Brainard Lake Recreation Area has some really great hikes to alpine lakes, and Pawnee campground is the place to stay if you want to be the first person on the trail. Overall it is your standard large campground - the sites have grills, fire grates, picnic tables, bear boxes, and are fairly close to one another. The campground also has clean restrooms and you can book your site online.
There are a lot of moose in the area! I have been here twice and I have seen moose both times. Once was just along the road, and the other time I saw 2 moose while I was hiking to Lake Isabelle. Also, the Lake Isabelle hike is one of my favorites - I recommend coming here just to do this hike. It is helpful to stay at the campground the night before because the trailhead parking lots fill up quickly.
Excellent stay - camp is at Brainard Lake recreation area and one of our all time favs ! Clean vaults excellent hosts and cleanest sites - many things to do including hikes on multiple trails and kayaking on lake or just looking for moose and casually relaxing. Reservations very difficult to get but if you get in - enjoy it’s excellent . Moose loop nice with trees - Elk loop has some sites with no trees or shade due to wind storm years ago. Our site 9’was partial shade and site 11 was also shaded.
Pawnee Campground is a basic, no frills campground with a fantastic location next to Brainard Lake. The most incredible lake hikes are within easy access of the campground. At nearly 11,000 feet the terrain is alpine, and wildlife is abundant with fish, birds, deer, moose. TIP: BOOK AHEAD. The campground fills up at 100% every day of the short season (End of June, Begin of July). Walk up is available, but you're lucky if you can get a site. 48 sites, 8 are walk up, 4 are host sites. Site 25 was awesome! Great for meteor shower viewing.
From their website:
Pawnee Campground is located in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, off the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway, 35 miles south of Estes Park and the main entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park. Visitors enjoy the area for its fishing, canoeing and hiking opportunities.
The campground lies at the foot of the Continental Divide, next to 25-acre Brainard Lake and the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area at an elevation of 10,350 feet. A scenic forest of spruce and fir trees covers the area. Summertime temperatures are warm in the day and cool at night. Afternoon thunderstorms are common.
Brainard Lake is a popular destination for canoeing, kayaking and fishing. Anglers cast for rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout. Long Lake, Red Rock Lake and Left Hand Reservoir are nearby.
Several trails in the area provide access to the adjacent Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. Hiking is allowed on all trails; mountain biking is allowed outside the wilderness area. Rock climbing, snowshoeing and cross country skiing are often available, weather permitting.
The campground offers several single-family campsites, each equipped with a picnic table and campfire ring. Vault toilets and drinking water are provided.
Ward is the closest town. NO cell service, NO WIFI. There is a payphone at the teeny general store. The town of Nederland is 14 miles south of the campground, offering grocery and hardware stores, restaurants, gas, a bank and a post office.
Rocky Mountain National Park's main entrance is 35 miles north in Estes Park. With lush valleys and craggy peaks reaching elevations higher than 14,000 feet, visitors are provided opportunities for countless breathtaking experiences and adventures. Scenic driving, hiking, backpacking, fishing, horseback riding and wildlife viewing are popular activities in the park.
Estes Park is a full-service community. Dining, shopping, rafting, fly-fishing, horseback riding and golfing opportunities are available there. Lake Estes offers boating, sailboarding and fishing.
Activities and Amenities
- Within FacilityCampfire Rings
- Cross Country Skiing
- Drinking Water
- Lake Access
- Mountain Biking
- Parking Area
- Picnic Area
- Rock Climbing
- Vault Toilets
Many peaks reachable with only moderat inclines. Picturesque lakes nestled in between each. Spent the night in a hammock by Lake Isabellle, sunrise was worth the hike!
Scored a walk-up site by dumb luck, worth the effort. The campsites are nestled close to Brainard Lake and have a good amount of privacy built in with pine trees providing a nice amount of separation. The staff at the gate as well as the host family were all very nice and helpful. The scenery, hiking, and vibe are all top notch, you will not be disappointed. No hook ups for RVs, so roll in prepared. Sites were clean, didn't use the vault toilets, but judging by the rest of the grounds, I suspect they would be in good shape. High country views and hiking are spectacular. The place is very popular so bring your patience. Once inside you'll be glad you made the effort.