Indian Peaks Wilderness is located within the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests of Colorado. This stunning wilderness gets is namesake from the numerous mountains in the area named in honor of Native American tribes. In fact, the tallest mountain within Indian Peaks Wilderness is North Arapaho Peak, with an elevation of 13,502ft. While Indian Peaks Wilderness does not contain any 14er mountains within its boundaries, it does have plenty of 13er mountains and access to the Continental Divide Trail. To help you explore this beautiful area, we’ve curated a listing of what we think are some of the best hikes in Indian Peaks Wilderness.
Due to its considerable recreational opportunities, Indian Peaks Wilderness is an especially popular destination for local Denver and Boulder residents. In particular, the Brainard Lake Recreation Area can become fairly busy during the summer hiking season. However, this area is far less crowded than neighboring Rocky Mountain National Park since it is not as well known to out-of-towners. So, if you are looking for an alternative to the hustle and bustle of Rocky Mountain National Park, consider Indian Peaks Wilderness an excellent option. Below are some of our favorite hikes in the area that we hope you’ll enjoy as much as we do. Happy hiking!
BEST HIKES SERIES: Indian Peaks Wilderness
Pawnee Pass & Pawnee Peak
Pawnee Pass is easily one of the best hikes in the Indian Peaks Wilderness because of its breathtaking views. The journey up to Pawnee Pass takes you to an elevation of 12,550ft. However, if you are feeling extra motivated, consider continuing the hike to adjacent Pawnee Peak at 12,943ft. Although the trail to Pawnee Pass may be fairly busy, you’re likely to have little company on top of Pawnee Peak. Regardless of whether you only hike to Pawnee Pass or summit Pawnee Peak, you’ll be treated to amazing panoramic vistas of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Furthermore, you can always say that you hiked along the Continental Divide, which is stellar in its own right.
The Pawnee Pass hike begins at the Long Lake Trailhead, which is accessed via the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Be prepared to pay a fee when entering the wilderness at the Brainard Lake entrance. Although the Long Lake Trailhead has ample parking, it fills up extremely quickly during peak hiking season because of the area’s close proximity to Boulder and Denver. Therefore, we highly recommend that you get to the trailhead as early as possible to avoid traffic congestion into the wilderness area and not have to park in an overflow lot much further away.
Mount Audubon is an extremely popular hike in Indian Peaks Wilderness because it is an accessible 13er mountain with an elevation of 13,223ft. Indeed, with so many great hikes to choose from in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, the Mount Audubon hike may be our favorite because of its amazing vistas, including a nice view of Longs Peak. The hike to the summit is under eight miles round trip and is mildly challenging for a 13er. But make no mistake, you must be in proper shape to hike even the easiest of 13er mountains. Of course, if you’re looking to increase the challenge, consider tacking on neighboring Paiute Peak (13,088ft.) in addition to Mount Audubon. Most of the crowds on Mount Audubon will likely stay on that summit, so you can hike across the saddle to Paiute Peak for a less crowded summit experience.
The hike to Mount Audubon begins at the Mitchell Lake Trailhead, which is accessed via the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Be prepared to pay a fee when entering the wilderness at the Brainard Lake entrance. Similar to other trailheads within Indian Peaks Wilderness, parking spots are ample, but they fill up quickly. So plan to arrive early, which is advisable anyhow if you are planning to hike in higher elevations. Also, always check the weather forecast before embarking on your hike.
Mirror Lake and Crater Lake (Lone Eagle Peak)
The Mirror Lake and Crater Lake hike is a lengthy adventure of nearly 15 miles roundtrip and is very popular particularly because of the incredible view of Lone Eagle Peak at Crater Lake. Lone Eagle Peak is perhaps the most distinctive feature in all of Indian Peaks Wilderness, even though it is just 11,920ft. in elevation. In fact, if you could just hike one trail here, this hike should probably be at the top of the list. Due to its absolutely beautiful and unique scenery, we think the hike to Lone Eagle Peak is one of the best hikes in Indian Peaks Wilderness.
Although many hikers split this hike up over multiple days by backcountry camping with a permit, we prefer this as a day hike. However, if you do decide to backcountry camp, you must complete a wilderness application permit and purchase a permit in advance of your trip either by mail or by visiting the Boulder or Sulphur Ranger District office.
The hike to Lone Eagle Peak begins at the Monarch Lake Trailhead, which is accessed via the Arapaho National Recreation Area. Parking is fairly limited near the trailhead, so plan to arrive early to secure a spot.
The Lake Isabelle hike is a moderate 4.4 mile hike that offers incredible views without the significant elevation gain required from many other top hikes in the area. This hike is a particularly awesome way to spend a morning or afternoon because of the peaceful scenery around Lake Isabelle and the great views of Niwot Ridge. Moreover, there is a decent chance of seeing wildlife, as moose are known to frequent the area around the lake.
The Lake Isabelle Trail begins at the Long Lake Trailhead, which is accessed via the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Be prepared to pay a fee when entering the wilderness at the Brainard Lake entrance. Although the Long Lake Trailhead has ample parking, it fills up extremely quickly during peak hiking season because of the area’s close proximity to Boulder and Denver. Therefore, we highly recommend that you get to the trailhead as early as possible to avoid traffic congestion into the wilderness area and not have to park in an overflow lot much further away.
RECOMMENDED HIKING GEAR & APPAREL
Our favorite guidebook on the area is “Colorado’s Indian Peaks: Classic Hikes and Climbs,” because it is well-written and thoroughly covers the best hikes in Indian Peaks Wilderness. Further, this guidebook was authored by Gerry Roach, who is the leading authority on Colorado’s 14er and 13er hikes. Of course, if you intend to venture into other Colorado wilderness areas beyond Indian Peaks Wilderness, consider a book the covers a wider breadth of area such as “The Complete Guide to Colorado’s Wilderness Areas.” This guidebook is great because it provides excellent information on each wilderness area, including their best hikes and multi-day backcountry outings.
Lastly, we highly recommend bringing along a topographical map of the area where you intend to hike. We suggest the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map for the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Alternatively, the Sky Terrain Map, which covers Southern Rocky Mountain National Park and Indian Peaks Wilderness, is another excellent option.
- Colorado’s Indian Peaks: Classic Hikes and Climbs
- The Complete Guide to Colorado’s Wilderness Areas
- Indian Peaks, Gold Hill – National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map
- Southern Rocky Mountain National Park & Indian Peaks Wilderness Trail Map
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