Field Notes: Deputy Forest Supervisor treks through Indian Peaks Wilderness

Aaron Mayville is the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland Deputy Forest Supervisor, a job that keeps him tied more to his chair than the field. He took an opportunity to backpack through the Indian Peaks Wilderness and tour the Arapaho National Recreation Area to connect with the land we care for and the people we serve.

Man in Forest Service green hat and uniform with a backpack.

The 73,391-acre Indian Peaks Wilderness is one of the jewels of the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests – spanning the Continental Divide, the Wilderness area sees an incredible number of visitors each year, and I wanted to experience that use first-hand. The Forest began an online permit program this year, so I grabbed my backpacking gear, uniform, and some tools to do work along the way and I headed out.

Down, dead wood lays in a lake with a mountain range behind and a blue sky.

I left on Sept. 25 after getting my timed entry reservation for the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. I spoke to more than two dozen people who all were pleased about the new timed entry system and how much easier it was to find parking. Along the trail, I was also able to meet one of our Indian Peaks Wilderness Alliance volunteers, who help us manage this beautiful area. I experienced steep climbs and heavy winds as I headed from the Boulder Ranger District side of the Wilderness and crossed the Continental Divide to the Sulphur Ranger District and Grand County. Along the way I counted nearly 25 pika and made sure to give them plenty of space as I was just a passing visitor. The view from the top of Pawnee Pass at an elevation of 12,550’ was stunning, but I descended to Pawnee Lake. That night was cold, which likely contributed to the fact that I camped without any other human visitors – something quite rare in such a popular area, but it allowed me to fully appreciate the isolation that Wilderness areas can provide.

Forefront a lake is in front of  a tall, pointed mountain peak.

On the second day of my trip, I ate breakfast while a curious pine marten gave me a look. I was sure to not leave any scraps behind! Early on I came upon an area with significant blow down across the trail and I cleared four trees that my saw could handle, but most were very large and would require additional labor. The aspen were turning into fall colors as I made my way down the Pawnee Pass Trail and then took the Crater Lake Trail. At Mirror Lake, you come out of the trees and see the famous shot of Lone Eagle Peak, the most beautiful sight of the trip. Around Crater Lake were signs of high use, so I was glad to know there are designated campsites to minimize impacts. I camped at site #12 and saw two moose from a distance that evening.

Yellow aspens and green pine trees line a trail.

On my third day, I woke early after another cold night and saw more moose at the end of the lake. The males were in rut and sparring – a magnificent sight! I continued down the Cascade Creek Trail and encountered people from multiple states and enjoyed beautiful scenery and wildlife. I had lunch at the southern end of Monarch Lake and concluded my day walking to the Big Rock Loop Campground in the Arapaho National Recreation Area where I was greeted by a very friendly concessionaire host. With Stage 1 fire restrictions in place, I was able to enjoy a small, safe campfire after two chilly nights.

Five Forest Service employees on a boat wearing masks.

I finished my trip meeting some of our Sulphur Ranger District employees to learn more about the Arapaho National Recreation Area and potential opportunities to better manage this great location. We drove to numerous sites and even toured Shadow Mountain Lake while hearing the intricacies of permitting docks, marinas, and other uses.

Overall, the Indian Peak Wilderness did not disappoint, and with a little work clearing trees and dismantling fire rings, the trip was a great way to embody Leave No Trace ethics and practices. I was able to enjoy this beautiful place that the employees of our Forest work hard to manage every day. And, I was able to gain knowledge to help make decisions moving into the future.

The Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland is the third most visited National Forest in the nation. With continual increasing use, we must work with partners to find new and efficient ways to manage these lands and work with visitors to get them to plan ahead and prepare before heading to their public lands. The timed entry system and online permitting are two of these and help us emphasize the need to Recreate Responsibly. I look forward to what the future of recreation management holds as we move to provide high-quality experiences for our visitors while conserving our important natural resources.