When you’ve got 145 miles of trails in your backyard, it’s hard to find the motivation to drive out of town for a hike. But the fact remains that there’s a whole world outside of Boulder (gasp), and it includes some pretty awesome trails.
One such trail is the Pawnee Pass Trail leading to Lake Isabelle in Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. Only an hour’s drive from Boulder, this gentle hike is suitable for all ages and fitness levels and its beauty is unparalleled. So load up your pack and fill up the car… it’s time for a field trip, Boulderites.
Take CO 119 west through Boulder Canyon to Nederland. Turn right onto CO 72 (the Peak-to-Peak Highway) and continue to Ward. Just past Ward, turn left onto CR 102 (Brainard Lake Road) to Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Follow the signs to Long Lake Trailhead. This trailhead is very popular in the warm season, so plan to arrive early – especially on weekends.
The hike to Lake Isabelle from Long Lake Trailhead is 2.1 miles with about 360 feet of elevation. Pawnee Pass Trail is easy-going, well traveled, and clearly marked. It’s a fantastic trail for families with children or out-of-state visitors.
The trail gently ascends through a forest of spruce and fir and opens up to a meadow. Wildflowers are abundant here in the summer months. At 0.2 miles, you’ll begin passing Long Lake on your left. At 0.25 miles and 1 mile there are junctions for the Jean Lunning Trail. Continue on Pawnee Pass. Just before reaching the Lake Isabelle, you’ll skip across the South St. Vrain Creek on some well-placed stones. The hike ends on a ridge just above Lake Isabelle. The pristine lake framed by snow-capped craggy peaks is a sight to behold. Have a picnic, take some photos, and enjoy your time here. When you’ve had your fill, return the way you came.
If you’re looking for more trail time, continue on the Pawnee Pass Trail for another 2.5 miles to Pawnee Pass itself. The terrain is diverse and the views are spectacular. Another option is to include the Jean Lunning Trail on your way back. This relatively flat 2.5-mile loop encircles Long Lake.
The hike to Lake Isabelle is only a short drive away and its ease and beauty make it well worth the trip. Sometimes it’s good to leave the bubble, and it’s always good to come back. Happy trails, Boulderites!