Culms 15-50 cm. Leaves basal; proximal leaves with blades 3-6 mm wide. Inflorescences: spikes separate, elongate, 5-25 × 4-6 mm; proximal spike often pendent, long-pedunculate; lateral spikes 2-4; distal spikes erect, short-pedunculate. Pistillate scales light brown or reddish black, margins occasionally hyaline, midvein not or, occasionally, prominent, same color as body, inconspicuous or lighter colored, and conspicuous, lanceolate, apex acute or short-mucronate, shorter or longer than and narrower than perigynia. Perigynia proximally pale yellow, distally purple-black, veined, broadly ovate or obovate to circular, 3.5-4 × 1.5-1.75 mm, smooth; beak 0.3-0.5 mm, smooth. Fruiting May-Sep. Subalpine and alpine meadows; 2100-3500 m; Alta., B.C.; Idaho, Mont., Oreg., Utah, Wyo. Some specimens of Carex paysonis in Glacier County, Montana, show transitions to C. spectabilis. The names C. podocarpa and C. tolmiei have been misapplied to specimens of C. paysonis.