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Pawnee-Buchanan Loop

 19 votes


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



Minor Issues 67 days ago
Snowy, Icy History

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One of the top long loops in Colorado.

Jason Doedderlein


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.
Features: Birding — Fall Colors — Lake — River/Creek — Views — Waterfall — Wildflowers — Wildlife
Dogs: Leashed

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.

Runner Notes

This is a very rocky loop. It is a good ankle workout. Much of it is also above treeline. Come prepared as you would anywhere else in Colorado during the summer monsoon season.


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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Sep 4, 2017
Jen McMurtrey
Sep 3, 2017
Rodger Greer
The cascades are stunning! Climbing up Pawnee Pass was a gut-buster. I drank through my water, so consider taking extra or a mini-filter.
Aug 20, 2017
Samuel Andree
W/ Spencer, Kevin, and Allison. 28mi — 8h 30m
Aug 12, 2017
Daniel Kinney
25.8mi — 7h 00m
Aug 11, 2017
Michael Reschly
26mi — 9h 15m
Aug 4, 2017
Ryan Starbuck
Amazing run with a lot of great views above treeline. Wildflowers, waterfalls and wildlife galore 26.9mi — 8h 15m
Jul 22, 2017
Bobby Biles
Awesome day on the trails. The back side of the loop is amazing...waterfalls everywhere & amazing wild flowers. A must-do loop! 26.4mi
Jul 22, 2017
Amanda Stone

Trail Ratings

  4.9 from 19 votes


  4.9 from 19 votes
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