The Indian Peaks Wilderness owes much of its stunning geography—pristine turquoise lakes, magnificent U-shaped valleys, regal granite cirques, and craggy sawtooth peaks—to the glaciers that molded its landscapes as recently as 15,000 years ago. Pay homage to the remnants of one such glacier while taking in high-alpine scenery on this 8.1-mile out-and-back.
Nestled between Niwot Ridge to the south, the Pawnee Peaks to the north, and a towering cirque to the west, this route offers a greatest-hits collection of southern Rocky Mountain topography in one short, moderately-challenging dayhike. From Long Lake Trailhead, pick up Pawnee Pass Trail and wind through spruce forest toward well-trafficked Long Lake. At mile 0.3, bear right to stay on Pawnee Pass Trail and circumvent the lake's scenic northern shore.
After passing the 40.5-acre lake, continue winding through forests and meadows on relatively flat trail before climbing a series of mildly-strenuous switchbacks around mile 1.6. After a half-mile ascent, grab your first eyeful of the stunning landscape ahead: Lake Isabelle backdropped by the formidable Apache, Navajo, and Shoshone peaks in the distance. Bearing left to hit the Isabelle Glacier Trail, trek past the northern shores of the lake on a rocky trail before heading uphill at mile 2.8.
At the top of the ascent, cruise through a marshy meadow toward a third lake and the hike's hardest section: a 0.4-mile climb gaining nearly 500 feet. The reward at the top of the scramble: close-up views (and access) to Isabelle Glacier and the surrounding cirques to the west, and a stunning panorama of the valley you just passed through to the east.
-Mapped and photographed by Genny Fullerton and Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan