• Michael O'Keeffe

A Dramatic Sunset in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, CO

Last week I was able to snag a permit for a dayhike in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, a wild stretch of Colorado's Front Range. The area is supremely scenic and offers easy access for the Front Range cities (Denver, Boulder, Loveland, Fort Collins, etc) which makes it supremely busy. Fortunately, a permit system has been implemented in the busiest areas to reduce traffic and protect these wild spaces. Unfortunately, backpacking is not allowed in this portion of the IPW so dayhiking is what is allowed. My goal was to catch sunset on top of Pawnee Pass and scramble around the surrounding peaks. A 9+ mile roundtrip from the trailhead.

The trail itself is stunning. A few miles of old growth forest followed by stunning Lake Isabelle finished with a steep, but well designed uphill to the pass with unbeatable views in every direction. The real surprise for me however, was the dramatic granite cliffs that flanked the pass. Despite the area being so popular I swear people are sleeping on this area because of all the places I've traveled this has got to be one of the most impressive and dramatic mountain wildernesses in the US. All within an hours drive of my house! Anyway, I'll the pictures do the talking from here on out! Enjoy!

Shoshoni Peak Indian Peaks wilderness Colorado.
Shoshoni Peak rises dramatically above Lake Isabelle.
Lake Isabelle Colorado
Looking across Lake Isabelle. A beautiful spot!
Pawnee Pass Colorado
On the trail to Pawnee Pass, Shoshoni Peak commands the horizon.
Cascades Indian Peaks Colorado
Many beautiful cascading streams were laced among the dramatic landscape.
Navajo Peak Colorado
A massive boulder under Navajo Peak.
Forest Indian Peaks Colorado
Beautiful subalpine forest along the trail.
Indian Peaks Colorado
Emerging from the forest along the Pawnee Pass trail.
Indian Peaks Colorado
A stream meanders through a meadow beneath granite cliffs.
Pawnee Pass Colorado
Pawnee Ridge
Close-up of Little Pawnee Peak
Stunning alpine basin on the way to Pawnee Pass.
Looking down on Lake Isabelle and South Saint Vrain Creek.
Lake Isabelle far below along the trail to Pawnee Pass.
This area reminded me of the Ansel Adams Wilderness in the Sierras of California.
A beautiful tarn below the trail.
Marmots near the pass.
A rocky section of trail beneath Pawnee Ridge.
As I approached the pass, the clouds were beginning to part.
Arriving at the pass this is the view looking west.
A pano looking west towards Pawnee Lake and distant Lake Granby from the pass.
These cliffs were unlike anything I've ever come across.
Stunning granite formations

Looking the opposite direction the cliffs were just as stunning.

Climbing a bit higher from the pass offered new perspectives.

Impressive rock formations rising above the tundra.
Pawnee Lake far below.
Towering pinnacles
The swirling clouds revealed another cliff face beyond.
Looking north towards Rocky Mountain National Park and the distant Never Summers.
Close-up of the awe inspiring rock pinnacles.
A pano looking north towards Pawnee Peak and Pawnee Lake.
Crazy geology!
Looking east towards the distant plains.
It's frustrating how little these photos do any of this justice.
Hi, Welcome to Mordor
These unusual carved out sections of cliff were so cool!
Looking stormy
The clouds begin rolling in making for a dramatic scene.
Just pure magic up here!
Dramatic lighting
A close-up reveals the distant crags of the Gore Range beyond.
The distant tower re-emerges from hiding.
Holy cannoli!
Looking north beyond the cliffs.
Endless mountains
A small rocky peaklet I summited.
A glorious rocky mess.
Gaining some perspective on these cliffs.
Wildflowers cling the steep cliff sides.
Looking down the steep slopes to Pawnee Lake.
Lake Granby sits below the setting sun.
I will never get tired of these.
One more
A "self shadow" on the flat open pass before heading back down.
Classic alpine environment at Pawnee Pass (12,541ft)
Looking east from the pass down towards the plains.
The tall buildings of Denver can be seen near the center of the photo. So cool!
A dramatic stormy sky over the plains.
Clouds clear from Navajo Peak on the hike back out.
Beautiful clouds looking back up at the pass.
Just pure bliss up in these mountains. Stunning!
A colorful storm at last light.
The never ending sunset!
Lake Isabelle one last time.
Until next time IPW!

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