Located in the Front Range mountains immediately to the south of scenic Rocky Mountain National Park, the Indian Peaks wilderness is a popular wilderness destination. The close proximity to highly populated areas makes the Indian Peaks one of the most visited wilderness areas in the United States.
The Indian Peaks are part of the Front Range, a long mountain range that is first of many ranges that extend in a north-south direction as one travels west from Denver. Named for various Native American tribes, the Indian peaks top out over thirteen thousand feet and form a snowy and scenic backdrop to the city of Denver. Much of the terrain is steep and heavily forested with lodgepole pine being the dominant species at the mid to lower elevations. Above treeline (approx. 11,500 ft.) the trees disappear and alpine tundra dominates.
The Indian Peaks wilderness is subject to special regulations due to the high amount of visitors. This is mandated by the forest service to preserve the wild nature of the area. Please check with the Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forest Service office for the latest information and for the required permits.
Camping is forbidden in the Lake Isabelle/Long Lake area on the eastern side of the wilderness. Permits for camping are required. You may apply online for a backcountry permit with the US Forest Service by downloading the application form from their website here: Indian Peaks Wilderness Page
Camp fires are forbidden east side of the continental divide and in the Columbine Lake area.
Lake Isabelle & Pawnee Pass - Easily one of the most popular trail heads, the Brainard Lake area offers easy access to Brainard Lake, Long Lake, and Lake Isabelle via a maintained public road. The area offers spectacular alpine scenery and is a popular day hike.
Follow Hwy 72 north from the town of Netherland to the tiny town of Ward. From Ward, head west on Brainard Lakes Rd (FR-112) to the Niwot Cutoff trailhead located on the SW side of Brainard Lake.
The trail splits at the southern end of Long Lake, but both trails meet at the west end of Long Lake. Follow the Jean Lunning Trail along the south edge of Long Lake to the Pawnee Pass Trail. Follow the Pawnee Pass trail up to Lake Isabelle. You will see amazing views of the surrounding Indian peaks which form a steep cirque around the end of the valley.
If you are planning a trip, I highly recommend this tear-resistant, waterproof map by National Geographic. All of the surrounding backcountry access roads, forest service trails, ski trails as well as the local wilderness information is shown, all in this one neat map.
National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map of the Indian Peaks wilderness. A topographical map that covers the entire Indian Peaks Wilderness as well as parts of surrounding Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests: Eldora ski area, Ward, Monarch Lake, the popular Brainard Lakes area, and the southern shore of Lake Granby.
The Arapaho National Forest has divided the Indian Peaks wilderness into backcountry zones. Different zones have different backcountry rules that apply. To view, click on the map below.