Brainard Lake Elopement & Wedding Guide – Updated for 2024

Posted On | July 7, 2024

Considering a Brainard Lake elopement? You’re in the right place. Here is everything you need to know to elope at Brainard Lake!

Brainard Lake Basics

Where is Brainard Lake?

Brainard Lake is nestled in the stunning Brainard Lake Recreation Area in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, about 45 minutes west of Boulder, Colorado. It’s one of those hidden gems that feels like a world away but is actually super accessible.

How do you get to Brainard Lake?

Getting to Brainard Lake is a breeze. From Boulder, you’ll take CO-119 to Nederland and then head west on CO-72 until you see signs for the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. It’s a scenic drive that’ll have you itching to get out and start your adventure!

How hard is the hike to Brainard Lake?

Good news for all you nature lovers – the hike to Brainard Lake itself during the summer season is easy and follows a mostly flat gravely path. There are several trails around Brainard Lake to choose from as well that range from easy to hard, making it perfect for couples who want a serene stroll as well as those who are willing to put in a bit of effort to get away from the crowds. Plus, the views are totally worth it!

Do you need a reservation to hike to Brainard Lake?

Brainard Lake Recreation Area Parking Reservations help to preserve the natural beauty of the area and make sure everyone has an enjoyable experience by limiting overcrowding. Because of this, you’ll need a reservation to hike at Brainard Lake during the summer season (June through October). 

Depending on where you hope to explore, there are several different parking areas to choose from. Be sure to book your spot in advance, especially during peak seasons! 

Is Brainard Lake Accessible in the Winter? 

The main gates typically close sometime in mid-October. Once the gates close for the season, it is a 2.5 mile hike each way to get to the lake. Depending on the current snowpack, snowshoes or cross-country skis may be necessary to reach the lake. During the winter season (mid-October through mid to late-June), no reservations are needed to park at the Brainard Gateway Trailhead and hike in. However, beginning in winter 2024, a $10 day use fee per vehicle will apply. 

Activities You Can Do at Brainard Lake

Brainard Lake isn’t just for weddings – there’s a ton to do here!

Whether you’re sticking around the shore of Brainard Lake or trekking to Long Lake, Mitchell Lake, or even all the way to Lake Isabelle, you’re in for some epic views and great photo ops. Check out some of the nearby trails! 

Got a pair of fishing rods? Brainard Lake is stocked with trout, making it a great spot for some relaxing fishing. Just make sure you have a current fishing license

Non-Motorized Boating 
If you’re into stand-up paddleboarding, canoeing or kayaking, spend some time paddling around the lake. It’s a unique way to enjoy the scenery!

Pack a picnic and find a cozy spot by the water. It’s the perfect way to relax and take in the beauty around you.

Once the sun sets, the stargazing is phenomenal. The lack of city lights means you’ll often get a clear view of the Milky Way.

Watch The Sunrise or Sunset
Whether you’re an early bird or a night owl, the sunrises and sunsets at Brainard Lake are pure magic. Trust us – you won’t want to miss it.

Getting Married at Brainard Lake

Do you need a permit to elope at Brainard Lake?

It depends on where you are hoping to hold your ceremony.  If you are just sticking at brainard Lake, you don’t need a permit, so long as you do not plan to set up anything for your ceremony, including chairs, decorations, or an arch. The only thing you’ll need is a parking reservation. It’s one less thing to worry about as you plan your special day!

However, if you would like to hold your ceremony at one of the other lakes in the area that falls within the Indian Peaks Wilderness boundary (including Long Lake, Lake Isabelle, and Mitchell Lake), a permit is required for groups of 8 people or more. 

How much does it cost to elope at Brainard Lake?

The great thing about a Brainard Lake wedding is that it can be super affordable. Besides the cost of your reservation ($16 per vehicle), you might have a few additional expenses like your marriage license ($30) and any vendors you hire. Overall, it’s a budget-friendly option! For more information on how much it costs to elope, check out our Elopement Budget Guide

Where can you get married at Brainard Lake?

Brainard Lake Recreation Area has several beautiful locations to say your vows depending on how far you want to hike and how many people are joining you. 

Brainard Lake Elopement
Brainard Lake is one the most accessible lakes in the area and has the most parking available. It has a wide rocky shoreline perfect for up to 15 people and a stunning mountain backdrop. It requires a short walk from the parking lot on a relatively flat, gravely surface during the summer months. The best time to elope at Brainard Lake is July through September, as it becomes a 2.5-mile hike to the lake during the winter and spring when the main gates are closed. 

Long Lake Elopement
Long Lake is the perfect spot for couples who want to do a bit of hiking, but don’t want to go too far. A quarter-mile walk on a flat dirt path through tall evergreens leads to a gorgeous view of the lake and surrounding mountains. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can continue exploring around the lake. The full loop is just under 3 miles and is relatively flat the entire way. Snow is often present through early to mid-July, and the lake is drained annually sometime between late August and early September. This means the best time to elope at Long Lake is late July through mid-August. Due to the limited shoreline, Long Lake is best for up to 5 people. 

Lake Isabelle Elopement
Lake Isabelle is a great option for those who don’t mind a bit longer of a hike. Its stunning views make it a popular spot to exchange vows, especially at sunrise! It is about a 2.5-mile hike each way from the trailhead, following the shoreline of Long Lake for about ⅓ of the hike.  Snow is often present through early to mid-July, and the lake is drained annually sometime between late August and early September. This means the best time to elope at Lake Isabelle is late July through mid-August. Due to the limited shoreline, Long Lake is best for up to 5 people. 

Red Rock Lake Elopement 
Red Rock Lake is another easily accessible lake, and can be reached relatively easily year-round. There is parking next to the lake when the main gates are open in the summer. During the winter, it is about a half-mile flat walk from the winter parking lot. Because the shoreline is limited here, it’s best for up to 5 people. 

Mitchell Lake Elopement
Mitchell Lake is another great option for couples wanting to do a bit of light hiking. It’s just under a mile to get to the lake with only 88 feet of elevation gain, making it an easy hike. Due to limited shoreline, Mitchell Lake is best for up to 5 people. 

Are dogs allowed at Brainard Lake?

Yes, your furry friends are welcome at Brainard Lake! It’s important to know that there are a TON of moose in the area, so it’s important that they’re on a leash to keep both them and any surrounding wildlife safe. 

How many guests can I have for a Brainard Lake Elopement?

Brainard Lake Recreation Area is perfect for intimate gatherings. Depending on where you decide to go, the total number of guests allowed/recommended can vary. 

At Brainard Lake itself, we typically recommend no more than 15 people total for the best experience. In the surrounding areas within the Indian Peaks Wilderness boundary, there is a limit of 12 people total in a group. Certain areas, like Long Lake or Mitchell Lake have limited shoreline and can only accommodate small groups, typically up to 7 people total.  

How do I elope at Brainard Lake? 

Let’s talk about the practical stuff: getting your marriage license. Don’t worry, it’s easier than you think! In the state of Colorado, you can go to ANY county clerk in the state to obtain your license, however, the Boulder County Clerk and Recorder is the closest location to Brainard Lake. As of June 2024, appointments are still required for marriage license applications, so be sure to plan ahead! You’ll need to bring along a form of ID (usually your driver’s license or passport), as well as $30 to pay the fee.

In Colorado, you have the option to self-solemnize your marriage, which means you can legally marry yourselves without the need for an officiant or witnesses. It’s a unique and romantic way to tie the knot and perfect for couples who want to exchange vows in a private and intimate setting. Because no witnesses are required, you can even have your dog sign with their paw print!

After you’ve exchanged vows, be sure to sign your marriage license and submit the signed license to the same Clerk and Recorder’s Office that you picked it up from to make it official!

For more in-depth information on obtaining your marriage license, check out our post on How To Self-Solemnize In Colorado!

What is the best time of year to Elope at Brainard Lake?

Summer Brainard Lake Elopement 
Summer is the most popular (and in our opinion, the best) time to elope at Brainard Lake. Lush greenery, wildflowers, and perfect hiking weather all help create the most magical setting to say “I do!” Brainard Lake is typically snow-free by late June, while the lakes at higher elevations (like Long Lake, Lake Isabelle, and Mitchell Lake) typically have snow present through mid-July (or sometimes even later!) Afternoon thunderstorms in the summer can sometimes be a concern, so we recommend either opting for sunrise, or having some flexibility with your timeline in case of afternoon showers! 

Fall Brainard Lake Elopement 
Fall is another wonderful time to elope at Brainard Lake! While most of the trees in the area are evergreen and will not change color for the fall, there are lots of bushes, grasses, and shrubs that still turn various shades of yellow, orange, and red! In the fall, the temperature begins to cool each day and the crowds begin to lessen. It’s a great time of year to soak up the cooler weather and enjoy a bit more privacy! 

Winter/Spring Brainard Lake Elopement 
Eloping at Brainard Lake in the winter and spring is not for the faint of heart. Once the main gates close in October, it becomes a 2.5-mile hike along the road to get to Brainard Lake. Snow typically begins sticking for the season in late October to early November, and will be present through late May to early June most years. Once a nice snowpack is built, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are popular ways to get to the lake! If eloping in winter, it’s important to be prepared for changing weather conditions, as well as freezing temperatures. 

What is the best time of day for elopement photos at Brainard Lake?

Both sunrise and sunset are great options for photos at Brainard Lake! 

Sunrise tends to be the quietest time, but due to the elevation, it can also be quite chilly, even in summer. 

Sunset is just as beautiful, but can sometimes be more crowded. There is also the risk of afternoon thunderstorms, but they tend to blow over quickly!  

Top Tips for Eloping at Brainard Lake 

Prepare For High Altitude

Brainard Lake sits at an altitude of 10,396 feet, which means altitude sickness can be a real risk. Follow the CDC’s tips for avoiding altitude sickness by giving yourself plenty of time to acclimate if coming from a lower elevation, avoiding alcohol, and making sure you stay well-hydrated. The last thing you want on your wedding day is to not feel well! 

Beware of Moose

Brainard Lake is one of the best places to see moose in the state, and it can be an incredible experience seeing these large creatures in the wild. With that in mind, it’s important to be aware of proper safety precautions. If you come across a moose, be sure to give them plenty of space, as they can occasionally be aggressive if with their calves, or if it is during breeding season. They also tend to be more aggressive towards dogs, so it is important to keep them on a leash, or consider leaving them at home if they are reactive. Colorado Parks & Wildlife has some great tips for how to view moose safely that we recommend reading through!    

Dress Warm (Even During Summer!)

Because of the high altitude, it’s also important to keep in mind that it might be significantly colder than you expect, especially at sunrise or just after sunset, even in the summer! It is not unusual for temperatures in the middle of summer to drop to the low 30s at night. Be prepared year-round with a warm jacket, gloves, and hand warmers to stay comfortable. Check out our guide with more tips to stay warm during your elopement

Avoid Crowds

One of the few downsides to eloping at Brainard Lake is the potential for crowds. Because it’s so easily accessible, it can get extremely busy on weekends and holidays, as well as mid-day, even with the current reservation system. For the most privacy, we recommend eloping on a weekday (Monday through Thursday is best!). Sunrise also tends to be more private, and has the added bonus of gorgeous alpenglow on the peaks! 

Leave No Trace

It is crucial to practice the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace when exploring this beautiful area to keep it protected for generations to come. Those principles are: 

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare 
  2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces 
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly 
  4. Leave What You Find 
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts 
  6. Respect Wildlife 
  7. Be Considerate of Others 

Real Brainard Lake Elopements

The Proof Is In The Pudding! Check out a few of the REAL Brainard Lake elopements We’ve Photographed

Taylor & Will

Leave No Trace Guide

Caitlynn & Travis

Kaitlyn & Pat

JAson & Talyssa

Brainard Lake Wedding & Elopement Vendors

Need some help pulling off your Brainard Lake wedding? We’ve got a list of amazing vendors who know the area well and can help make your day unforgettable! 

we’re more than just your photographer

We’re not kidding. We’re here to make this process easier than “accidentally” binge-watching the newest season of your favorite show. Every single elopement package includes:

  • Adventure Elopement Planning Guide with step-by-step plans, insider tips and resources from the 250+ elopements we’ve planned.
  • A custom location guide with hidden gems for you to explore and info on accessibility, privacy, permits and photos.
  • Unlimited communication – You can email us anytime, anywhere, about anything – no question is too silly.
  • Recommendations for vetted, LGBTQ+ affirming elopement vendors.
  • A custom timeline that allows you to have the epic and stress-free elopement day of your dreams.
  • Local knowledge about Colorado’s quirky features, like weather patterns, seasonal closures, last-minute back-up locations, and dealing with high altitude and wildlife .
  • We’re CPR, AED & Wilderness First Aid Certified and always travel with backups of anything we might need.
  • A built-in back up photographer you know you can trust (because we’re a team).
  • Day of coordinator (you don’t need to look at your watch one time), best friend, and hype girl.
  • A polaroid memory to take home as a tangible keepsake on your wedding day.

If it’s on your elopement to-do list, we’re here to help check it off.

Brainard Lake Elopement Packages

Colorado is THE spot to elope if you want adventure, stunning scenery, and a chance to have a moose as your wedding guest. Brainard Lake is THE spot to elope if you want adventure and stunning scenery.

What’s Included

3+ Hours of Photography Coverage

We intentionally document your day with both digital and film. Includes high-resolution digital images, printing rights, a shareable online gallery, and free album design.

Full Elopement Planning Assistance

When we say we help with it all, we mean it. Location scouting and ideas. Vetted and LGBTQ+ allied vendors who know elopements. Recs for activities to do on your elopement day. Stress-free timeline planning. Planning resources and ideas. Unlimited communication because we never leave you high and dry.

Packages start at $4400 with an average investment of $7100

Are You Freakin’ REady?

We’re 100% here for whatever day you’re dreaming up. Fill out our contact form to start chatting.

Are You Freakin’ REady?

We’re 100% here for whatever day you’re dreaming up. Fill out our contact form to start chatting.

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