Left Hand Canyon - Ward - Brainard Lake Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

8.1
FIETS
21.6 mi
DISTANCE
4,770 ft
GAINED
4.1 %
AVG. GRADE

FULL CLIMB STATS

INTRO

This is one of the most popular bike climbs in the wildly bike friendly area of Boulder Colorado (PJAMM Boulder, CO climb area page). Left Hand Canyon all the way to Brainard Lake is one of the hardest (#9) and longest (#6) bike climbs in Colorado. Other than on Rock Creek Road in Owens Valley, CA, we have not seen so much attention to cycle-awareness signs on a climb in the US. 
Average grade is 4.1% (4.5% climb only).  60% of the climb is at 0-5% and 29% is at 5-10%.  The steepest quarter-mile is 11.2% and steepest mile 8.6%. 

See more details and tools regarding this climb's grade via the “Profile Tool” button.
Roadway:  Excellent condition. 

Traffic:  Mild, but there is no shoulder and traffic can travel at 50 mph or so along the first five miles of the climb before veering left to say on Left Hand Canyon Road toward the road instead of right toward Jamestown.  After that junction, traffic is very mild and from Ward on to Brainard Lake, traffic is barely noticeable. 

Parking:  We park near the start of the climb on the side of the road just up Left Hand Canyon from its intersection with Highway 36 (MapStreet View). 
Weather:  We end our climb above 10,000' and nearly 5,000' higher than where we began, so be sure to check the PJAMM Weather tool for the forecast at the finish at the time you plan on arriving and plan your clothing accordingly. 

Provisions:  The only spot for food and beverages is at the cycle friendly (they have bike pumps available for use, for example) Utica Street Market at mile 16.3 (Google Map + ReviewsStreet View).
Before heading out on any cycling adventure check out our Things to Bring on a Cycling Trip and use our interactive check list to ensure you don't forget anything.
This is one of the great climbs in the Boulder area (PJAMM Boulder Climb Area page) - we stay in Boulder with its many hotel options when we are cycling this and other area bike climbs.  For longer stays you can look to rent a home or condo in the area.

Use the Routes in Area tool to see other bike climbs in this area. 

ROUTE MAP

MEMBER RATING

Difficulty: Strenuous
3.7
Road
4
Traffic
3.7
Scenery

CURRENT WEATHER

NEARBY CLIMBS (0) RADIAL PROXIMITY

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MEMBER REVIEWS & COMMENTS

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Dec 4, 2021
difficulty: Strenuous
scenery: 5
traffic: 3
road: 3
Dec 4, 2021
scenery: 5
traffic: 3
road: 3
Awesome ride. Most of the route isnt very scenic but once you get close to the lake some epic views open up. The climb is long and doesnt flatten out until the last mile to the lake. The hardest part is the mile before getting into Ward and the switchbacks leaving Ward. Brainard lake road isnt steep but you'll be riding at 10,000 ft elevation so a 4% grade will feel like 8%. Be sure to get some natural spring water as you are approaching ward. And get some sweets at the Ward general store.
Oct 20, 2021
difficulty: Strenuous
scenery: 3
traffic: 5
road: 4
Oct 20, 2021
scenery: 3
traffic: 5
road: 4
Fantastic climb without a lot of traffic. Not too steep early on, but save something for the end as it gets steeper (+8% grade) heading into Ward. The altitude will definitely kick in by that point, too (+8,000 ft), and depending on the season, will be notably cooler. The scenery is pleasant trees, rolling hills, and a few streams, giving it a feeling of cycling in the lower Swiss Alps.
Mar 26, 2021
difficulty: Strenuous
scenery: 3
traffic: 4
road: 4
Mar 26, 2021
scenery: 3
traffic: 4
road: 4
A classic route from Boulder. Not super amazing views up to Ward, but a nice steady climb. Grab a snack at the store in Ward and keep heading up to Brainard Lake. Those last miles from Ward to Brainard always feel tougher than they should. Nine out of ten times, I saw Moose at the lake. Do a loop around the lake and head back down. This descent is super fun, all the way back to Boulder. If you have any legs left, climb up Lee Hill or Olde Stage Road at the end, rather than riding 34.
ROUTE MAP
PROFILE TOOL

Climb Profile Not Found
CLIMB SUMMARY

Cycling Left Hand Canyon, Boulder, Colorado - bike parked against rock formation in the middle of a valley in front of a lake, surrounded by mountains

Cycling Left Hand Canyon, Colorado: A long but generally mild Top 100 US Bike Climb.

Ride 22.5 miles gaining 5,193’ to elevation 10,500’ at 4.1% average grade.

Climb summary by PJAMM’s John Johnson.

Cycling Left Hand Canyon, Boulder, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, bike parked against road sign warning of wild pigs, views of wide open plains, PJAMM cycling SAG van driving near two cyclists on the road, van stopped next to Share the Road sign

Climb begins by riding west on Left Hand Canyon from its T intersection with Highway 36.

Left Hand Canyon is a Top 100 US Climb and one of the most popular bike climbs in the Boulder, Colorado area.  The climb follows Left Hand Creek until Left Hand Canyon turns into Indiana Gulch Road at mile 15.  While we do not see the creek the entire climb, we are close enough to hear it, and when we don’t hear the creek, we hear the wind blowing through the trees that fill the canyon.  This is a very calming and peaceful ride.  

    Cycling Left Hand Canyon, Boulder, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, bike parked along creekside

The grade rarely approaches double digits and is fairly mild throughout.  The toughest section of the climb begins at a sharp right turn where Sawmill Rd, a popular mountain biking road, intersects with Left Hand Turn Road at around mile 15 -- this segment is 1.6 miles at 8.5% gradient.

Cycling Left Hand Canyon, Boulder, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, PJAMM Cycling white SAG van, cyclist on road next to wooden sign for Buckingham Park, City of Boulder, cyclist on road riding bike under American flag, two cyclists riding next to large rock sign for Lefthand Fire Protection District, cyclist riding on shoulder next to road sign for Steep and Narrow Road, no large trucks allowed

Photos from the middle section of the climb, before Ward.

Cycling Left Hand Canyon, Boulder, Colorado - PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, bike parked in grass next to large wooden sign for Roosevelt National Forest

National Forest sign at mile 3.5.

Cycling Left Hand Canyon, Boulder, Colorado - PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, road signs for Lefthand Canyon Drive and Ward and Jamestown

Be sure to make the left turn to Ward at mile five.

Cycling Left Hand Canyon, Boulder, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, views of town of Ward, road sign of person reading a book, bike parked against weathered road sign for congested Area, old shell of rusted out car in grass on side of road, white and red building with sign for Snowshoe rental

Pass through Ward (pop. 155; 2017) at mile 16.

If possible, ride slowly through Ward and enjoy the town’s eclectic personality.

Cycling Left Hand Canyon, Boulder, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, bike parked against old red rusted piece of equipment

Depending on your point of view, there is either a lot of junk in and around Ward . . .

. . . or, in our opinion, a lot of relics and interesting road art.

Cycling Left Hand Canyon, Boulder, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, bike parked against various unique mailbox arrangements

Cool mailbox arrangements as we approach Ward.

Turn right onto Highway 72 at mile 16.9 of the route and then take the very next left onto Brainard Lake Road. The RideWithGPS cue sheet for this route is too confusing. There are only three turns: the aforementioned left at mile five, then right at mile 16.9 onto Highway 72, and then an almost immediate left onto what is signed as Brainard Lake Road -- follow that to the top of the climb at Brainard Lake.

Cycling Left Hand Canyon, Boulder, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, stop sign along Nelson Street, stop sign along Brainard Lake Road

Right onto Highway 72 at mile 16.9, and then left onto Brainard Lake Road in 30 yards.

The remaining portion of the climb is along Brainard Lake Road up to Brainard Lake.  We enter Brainard Lake Recreational Area at mile 19.6 and as of July 2020, there was no charge for cyclists.  While on this road, we are completely surrounded by thick forest.  The road ends at Brainard Lake Recreation Area and Brainard Lake, with exceptional views of the stark surrounding mountains. Overall it is peaceful, not too strenuous, and a lovely climb just outside of Boulder, Colorado.

Bicycle ride up Left Hand Canyon - park entrance and toll booth

Toll Booth mile 19.6 -- as of 2020 no toll for cyclists.

Cycling Left Hand Canyon, Boulder, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, bike parked against share the road sign on roadside, PJAMM cycling white SAG van, cyclist riding in rearview mirror of SAG vehicle, cyclist riding on roadway next to sign for Brainard Lake Recreation Area in Roosevelt National Forest

The last 5.6 miles on Brainard Lake Road are peaceful, scenic, and relaxing (4.1% average grade).

Cycling Left Hand Canyon, Boulder, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, bike parked in center of roadway in front of road paint reading "ONLY BIKE", views of PJAMM Cycling white SAG van, bike parked in center of grassy valley next to rock formation, views of Brainard Lake

The route finishes at Brainard Lake, Roosevelt National Forest.

This is a high-cyclists route.  We know this from: (a) seeing many cyclists on the route on an early Monday afternoon, (b) there are more unique cycling road signs on this route than we have ever seen before, and (c) according to volunteered comments by the eclectic owner of the popular Utica Street Market in Ward, 200-300 cyclists per day stop at his place on the weekends during good weather.  

Cycling Left Hand Canyon, Boulder, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, roadsigns along the roadway reading: "Shoulder Ends", "Be aware, pass with care", "Single File in Lefthand Canyon", and "30 MPH Single File at Curves"

Provisions Along the Climb:  The aforementioned Utica Street Market is a haven for cyclists, as many stop and take advantage of the front benches, espresso, home baked cookies, and other fuels of choice.  This is a bicycle friendly venue as is evidenced by not one, but three bicycle pumps available on site for use to anyone with a need.  

Cycling Left Hand Canyon, Boulder, Colorado - photo collage, PJAMM Cycling logo in corner, bike pumps in Utica Street Market, menu at Utica Street Market, outside view of Utica Street market

This climb ends just above 10,000’ so, as with all climbs that end at higher altitude, expect the temperatures to be much colder than where you started and come prepared with appropriate additional warmer gear, and a pre-review of weather reports.

Steepest ¼ mile begins at mile 15 (11.3%) and steepest mile at 15.5 (8.6%).

Roadway Surface and Traffic Report:  The road has no shoulder for much of the climb, yet this is never an issue as there is not much traffic along the route, and the speed limit is a maximum of 35 (reducing to 15 mph as we near and enter Ward).