Backcountry Guide

Planning your trip to the Indian Peaks Wilderness

Indian Peaks Wilderness is one of the most heavily used wilderness areas in the U.S. The 73,391 acre Indian Peaks Wilderness is located primarily within the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests. Indian Peaks Wilderness includes over 50 lakes, 28 trails covering 133 miles, and six “passes” across the Continental Divide. Elevations in the wilderness vary from 8,400 to over 13,500.

Start here, for backpacking information/permits, trail maps, and more: Indian Peaks Wilderness at USDA.

Trail Information, check out:

Reserve Campgrounds:

Indian Peaks Wilderness Backcountry Guide
[Leave No Trace] [Regulations] [Backcountry Permits
[Pack-stock] [Backcountry Zones Map]

Local weather conditions at Nederland, Colorado

(South of the Brainard Lake area)
Click for Nederland, Colorado Forecast

Always check local conditions at the Ranger District Office before entering the high country.
Boulder RD
Boulder, CO
Sulphur RD
Granby, CO

We have assembled information from the book Colorado’s Indian Peaks Wilderness: A Guide To Trails and Lakes by John Heasley, as well as the National Forest Service and our own volunteer handouts to compile this area to help you plan your wilderness trip.

Get yourself in condition for hiking or backpacking

How long will it take to get into condition for backpacking? That depends on you. The better shape you’re in now, the quicker you can cultivate the conditioning needed for a long-haul trip. The more diligence you show in your conditioning efforts, and the more lead time you allow yourself, the happier you’ll be on the trail.

Be patient and listen to your body. Try to do some form of exercise at least 3 times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes and get out on the trails for shorter hikes as soon as possible with your backpack.

Before starting any exercise program, always consult a physician.

Here are a few conditioning tips:

  • Begin with shorter, less strenuous hikes and a light backpack
  • Gradually increase the length and elevation of your hikes and increase your backpack load
  • Try stair-steppers, elliptical trainers and climbing machines
  • Consider step aerobics
  • Lift weights
  • Swim
  • Climb the stairs in your house
  • Walk instead of driving
  • If you’ve got a bike, start pedaling

Make a trip checklist.

A few items to consider are:

  • Map (in a watertight case)
  • Compass (or a GPS)
  • Forest Service Field Report Cards
  • Brainard Lake pass (if needed)
  • Extra clothing
  • Rain gear or plastic trash bags
  • Extra food and water
  • First-aid kit
  • Headlamp or flashlight (with extra batteries)
  • Cook stove
  • A Lighter or Matches (storm proof, or in a watertight container
  • Knife (or multi-use camp tool)
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen & insect repellent
  • Water filter (or other water treatment)
  • Whistle
  • Trowel (for cat holes, or better yet – pack out human waste in zip-lock type bags)
  • Dog leash(s)
  • Camera & film / binoculars
  • Extra boot laces
  • Tent, poles and sleeping bag

A few of the preceding hiking and trip planning tips were borrowed from the REI web site.

Leave No Trace

LNT Guidelines

Plan Ahead And Prepare

  • Know the regulations and special concerns for the area you’ll visit.
  • Prepare for extreme weather, hazards, and emergencies.
  • Schedule your trip to avoid times of high use.
  • Visit in small groups.  Split larger parties into groups of 4-6.
  • Repackage food to minimize waste.
  • Use a map and compass to eliminate the use of marking paint, rock cairns or flagging.

Travel And Camp On Durable Surfaces

  • Durable surfaces include established trails and campsites, rock, gravel, dry grasses or snow.
  • Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
  • Good campsites are found, not made.  Altering a site is not necessary in popular areas.
  • Concentrate use on existing trails and campsites.
  • Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
  • Keep campsites small.  Focus activities in areas where vegetation is absent.
  • Disperse use to prevent the creation of campsites and trails.
  • Avoid places where impacts are just beginning.

Dispose Of Waste Properly

  • Pack it in, pack it out.  Inspect your campsite and rest areas for trash or spilled foods.  Pack out all trash, leftover food, and litter.
  • Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep at least 200 feet from water, camp, and trails.  Cover and disguise the cathole when finished.
  • Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products.
  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap.  Scatter strained dishwater.

Leave What You Find

  • Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch, cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
  • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.

Minimize Campfire Impacts

  • Campfires cause lasting impacts to the backcountry.  Use a lightweight stove for cooking, and enjoy a candle lantern for light.
  • Where fires are permitted, use established fire rings, fire pans, or mound fires.
  • Keep fires small.  Only use sticks from the ground that can be broken by hand.
  • Burn all wood and coals to ash, put out campfires completely, then scatter cool ashes.

Respect Wildlife

  • Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.
  • Never feed animals.  Feeding wildlife damages their health, alters natural behaviors, and exposes them to predators and other dangers.
  • Protect wildlife and your food by storing rations and trash securely.
  • Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

Be Considerate Of Other Visitors

  • Respect other visitors and protect the quality of their experience.
  • Be courteous.  Yield to other users of the trail.
  • Step to the downhill side of the trail when encountering pack stock.
  • Take breaks and camp away from trails and other visitors.
  • Let nature’s sounds prevail.  Avoid loud voices and noises.

The above seven LNT principles apply when on foot or on horseback but the following are some specific things to consider when taking a horse in the back country.


  • To minimize livestock problems, take as few as possible — one pack animal for every three or four people in your group.
  • To prevent damage during short stops, tie horses to trees at least 8 inches in diameter.
  • 888 Rule – During long periods, tie horses to a high line that stretches between two sturdy trees, that are at least 8 inches in diameter, 8 feet off the ground and 8 feet between horses so they can move about freely.
  • To protect vegetation, move livestock often if you picket them.
  • To avoid water pollution and damage to fragile riparian areas, keep horses 200 feet from lakes, streams, and springs.
  • Avoid damage to fragile alpine areas; picket horses below timberline when possible.
  • Use only Certified Weed Free hay or commercial hay cubes.
  • When feeding grains, use a feed bag.

Copyright of Leave No Trace, Inc. Reprinted with permission. For Leave No Trace information and materials call: 1-800-332-4100 or visit: WWW.LNT.ORG.
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  • Campfires are prohibited on the 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.
  • Permits are required for all overnight campers June 1 through September 15.
  • Permits are required for day and overnight use for organizational groups such as scouts, churches, schools and hiking clubs. Group size is limited to 12 people and packstock combined.
  • Camping is prohibited in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone from May 1 through November 30.
  • In the Diamond, Jasper, Crater and Caribou Lakes Backcountry Zones camping is allowed only at designated campsites.
  • Camping is prohibited within 100 feet of lakes, streams and trails.
  • Motorized or mechanized equipment, including mountain bikes, wagons, carts and chainsaws, are not permitted (wheelchairs are allowed).
  • Packstock are prohibited in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone, in the Cascade Backcountry Zone above Cascade Falls and on the Diamond Lake Trail #975.
  • Hobbling, tethering or picketing of packstock is prohibited within 100 feet of lakes, streams or trails.
  • Only certified weed-free hay, straw, mulch or other livestock feed is allowed.

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Backcountry Permits:

To reduce ecological impact of visitors in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, the US Forest Service allocates Backcountry Permits for the wilderness from June 1 to September 15. A limited number of permits are available for each of 17 Backcountry Zones (Camping is not permitted between May 1 to November 30 in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone). Due to limited availability, it is recommended that you request your permit as far in advance as possible before your outing. Permits may be obtained by mail or in person from the following locations.

Boulder Ranger District
USDA Forest Service

2140 Yarmouth Ave.
Boulder, CO 80301
Office hours: Mon-Fri 8-4:30
Sulphur Ranger District
USDA Forest Service

9 Ten Mile Drive
P.O. Box 10
Granby, CO 80446
(970)887-4100 (V/TDD) (970)887-4101
Summer hours: Mon-Sat 8-4:30
Estes Park Office USDA Forest Service
161 Second Street
Estes Park, CO 80517
Summer hours: 9-5, 7 days a week
(May vary based on volunteer staff)
Indian Peaks Ace Hardware
74 Hwy 119
Located behind Mutual of Omaha Bank
Nederland, CO 80466
8 am – 7 pm Mon-Sat
9 am – 5 pm Sunday
Monarch Lake
Wilderness Station

8-5, 7 days a week (tentative)
Junco Lake
Wilderness Station

8-5, 7 days a week (tentative)

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Dogs must be on hand-held leashes at all times while in the wilderness. Failure to leash your dog may result in a fine.
A few good reasons for leashing your dog are:

  • To protect your dog from becoming lost
  • To protect your dog from wilderness hazards such as porcupines, mountain lions, bears and rabid animals
  • For the enjoyment and wilderness experience of other hikers and other hikers with dogs
  • To protect the wildlife in the wilderness
  • To ensure the continued benefit of bringing your dog into the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

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Pack-stock are prohibited in the following backcountry zones: Crater Lake, Four lakes, Cascade Creek (above Cascade Falls).
Use only certified weed-free straw, hay and mulch.
Hobbling, tethering or picketing of pack-stock is prohibited within 100 feet of lakes, streams or trails.

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