Nestled in the high country of Colorado – just above the well-known cultural and beer mecca of Boulder – sits Indian Peaks Wilderness, with its jutting vertical rock faces; 13,000-foot-tall mountains; and wild flower-festooned tundra. The many hikes through this rugged and spectacularly beautiful area are known for their well-maintained trails, which are rarely busy.
Fit for everyone from the occasional hiker coming from sea level who merely wants to put down a few miles and snap some photos to the avid hiker who desires thousands of feet in elevation gain with a summit at the end of the trail, there is a trail for everyone in Indian Peaks Wilderness.
Isabele Glacier appears out of nowhere, just before you make your way to the Continental Divide — Photo courtesy of Hope Gately
Brainard Lake Recreational Area
Lakes, streams, protected vegetation and some of the most pristine views in the Rocky Mountains await you at the Brainard Lake Recreational Area.
For the peak baggers, there are several 12,000- and 13,000-foot mountains, with standard routes that can be taken by those in good physical condition who have acclimated to the altitude. For climbers and mountaineers, these mountains also offer more technical routes.
The Mitchell Lake and Long Lake Trailheads offer parking, and popular hikes branch off in all directions, including the Niwat Ridge Trail, Mt. Audubon and Pawnee Peak.
Pristine mountain lakes and lush pine trees are to be found on this enchanting hike — Photo courtesy of Hope Gately
Mt. Audubon: Just as Challenging as a 14er
One of the most popular and beautiful mountains in Indian Peaks, Mt. Audubon is the sixth tallest mountain, topping out at an impressive 13,223 feet.
While many Coloradoans set their sights on "14ers" – those mountains over 14,000 feet, which the locals like to climb for fun and bragging rights – Mt. Audubon is a beautiful and challenging alternative that is almost certain, during the summer and fall months, to be less busy than many of the popular Front Range 14ers.
This 7.9-mile hike, though not technical, boasts 2,789 feet of elevation gain at high altitudes; it's, therefore, not made for beginner hikers.
Twelve thousand feet just below windy Pawnee Pass and the spectacular Continental Divide — Photo courtesy of Hope Gately
Pawnee Pass and Pawnee Peak
Starting at Long Lake Trailhead, Pawnee Pass and Pawnee Peak lie just beyond Long Lake and Isabelle Glacier. As you hike, expect to be dazzled by the warm browns, alabaster whites and deep mustards of the mountains that are set in a panorama all around, as you wind your way up over 2000 feet of glorious gain.
Expect wildflowers in the mid to late summer months, as well as animal sightings. Moose, marmots and elk make their homes in the mountains of Indian Peaks, as do mountain lions. So be sure to keep an eye out and a safe distance.
A Note to Visitors
Though Indian Peaks Wilderness is a wonderful place for families and avid adventurers alike, the mountains can be dangerous and the weather unpredictable. Always bring adequate food, water, clothing and footwear when you are hiking. Expect that it will rain at least once during your visit, no matter what the season.
To avoid run-ins with mountain lions, travel in groups of three or more and never approach or feed wildlife, no matter how cute or cuddly. Follow the standards and practices of Leave No Trace, so that future hikers and adventurers may enjoy the unspoiled majesty of the mountains for decades to come.