Pets allowed
Elevation Gain
2,032.00 ft (619.35 m)
Trail type
9.00 mi (14.48 km)
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Along with several other wonderful trails, the hike to Long Lake, Lake Isabelle, and Pawnee Pass starts at Brainard Lake Recreation Area just an hour's drive from Boulder. At 9 miles round-trip with just over 2,000 feet in elevation gain, this is a moderate hike that passes through subalpine forests, alpine lakes, and offers fantastic views of the Indian Peaks and the tundra above the tree line.

Starting at Brainard Lake, there are plenty of opportunities to see wildlife, especially given the healthy population of moose in the area. While there is a parking lot at the Long Lake Trailhead, it is very small; it is best to arrive well before 7 a.m., especially on weekends. If this lot is full, there is usually plenty of space in the day use parking area at Brainard Lake, though that adds about a mile each way to the hike.

Long Lake is only a quarter of a mile away on an easy hike with little elevation gain. Once there, take a moment to enjoy the view from the bridge over the South Saint Vrain Creek on the east end of the lake. The trail continues through subalpine forest as it proceeds into the Indian Peaks Wilderness, and Lake Isabelle is almost 2 miles ahead. Wildflowers around streams and around the lake add color to the beautiful views of the Indian Peaks in the background, most notably Navajo, Apache and Shoshoni Peaks, with Navajo Glacier being visible from the trail. Note that the lake is in the Boulder watershed, so it is often drained in late summer to feed Lefthand Reservoir.

After Lake Isabelle the trail is rockier and steeper, but the views make the hike well worth it. As the trail zigzags through the rocky outcrops it offers wonderful views of the lakes to the east and Indian Peaks to the west. Above the tree line, take time to look at the micro-scale forest on the tundra. 

Pawnee Pass, on the continental divide, is 12,550 feet above sea level and marks the border between the Roosevelt and Arapaho National Forests. From that point you can see Lake Granby some 8 miles away, and you can continue the hike north to 12,943-foot Pawnee Peak or west to Crater Lake. 

Note that the gate at the fee station is generally open from Memorial Day until sometime in October, depending on weather conditions. If the gate is closed, it is possible to hike or bike 2.5 miles to Brainard Lake.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass

General Day Use Fee


Beautiful alpine scenery. Wildflowers.


Small parking lot at the trailhead. Lake Isabelle may not be full.

Trailhead Elevation

10,518.00 ft (3,205.89 m)


Bird watching
Big Game Watching
Big vistas
Big Game Watching


Nearby Lodging + Camping


The winter time scenario at Brainard Lake Recreation area is very different ( still beautiful). The road is closed 2 miles from the summer trailhead right at the fee station where there is a big winter parking lot ( which still gets full on weekends but not as crazy as in summer) . There is no fee to enter the park in winter. A 2.5 mile snowshoe trail to Brainard lake starts right by the side of the road closure point. If you walk on the closed road it is about 2 miles. The area receives so much snow that these trails are perfect for snowshoeing. You might not need them to get to Brainard lake because the trail is well trafficked and likely packed down. But from Brainard lake to Long lake and Isabelle Lake , the traffic thins down significantly in winter and you will need snowshoes. The trail markers could also be easily missed as they will get buried in snow. A 1 mile trail takes you to Long Lake from brainard lake. Long lake as the name suggests is a pretty long lake, The 2.9 mile Jean Lunning loop trail runs circling Long lake. If one is headed to Lake Isabelle in Winter it is better to keep to the right of the lake as it is the shorter part of the loop. Lake Isabelle is further 1.3 mile from the point where the spur to the Jean Lunning loop occurs on the far side of Long lake. The last 0.2 mile before getting to Lake Isabelle is pretty steep and can be challenging in deep snow. Not many proceed beyond Lake Isabelle in winter, so you are not likely to see any trails to Isabelle Glacier or Pawnee pass from Lake Isabelle. From the winter trail head, to get to Lake Isabelle is around 5.5 mile one way with 1300 ft elevation gain. It is easily a 6-8 hour round trip in snowshoes. So start early. Also there is a heated hut maintained and manned during day time by Colorado Mountain Club near Brainard lake Check their website for the hours when a host is present. One can also stay there overnight which could be fun.
An alternative to Pawnee Pass is to proceed from Lake Isabelle to Isabelle Glacier which is only 1.75 miles beyond the lake at an elevation of 12,000'. Both Pawnee Pass and Isabelle Glacier are worthy goals! Photo of the glacier is from August 2010.
Kelly's experience was not atypical; we went on 8/26/17 at 6:45am because we'd see reviews on another website indicating the area fills up fast in the summer, and we ended up having to park at the Mitchell Lake Trailhead because they told us the Long Lake TH was full at 6:15am!! Crazy. The Mitchell Lake TH was full soon after that and people were parking back at Niwot and Brainard. The hike was beautiful and well worth it, but you have to go insanely early on a weekend to get parking, unfortunately.
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