Monday, October 22, 2012

Exploring the Indian Peaks Wilderness

Along the southern border of Rocky Mountain National Park lies the 76,711-acre Indian Peaks Wilderness. This spectacular preserve stretches roughly 18 miles along the Continental Divide, and is roughly 15 miles at its widest point. Located primarily within the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests, the Indian Peaks Wilderness contains rugged peaks, alpine tundra, glacially-carved valleys, cirque basins, remnant glaciers, more than 50 lakes, six passes that cross the Continental Divide and seven peaks that climb above 13,000 feet. The area ranges in elevation from 8,400 feet to just over 13,500 feet, with roughly 35% of the land lying above treeline.

Many of the mountains within the wilderness, which became part of the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1978, are named after western Native American tribes, such as Apache Peak, Arikaree Peak, Kiowa Peak, Navajo Peak, Paiute Peak, Ogallala Peak, Pawnee Peak, and the highest point, North Arapaho Peak, at 13,502 feet.

The Indian Peaks are home to a wide variety of wildlife, including moose, elk, mule deer, mountain lions, black bears, bobcats, coyote, red fox, beaver, ptarmigan, marmots and pica, among others.

As you might expect the wilderness offers numerous recreational opportunities, such as hiking, backpacking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and fishing. The lakes and streams in the Indian Peaks are inhabited by native cutthroat trout, and introduced rainbow, brook, and brown trout.

Due to its close proximity to Denver and Boulder, Indian Peaks is one of the most heavily used wilderness areas in the United States. As a result, backcountry permits are required for all overnight camping between June 1st and September 15th. Permits are also required for all organized groups for day use and camping at any time throughout the year. Additionally, campfires are prohibited on the east side of the Continental Divide, and around most lakes on the west side. You may also want to note that mountain biking is prohibited, and that dogs are allowed on trails, but must be kept on hand-held leashes at all times.

If you’re seeking solitude you may want to consider hiking and camping on weekdays, or use less popular areas. The 17,000-acre James Peak Wilderness, directly to the south of Indian Peaks, may be an option as well.

Hiking in Indian Peaks Wilderness:

Within Indian Peaks are 28 trails that travel roughly 133 miles. They visit waterfalls, alpine lakes, tarns, high elevation passes and mountain summits. The six passes that traverse the Continental Divide provide access to some of the most spectacular alpine scenery in the Rocky Mountains. The wilderness area also contains many notable mountaineering routes.

Some of the most popular hikes in the wilderness include Lake Isabelle, Pawnee Pass and Pawnee Peak from the Long Lake Trailhead, Mt. Audubon from the Mitchell Lake Trailhead, Arapaho Glacier and Lake Dorothy from the Fourth of July Trailhead, Buchanan Pass from the Beaver Creek Trailhead, and Crater Lake from the Monarch Lake Trailhead. East of the Divide, near the town of Ward, is the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. It contains a fairly large campground, and serves as a hub for many trails into the wilderness.

Please note that many trails in the wilderness can remain snow-covered through June and into July.

The following are a list of trailheads that lead into the Indian Peaks.

East of the Divide (from north to south):
* Mt. Saint Vrain Trailhead
* Middle Saint Vrain Trailhead
* Beaver Creek Trailhead
* Mitchell Lake and Long Lake Trailhead (both near Brainard Lake)
      - Pawnee Pass
      - Lake Isabelle
      - Long Lake Loop
* Rainbow Lakes Trailhead
* Fourth of July Trailhead
* Hessie Trailhead
* Rollins Pass Trailhead

West of the Divide (from north to south):
* Roaring Fork Trailhead
* Monarch Lake Trailhead
* Meadow Creek Trailhead
* Devils Thumb Park Trailhead
* Rollins Pass Trailhead

Additional Information:

* Indian Peaks Wilderness Alliance

* Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests

* Trails in Indian Peaks

* Colorado's Indian Peaks – by Gerry Roach

* Indian Peaks Trail Map – Nat Geo Trails Illustrated Map

For recorded voice information about the Indian Peaks Wilderness, please call 303-541-2519.


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