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.
Hiking and backpacking is permitted year around. However, because the Indian Peaks area is a federally managed wilderness, certain rules about group sizes, pets, as well as overnight camping do apply. Be sure to comply with all wilderness regulations. Please check with the Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forest Service office for the latest information.
The Indian Peaks wilderness is subject to special regulations due to the high amount of visitors. To preserve the wilderness character of the area, the Forest Service has implemented backcountry zones (map) with unique rules and regulations applying to each zone. A permit is also required for an overnight stay in the Indian Peaks wilderness between the dates of June 1 and September 15. For permit information, visit the USFS Indian Peaks Page.
To protect the wild and unspoiled nature of the wilderness, 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.