Hike to Colorado's Isabelle Glacier

Isabelle Glacier Trail, Ward, Colorado, United States

  • Activities:

    Camping, Photography, Hiking

  • Skill Level:

    Beginner

  • Season:

    Summer, Autumn

  • Trail Type:

    Out-and-Back

  • RT Distance:

    8.4 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    1600 Feet

Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Forest
Lake
River
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Wildlife

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).

Getting There

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.

The 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.

Pack List

  • Standard day-hike gear
  • Wtaer
  • Hiking boots
  • Map
  • Snacks
  • Extra layers
  • Camera
  • Crampons
  • Ice axe
Read More

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

Community Photos

+ Add Photos

Reviews

Overall rating: 

Leave a Review

This is a great hike, close and convenient to Denver and Boulder. This hike is fairly easy but has stunning views, making it my go-to for out of town visitors who might not be adjusted to the altitude or who are not avid hikers. Almost anyone can do this trail and will be amazed by the views!

about 1 year ago
about 1 year ago

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.

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Love love love! One of the best hikes I've done. Our route was about 9.2 miles round trip. So beautiful and hardly didn't see anyone after we passed the lake

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Eric Schuette Explorer

I love adventure and exploring. Currently a school psychologist who tries to spend my free-time hiking, climbing, fishing, and celebrating with a good beer in Colorado. On Instagram @ericschuettephotography Cheers!!!

Are we missing something? Suggest an edit

Nearby Adventures

Hike the Sugar Bowl Loop in Kings Canyon NP

Tulare County, California

First and foremost, to get to this trailhead you need to drive down a 2-mile, one lane dirt road that is quite steep.

3 Saves

Hike to Ehukai Pillbox

59178 Ke Nui Road, Hawaii

This hike starts directly across from Banzai Pipeline, the famous barreling wave at Ehukai Beach.

7 Saves

Winter Hike to Calypso Cascades

1046 County Highway 115, Colorado

While most people go snowshoeing near the Bear Lake or Glacier Gorge area in RMNP, Wild Basin is a much less trafficked option.

5 Saves