Pawnee Pass and Pawnee Peak, Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado

Pawnee Pass and Pawnee Peak - 9.1 miles

Brainard Lake Recreation Area

Trekking south from Pawnee Peak (12,943')

Trekking south from Pawnee Peak (12,943')

Round-Trip Length: 9.1 miles (Pawnee Peak adds an additional 1 mile roundtrip)
Start-End Elevation: 10,515' - 12,541' (12,943' at Pawnee Peak)
Elevation Change: +2,026' net elevation gain (+2,130' total roundtrip elevation gain to the Pass)
Skill Level: Moderate-Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Pawnee Pass and Pawnee Peak - 9.1 Miles Round-Trip

Pawnee Pass (12,541') is located 4.55 miles from Long Lake Trailhead in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. It spans a broad saddle on the Continental Divide above the South St Vrain Creek drainage (east), and Cascade Creek drainage (west).

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The trail is highlighted by stops at Long Lake, Lake Isabelle, abundant flowers and miles of open tundra. Pawnee Peak is a moderate .5 mile, 400' climb from Pawnee Pass with terrific views across the Indian Peaks and Wild Basin Area of Rocky Mountain National Park:

A level path follows the north shore of Long Lake to the first Jean Lunning Trail connection (.2 miles : 10,524'). It undulates past a second connection (1.2 miles : 10,674') to a clearing with a glimpse of the upper valley (1.6 miles : 10,716').

The trail steepens (1.85 miles) in a thinning forest to Lake Isabelle and the Pawnee Pass Trail split (2.1 miles : 10,892'). Lake Isabelle is framed by Navajo Peak (13,409'), Apache Peak (13,441'), Shoshoni Peak (12,967') and Isabelle Glacier (12,025').

The Pawnee Pass Trail breaks NW and climbs steeply over Lake Isabelle on twisting switchbacks. Anticipate some quick turns and faint sections on the transition through treeline (2.75 miles (11,355').

Travel moderates across an alpine bench overlooking the Lake Isabelle valley, a welcome reprieve with useful perspective on your progress and location (3.25 miles : 11,770'). Look for elk, marmot, pika, and ptarmigan in this open environment.

Steep, methodical climbing resumes on rocky switchbacks up the north valley wall (3.6 miles : 11,883') to a flat expanse below Pawnee Peak (4.3 miles: 12,505'). Travel moderates to a large sign at Pawnee Pass and the Continental Divide (4.55 miles : 12,541').

This area spans a saddle between Pawnee Peak (12,943') and an unnamed peak (12,878'), both scalable with relative ease. The main trail continues west over the Divide to Pawnee Lake and Monarch Lake, 1.85 and 10 miles away, respectively.

Take a few steps beyond the Pass sign to peer over the Divide at Pawnee Lake.

To reach Pawnee Peak, head north from Pawnee Pass until you find the cairn-marked social trail a bit further up. The route is fairly direct and obvious, even without these cues. Views from the summit (5.05 miles : 12,943') include Mt Audubon (13,223'), Mt Toll (12,979'), Paiute Peak (13,088'), Blue Lake and Little Blue Lake. There's one rock shelter on the summit.

Those with time may consider returning via the Jean Lunning Trail - a diverting loop around Long Lake with abundant flowers, accessible shorelines and excellent fishing. Doing so adds only nominal elevation gain and .4 miles to the return hike.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N 40 04.674 W 105 35.077 — 0.0 miles : Long Lake Trailhead
  • N 40 04.550 W 105 35.220 — .2 miles : Jean Lunning Trail junction #1
  • N 40 04.223 W 105 36.083 — 1.2 miles : Jean Lunning Trail junction #2
  • N 40 04.225 W 105 36.875 — 2.1 miles : Lake Isabelle and Pawnee Pass Trail junction
  • N 40 04.340 W 105 37.166 — 2.45 miles : Rising above lake on Pawnee Pass
  • N 40 04.322 W 105 37.268 — 2.75 miles : Passing through treeline
  • N 40 04.306 W 105 37.478 — 3.25 miles : Level out on tundra bench
  • N 40 04.421 W 105 37.970 — Switchbacks up ridgeline to Pass
  • N 40 04.566 W 105 38.117 — 4.55 miles : Pawnee Pass
  • N 40 04.739 W 105 38.128 — Route to Pawnee Peak
  • N 40 04.899 W 105 37.959 — 5.05 miles : Pawnee Peak

Worth Noting

  • Much of this trail runs above treeline. Anticipate variable weather conditions throughout the day, and aim for treeline well before storms develop.

  • Pawnee Peak is also accessible from the cross-country trek to Mt Toll (see related trails above).

  • Isabelle Glacier is the primary source of South Saint Vrain Creek.

  • The Rocky Mountain Uplift began almost 70 million years ago as giant blocks of ancient crystalline rock were thrust upward. Streams eroded newly exposed strata and washed new sediments downstream. When the sedimentary rocks were mostly gone, erosion continued leveling ancient Precambrian rocks until only a few isolated areas projected above the gently rolling landscape. The slopes of Pawnee Pass/i> are remnants of this erosion surface.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Permits are required for all overnight campers June 1 - September 15.

  • Permits are required year-round for day and overnight use by large groups (8+) or organizational groups such as scouts, churches, schools and hiking clubs.

  • Group size is limited to 12 people or people and packstock combined.

  • Campfires are prohibited east side of the Continental Divide, as well as Caribou Lake, Columbine Lake, Gourd Lake, Crater Lake and in the Cascade Creek drainage above Cascade Falls.

  • Pets must be on a handheld leash at all times.

  • Camping is permitted only at designated campsites in the Diamond, Jasper, Crater and Caribou Lakes Backcountry Zones.

  • Camping is prohibited in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone (Mitchell, Blue, Long, Isabelle) May 1 - Nov 30.

  • Camping is prohibited within 100' of lakes, streams and trails.

  • Packstock is prohibited in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone, in the Cascade Backcountry Zone above Cascade Falls and on the Diamond Lake Trail #975.

Rules and Regulations

  • There is an $11 fee to enter the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Use the self-service pay station if no attendant is on duty. Fees, Parking, Pet, Camping and Trespassing regulations are strictly enforced.

  • Dogs must be leashed at all times on trails within the Brainard Lake Recreation Area.

Directions to Trailhead

The Long Lake Trailhead is located within the Brainard Lake Recreation Area off of CO 72, (12 miles north of Nederland, just north of the town of Ward).

From Highway 72, turn west on Brainard Lake Road. In 2.6 miles you'll reach a pay station. Use the self-service pay station if no attendant is on duty. Continue another 3.2 miles on the paved road to the Long Lake Trailhead. This road may be closed at the halfway point from late October through late June or early July (depending on snow).

Contact Information

Boulder Ranger District
2140 Yarmouth Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301
303.541.2500

Trip Reports

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