The Pawnee Pass Trail connects the east side of the Indian Peaks Wilderness with trails in the western portion via Pawnee Pass. It is 7.7 miles in length and gains and loses a total of 4,542 feet in elevation. Overall, the trail is of moderate difficulty with some easy sections and one particularly difficult stretch. Use is very high on the eastern portion of the trail, partcularly that below Lake Isabelle. As with most trails in this wilderness, the surface can be quite rocky, especially on the west side of the pass. There is ample water along most sections of the trail. As always, all water must be treated before drinking. The scenery along this trail is some of the most spectacular in the wilderness. From the majestic towers of Arikaree (13,150’), Navaho (13,409’), Apache (13,441’), Shoshoni (12,967’), and Pawnee Peaks (12,943’) and the deep blue waters of Long, Isabelle, and Pawnee Lakes to the awe inspiring views from Pawnee Pass, a trip over this trail is a scenic feast for your eyes. Because of the heavy use of this trail on the east side deer and elk are not often seen. However, yellow bellied marmots and pikas are often heard and seen among the rocky slopes higher on the trail. Ptarmigan can be seen scurrying amongst the rocks and grass in the pass.
The Pawnee Pass Trail begins at the Long Lake Trailhead at an elevation of 10,500 feet. The trail is fairly level for the first two miles as it travels along the north side of Long Lake toward the east end of Lake Isabelle. It gets steeper as it climbs the north ridge of the valley just below the lake. From here it begins a moderately steep 2.5 mile climb to the pass situated at an elevation of 12,541 feet. It makes numerous switchbacks from one side of the ridge to the other as it climbs above Lake Isabelle. You get tremendous views of the lake along this section of the trail. From the right side of the ridge you see the spectacular rock formations of the drainage leading to Pawnee Peak. The trail levels off some in a saddle between Pawnee Peak and Shoshoni Peak before making the final ascent to the pass, offering a brief respite from the steady climb. The final ascent is made up the ridge to the north via several long switchbacks. The terrain on top of the pass is level for a tenth of a mile or so and offers no protection from the often strong, cold winds. It takes about 2.5 to 3 hours to hike to this point.
This video was shot by Vimeo User: Ray Pempengco