Indian Peaks Wilderness

The Indian Peaks Wilderness was designated as a protected wilderness area in 1978 by an act of Congress and signed by Jimmy Carter.

 

It encompasses 73,391 acres with over 50 lakes, 28 trails covering 133 miles, and six passes across the Continental Divide. Elevations in these wilderness areas vary from 8,400 to over 13,500 feet, from montane to sub-alpine and alpine lifezones.

 

It borders the James Peak Wilderness to the south and Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) to the north. The Indian Peaks region was originally included in the proposed boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park park drawn up by Enos Mills but later revised to its current area when the park was established in 1915. 

The Indian Peaks were named by botanist Ellsworth Bethel in the 1900s after Native American tribes that visited or lived in the area or were based in the West. These include Apache Peak, Shoshoni Peak, Pauite Peak, Arikaree Peak, Kiowa Peak, Navajo Peak, Ogalalla Peak, Pawnee Peak, and North and South Arapaho Peaks. Today, the Indian Peaks is one of the most popular and heavily used wilderness areas in the country due to its close proximity to the Denver/Boulder metro area.

 

The Indian Peaks form the impressive mountain range to the west of the Front Range Boulder-Denver metro area (see the peaks listed below): 

Planning your visit

The Indian Peaks Wilderness is located a 45 minute drive west of Boulder and 1-hour drive northwest from Denver. The trailheads are located in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests near the mountain towns of Allenspark, Ward, Nederland, and Eldora.

Between Memorial Day and Labor Day each year, approximately 150,000+ visitors make the Indian Peaks Wilderness one of the most heavily used wilderness areas in the country due to its close proximity to the Denver/Boulder metro area.  See the section on parking below.

Hiking Trails

 

The Indian Peaks Wilderness has 28 trails covering 133 miles. Popular trailheads accessed from the eastern slope of the Front Range (east side of the Continental Divide) include:

  • Brainard Lake Recreation Area to Blue Lake, Long Lake, Lake Isabelle/Isabelle Glacier, Mitchell Lake, Mt Audubon, Mt Toll, Niwot Ridge, Pauite Peak, Pawnee Lake/Pass/Peak, Sourdough Trail 

  • Hessie Trailhead with trails to Devil's Thumb-High Lonesome, Betty and Bob Lakes, King Lake, Jasper Lake, Lost Lake, Woodland Lake, Storm Lakes, Skyscraper Reservoir

  • 4th of July Trailhead to Arapaho Lakes, Glacier/Pass, Caribou Lake, Diamond Lake and Upper Diamond Lake, Lake Dorothy, Neva Lakes

  • Beaver Creek Trailhead to Beaver Creek, Coney Flats to Mt Audubon, ​Coney Lake

  • St Vrain Mountain and Middle St Vrain 4WD Trailheads with trails to St Vrain Mountain, Gibraltar Lakes, Red Deer Lake

  • Buchanan Pass Trailhead to Buchanan Pass

  • Rainbow Lakes and Arapaho Glacier Overlook Trailhead to Rainbow Lakes and Arapaho Glacier Overlook

Parking

 

Many parking lots fill up quickly so get there early to secure a spot especially on weekends and holidays. A free shuttle runs on weekends and holidays May 26 - Oct 7 from the Nederland Park-n-Ride to the Hessie Trailhead. Check out the Hessie Trailhead Bus Schedule for more information.

Know Before You Go

 

Start here: for alerts and closures, regulations, backpacking information & permits, trail maps, and more: USFS Indian Peaks Wilderness page.

For trail information check out: AllTrails, Protrails, and HikingProject websites.

Always follow Leave No Trace Principles

 

Check out Summer Trail Conditions (or Winter Trail Conditions)

Visit the Ecology, Flora & Fauna page for safety tips in Moose, Bear and Mountain Lion Country!

 

Check out Weather Conditions and the Niwot Ridge TundraCam at 11,600 ft 

 

Maps

Brainard Summer Map Thumb.JPG

Brainard Summer Trails Brochure & Map

Brainard Winter Map Thumb.JPG

Brainard Winter Trails Brochure & Map

BZ Map Thumnail.JPG

Backcountry Zones Map

Campgrounds

Campgrounds available near some of the trailheads and most require advanced reservations with first come-first serve campgrounds filled by early Friday morning during busy summer weekends. Please contact the Boulder Ranger District (303-541-2500) as they will answer questions about known availability etc. 

  • Pawnee Campground at Brainard Lake Recreation Area: Reservations can be made online or by calling 1-877-444-6777.

  • Rainbow Lakes Campground first come, first serve. See the USFS Rainbow Lakes Campground page.

  • Peaceful Valley Campground near the Middle St Vrain Trailhead. Reservations can be made online or by calling 1-877-444-6777.

  • Camp Dick Campground near the Middle St Vrain Trailhead. Reservations can be made online or by calling 1-877-444-6777.

  • Buckingham Campground at Fourth of July Trailhead: first come, first serve. See Boulder County Open Space page.

 

For more information about other campground locations, visit the USFS Campground At-A-Glance page.

 
Backpacking & Overnight Use

 

Backpacking and overnight use in the wilderness area is available year-round. However to reduce the ecological impact of visitors, permits are required for all overnight backpacking trips between June 1st - September 15th. 

Due to limited availability, it is recommended that you request your permit as far in advance as possible before your trip. A limited number of permits are available for each backcountry zone (see map).

Permit Issuing Locations: 

 

Day-of-trip Permits Only:

  • Monarch and Junco Lake Wilderness Stations - summer only

  • Indian Peaks Ace Hardware, 74 Hwy. 119 South, Nederland, CO 80466, (303) 258-3132

 
Regulations 

  • Campfires are prohibited on the east side of the Continental Divide. Temporary fire restrictions can prohibit campfires in all areas.

  • Group size is limited to 12 people and livestock combined.

  • Permits are required for all overnight campers 6/1 - 9/15.

  • Permits are always required for large groups of 8-12 people and outfitters/guides.

  • Camping is prohibited in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone (5/1 - 11/30).

  • In the Diamond, Jasper, Crater, and Caribou Lake Zones, camping is allowed only in designated campsites.

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

  • Pets must be on a hand-held leash at all times. Visit Dogs in the Wilderness for more tips and information.

  • Motorized or mechanized equipment including drones, chain saws and mountain bikes are prohibited.

  • Livestock (horses, llamas) are prohibited in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone, in the Cascade Backcountry Zone above Cascade Falls, and on the Diamond Lake Trail.

Please note, if there is any discrepancy between any rules and regulations as presented on the IPWA site and on the US Forest Service site, then those found on the US Forest Service site take precedence.

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Saving Wilderness. Changing Lives.

INDIAN PEAKS WILDERNESS ALLIANCE (IPWA)

P.O. Box 17382, Boulder CO 80308   |   hikers@indianpeakswilderness.org