How to Get Married at Brainard Lake | Stephanie + Chris’ Small Wedding in Boulder

Couple cuddling next to creek in the forest at Boulder, CO elopement.

How to Get Married at Brainard Lake

For couples looking to get married close to the Denver metro area, but still in the mountains, the Brainard Lake area is an extremely popular spot – and there is a VERY good reason for it. It’s super close to Denver (and it’s big airport), Boulder (and it’s plethora of dining and lodging options), and Estes Park (and nearby Rocky Mountain National Park). It may be easy to get to but figuring out how to get married at Brainard Lake is a whole other story – so let’s talk about it!

Brainard Lake sits just west of the Peak to Peak Highway in Colorado at an elevation of 10,300 feet. It’s just south of Estes Park, west of Boulder, and north of Nederland. It’s located right on the edge of the staggeringly beautiful Indian Peaks Wilderness.

It’s a little over an hour from Denver and a half hour from Boulder. If you are coming from out of town you will definitely want to rent a car as public transportation does not go up there and there is no cell service at the lake.

Where is Brainard Lake, Colorado?

Sort of. The road to Brainard Lake itself is not maintained through winter. It is typically open from mid-June through mid-October (or whenever it really starts to snow). When the road is closed it is a relatively flat 2 mile hike from the winter trailhead to the lake. If you don’t want to do that hike, make sure you pick a mid-summer or early fall date!

Note that if you are wanting to access any of the trailheads to places like Lake Isabelle or Blue Lake, those roads open even later in the summer.

Is Brainard Lake accessible year round?

Do you need a reservation at Brainard Lake?

Yes! To control crowds and parking in the area, they implemented a parking reservation system in 2021. Make sure you reserve a parking spot ahead of time (for both you and any guests you are bringing). You can do that here.

Do you need a permit to get married at Brainard Lake?

Wedding Permits

Permit requirements depend on how many (if any) guests you are having and where you are going to go. Because part of this area is U.S. Forest Service land and part of it is in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, the rules vary greatly depending on location.

I highly recommend working with an elopement photographer/planner who is well versed in this stuff to help make sure you are legal!

Where to stay near Brainard Lake, Colorado

Brainard Lake is located very close to the tiny town of Ward, Colorado. There aren’t many amenities there so most people decide to stay somewhere else nearby. Where you stay will depend on the kind of experience you want.

Here are your options:

Nederland

Estes Park

Boulder

Nederland is a funky hippie town just down the Peak to Peak highway. If you are looking for a mountain town that is a little less touristy than Estes Park, this is the spot for you! It also has easy access to other locations in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

Estes Park is at the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park and a great place to stay for couples who want easy access to the park. It has good tourist infrastructure with lots of lodging and restaurants.

Boulder is the perfect spot for couples who want the amenities of a big town/small city. It’s full of incredible restaurants, lively bars, and tons of lodging options. It’s a town that is equal parts laid-back and bougie.

A Brainard Lake Wedding

Stephanie and Chris live right here in Boulder and decided to have an an intimate Brainard Lake wedding in the mountains they love so much. Neither of them are from Colorado and they saw their wedding day not only as a chance to get married but also to show their closest family and friends why they fell in love with this place. When they brought me on board to help them figure out how to get married at Brainard Lake and to photograph it all as it went down, I was STOKED!

Fun fact: The very first elopement/small wedding I EVER shot was at Brainard Lake back in 2016. Needless to say, this area holds a special place in my heart!

I met up with Steph and Chris and their sweet pup at their house in Boulder where they were getting ready. After a quick first look we all piled in the car and headed for the hills! The original plan was to do a longer hike up to an alpine lake for some photos before meeting up with their people for the ceremony but a looming storm made us reconsider. We ended up staying much closer to the trailhead and it worked out perfectly!

After we took some photos with just Stephanie and Chris in the Indian Peaks Wilderness we headed back down the trail (and outside the Wilderness area boundary) for their ceremony. Just as they were getting ready to walk down the ”aisle” (a/k/a trail!) some paddleboarders walked by and got the surprise of their lives! It’s not everyday you see someone in formal attire in the woods!

They had the sweetest ceremony next to the lake after which we headed to town to celebrate! They had rented out the rooftop bar area of the West End Tavern which was the perfect spot for a small reception. They did their first dances and we all ate some really good food. It was perfect!

Bride, groom, and dog walking down trail at intimate Brainard Lake, Colorado wedding.
Bride, groom, and dog walking down trail in forest at Brainard lake elopement.
birde and groom in wedding clothes smiling and hugging at Indian Peaks, Colorado elopement at Brainard Lake.
Happy bride and groom on wedding day in the Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado.
Bride and groom smiling at each other at Brainard Lake, Colorado wedding near Ward.
Bride and groom in wedding clothes in Indian Peaks Wilderness.
Couple cuddling next to creek in the forest at Boulder, CO elopement.
Adorable dog with bridesmaid at Colorado wedding.
Bride and groom in wedding clothes walk past two people carriyng standup paddleboards at Brainard Lake, Colorado adventure wedding
Couple walks down trail with dog on leash at indian peaks wilderness elopement.
Bride and groom laughing during Brainard lake elopement ceremony.
Bride smiling and crying while saying vows at Colorado elopement.
Bride and father at wedding reception at West End tavern in boulder, colorado.
Bride and father dancing at wedding reception at West End tavern in boulder, colorado.

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Adventure elopement photographers photo of bride and groom walking through mountains at misty Colorado elopement.

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