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Pawnee-Buchanan Loop

 4.9 (31)
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26.4 Miles 42.4 Kilometers

6,673' 2,034 m


-6,665' -2,032 m



Avg Grade (5°)


Max Grade (24°)

12,529' 3,819 m


8,817' 2,688 m




Getting forecast...

One of the top long loops in Colorado.

Jason Doedderlein

Dogs Leashed

Features Birding · Fall Colors · Lake · River/Creek · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife


This is an easily accessed world class 27 mile loop, leading through some absolutely stunning terrain. The closest comparison to this route is the four pass loop around Maroon Bells. I do not think this quite matches that level of scenic beauty, but it comes pretty close and is much easier to access for most of the state to give it an extra star.

Need to Know

There is an $11 charge to access the recreation area. With 4wd you can get around this by driving to the Coney Flats TH area (which I will likely do if I do this again in the future). If you are desperate to do so, a map will show you how. It will also save you the anguish of dealing with the chaos of the parking area.

Must have an Indian Peaks Wilderness Permit to overnight in this area. The permit is only $5.00, but it is necessary. Permits can be applied for by mail or in person, no over the phone or fax option.


I started this loop at the Long Lake TH in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. Take the trail from there, and follow it the .5 miles to the Mitchell Lake TH. Head out early as this area is quite popular later in the day.

From Mitchel Lake head up the Mount Audubon Trail. This will head up above treeline quickly and you'll go around Mount Audubon, so enjoy views of the mountain. At the junction where the trail heads up to Mount Audubon, continue on to the Beaver Creek Trail.

The Beaver Creek Trail will take you to Coney Flats after about 3.5 miles. At Coney Flats, which is where the trail hits the 4x4 rd, take a left to head up Buchanan Pass Trail. This trail is not wonderfully marked and I struggled a bit with feeling certain I was on the right trail. Head towards the high ground and you'll be on the right trail. It is 3.5 miles to the pass.

Enjoy the view as you climb and hit the pass.

After the pass, the trail is splendid as it drops quickly down into the trees. The trail continues through meadows and across creeks. The views and the solitude are amazing.

Continue on the Buchanan Pass Trail west until you hit the aptly named Cascade Trail. This will be the lowest point in your journey. The Cascades and falls along the next couple of miles are some of the best you'll find in Colorado as you follow Cascade creek higher.

Eventually, you'll separate from the creek as you climb into the basin. Enjoy the view as the jagged mountain walls encircle you and you wonder where the hell Pawnee Pass is. Around that time, you'll come across the Pawnee Pass Trail to rise above the basin and begin a slow and painful climb up to the pass.

When you are close to losing your mind, begging for this friggin' climb to end, you'll be about 500 ft from the top.

From the pass, there is a great singletrack that drops back to into the trees, past Lake Isabelle and to the Long Lake TH.

Flora & Fauna

Bugling elks, little critters, big birds trying to get the little critters and wildflowers galore can be found on this trail.


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Your Check-Ins


Aug 28, 2018
Mark Korpics
Aug 12, 2018
Julie Archibald
Aug 5, 2018
Tanner Applegate
Jul 22, 2018
Mat Greten
Completely dry. 26mi
Jul 8, 2018
Alex Vanston
3 day backpacking trek 26.4mi
Sep 21, 2017
Chad Fuller VI
Started at Brainard Lake to Pawnee Pass. Stayed at Fox Hanging Valley. 3 day trip would be ideal. 27mi
Sep 15, 2017
Kimberly McLaurin
Sep 2, 2017
Rinat Shagisultanov

Trail Ratings

  4.9 from 31 votes


  4.9 from 31 votes
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Pros and cons of going the opposite direction than detailed above? Jul 11, 2017
Jason Doedderlein
Colorado Springs
Jason Doedderlein   Colorado Springs
You would knock out the highest, and roughest part, up front. That is the benefit. Cons? Not so sure. It has been too long since I did it to remember if the scenery would necessarily be better in one direction or the other. I must admit, if I were to do this again, and started from the parking lot, I would likely go in the opposite direction than what is detailed. Jul 11, 2017
Brian Sweeney
Longmont, CO
Brian Sweeney   Longmont, CO
I tried getting to the Coney Flats trailhead via Middle St. Vrain Road and immediately realized my vehicle was probably not going to make it. Some 4x4 enthusiasts at the trailhead (the road is a trail, make no mistake) confirmed my suspicion citing as evidence that they had broken one of their heavily modified jeeps and just barely made it back. Coney Flats Road is not supposed to be any better. Aug 22, 2017

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