This is a burly hike that can be done as either a long day-hike, or it can be stretched out into a multi-day backcountry camping trip, with access to the Continental Divide. There’s lots of elevation to be gained, so be prepared.
From Boulder, drive to and through the town of Ward. Turn right onto CO-72 then quickly turn left onto Brainard Lake Rd. Go through the pay gate heading to Long Lake Trailhead.
|When to do|
Early June to Late September
Yes at Pawnee Campground
Out and back
Pawnee Pass Trail starts from the Long Lake Trailhead. From the trailhead, you will gradually ascend through the forest until you reach Long Lake. At Long Lake the views open up and you should be able to see Isabelle Glacier and the surrounding Indian Peaks.
You will understand why it is called Long Lake as you continue to hike along the shore further back into the mountains. Past Long Lake, the trail gains elevation, and slowly ascends above the tree line.
It is at the junction for Isabelle Glacier and Pawnee Pass when the trail turns uphill. A steep switchback section rises high above Lake Isabelle. This section is challenging, but the views make it totally worth the effort.
Once above the tree line, you will find yourself on a flat alpine meadow with a breathtaking view of the Front Range. Catching your breath on this flat section, you are faced with the next challenge, the rocky switchbacks over the Continental Divide.
Closer to the top of the Pass, the trail will level off until you reach the top of Pawnee Pass. A wooden sign and a windbreak shelter designate the dividing line of the Continental Divide at an elevation of 3825m. This is also the turnaround point for the day hike.
It is worth the few hundred feet to peak over the edge to the other side. Looking down you’ll see the Pawnee Pass trail continue on to the West side of the divide. The path back is the same one you came in on.
An annual National Park Pass is accepted at the gate, otherwise Brainard Lake Recreation Area is Cash Only ($11 per Passenger Vehicle).
Gate Fees and more information can be found here.
Set out on this hike early to avoid the chance of getting caught in an afternoon or evening storm.
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