Hike to Colorado's Isabelle Glacier
Colorado › Isabelle Glacier Trail
Added by Eric Schuette
Experience one of the coolest glaciers in the front range of Colorado via an easy day hike. You'll pass by gorgeous Lake Isabelle en route to the glacier, as well as several beautiful meadows (full of flowers in the summer).
The trailhead can be reached from Boulder by driving west through Boulder Canyon on Highway 42 to Nederland, then going north on the Peak-to-Peak Highway 72 to the town of Ward. From there, a National Forest Sign on the west side of the highway provides directions to the ranger station, which is five miles west on a paved park road. A five-day park pass costs $8; a seasonal pass is $35; and if you have the America the Beautiful pass, it's free! The parking lot fills up early, so make sure you arrive before the crowds. No spots left? Park at Brainard Lake, which increases the length of the hike by several miles each way.
Note: In the winter, trailhead access is very difficult since to the road at the entrance station is closed. Be aware that some avalanche danger does exist on this trail.
This hike begins at the Long Lake trailhead located in the Brainard Lake recreation area. Follow the Long Lake trail along an easy grade until you reach the junction with the Isabelle Glacier/Pawnee Pass trail. Take the fork to the right and continue to Lake Isabelle. Here, continue on the trail around the lake (ignoring the trail to the right that goes to Pawnee Pass) until you near the outlet stream.
From here, the trail climbs up through waterfalls and meadows into a wet valley shelf. The south or left side is usually the easiest route, but expect marshy conditions. The trail can be hard to follow but generally hugs the south side of the valley. As you climb through talus to a tarn below the glacier, occasional cairns mark the route.
Follow the tarn stick to the north side of the trail as it veers toward a large cascade. From the cascade, the trail switchbacks steeply through talus (the easiest route is through the rocks) into the basin containing Isabelle Glacier. Once at the base of the glacier, take in the stunning scenery around you or climb up the glacier as far as conditions, gear, and comfort level allow. Near the top, the slope can be 40-45 degrees.
Be aware that most of this hike lies in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, and there are many restrictions to follow pertaining to pets, camping, and hiking.
- Standard day-hike gear
- Hiking boots
- Extra layers
- Ice axe
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More
Camping, Hiking, Photography
Are we missing something?Suggest an edit
ReviewsLeave a Review
I normally don't review places, but for some odd reason I feel compelled to do so. Whether it had to do with the park ranger to offer to carry my dog's poop back for me or the breathtaking view at the end. It was well worth the hike. It is now one of my favorite places to go to. I will say that the entrance fee is now $10. But the park rangers are super friendly and really enjoy their job.
More Adventures Nearby
Catch a Sunset Above Milner Pass
Colorado / Alpine Visitor Center
This is a great place to be at sunrise or sunset. Bring a camera & tripod and check the weather ahead of time. Take Trail Ridge Road all the way to the top and park at the Alpine Visitor Center.
Hike the Shanahan Ridge Trail
Colorado / Shanahan Ridge Trailhead
Starting on the edge of a neighborhood in South Boulder, this 3.8 mile loop begins its 869 foot elevation gain by meandering through a pine forest.