left (south) another metal gate. This gate blocks off the service road to Lefthand Reservoir. This route extends southwestward and is one of the most pleasant winter tours in the Brainard area. Starting from the Lefthand Ski Trail sign, you will find the route is wide enough to accommodate both snowshoers and skiers. Consequently, it is popular with both. It is also a good choice for touring on a clear night with a full moon.
This route's challenge comes at the beginning. The first part of the road is the most heavily traveled, since it also accesses the South Sourdough, CMC South, and Little Raven trails. The early part also features the steepest sections, some of which are infamous for often becoming windblown and dry. This comes as a surprise to first-timers on this otherwise well-covered, snow-packed route. Once you've made it past the steep section and the weekend traffic, it levels off into a gentle cruise until the last third of a mile or so, where snow cover can again become sparse.
The Lefthand Creek bridge at 0.8 mile is one of the route's landmarks, as is the nearby junction with the Little Raven Trail. After that there is one more steep part. The rest of the road is then just a nice grade toward the reservoir. As you approach the lake, you will pass an old quarry on the left, but it might be difficult to spot under snow. Still, you'll know when you're near the quarry, because around that point you may find that the wind picks up and the scenery improves. Niwot Ridge stretches straight ahead behind the reservoir, flanked by such Indian Peaks as Kiowa, Arikaree, Navajo, Apache, Shoshoni and Pawnee. It's worth a bit of bushwhacking just off-trail to avoid the bare spots and to enjoy these views. The earthen berm that contains the water is dead ahead at the end of the road, though some people make a loop around the reservoir to enjoy the scenery and click off some more mileage.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication