Lost Creek Wilderness Loop Trail: 37-Miles of Secluded Colorado Backpacking

Five years of experience as a backpacker and I’m still learning.  One of last year’s biggest takeaways was that out-and-back hikes are kind of a bummer.  Retracing your steps somehow makes time slow down, distances double, and all hills slope steeply upward.

That’s why this year I’ve made an effort to hike mostly loop trails when staging a second car isn’t feasible.

First up on the list was the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop, a trail discovered through Paul Magnanti’s site.

It did not disappoint.

Quick Facts

Dogs are allowed.  Must be leashed.

Permits are no charge and self-served at the trailhead.

Distance according to my Garmin Fenix 3 was approximately 37 miles (although there’s room for error there, more on that below).

Expected time will be between 2 and 4 days. I hit the trail at 10am on Tuesday and was in my car around noon on Wednesday.  I met a couple who were hiking this loop in four days, and they seemed happy with their decision.  Pack weight, fitness, and desired downtime will determine where you fall on this spectrum.

The NatGeo Map for this trek can be found here.

Parking / Location / Directions

Despite the last 10+ miles being a dirt road, the Goose Creek Trailhead (the suggested starting point) is accessible by 2wd vehicles (my Civic handled it without issue).

Google Maps suggests that it takes about 2h 40m from Denver, but I found the trip to be faster than the predicted time.

The last ~7 miles of this drive stirred up hype juices like Don King operating a Vitamix.

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The Hike

This ~37-mile loop trail* takes you through Colorado’s Lost Creek Wilderness, a gorgeous, 187 sq. mile wilderness area in central Colorado within Pike National Forest.  I’ve hiked through various portions of LCW a handful of times, and encounters with fellow hikers and/or bikers are rare.  I crossed paths with roughly a dozen people during this loop (a little over 24-hours).

* Other sources have claimed that this loop trail is ~35 miles.  My Garmin Fenix 3 would leave me to believe that it was slightly more, but it’s hard to say for certain because it died two hours before I finished.

Segment 1

Segment 1

Segment 2

Segment 2

Segment 3 (watch died about ~2 hours prior to finishing)

Segment 3

If I was slightly less stupid, I could figure out how to get all the GPS data to merge together.

The headliner of this trail is without question the stretch between McCurdy Park and Bison Pass (i.e. the southern half of the Brookside-McCurdy Trail), as demonstrated by the disproportionate number of photos from this stretch (found below).  The entire loop is full of charm, featuring a stark contrast in ecosystems, but I had trouble finding photo-worthy moments after passing through this stretch.  It’s a bit like trying to enjoy a pear after a bowl of ice cream.  Pears are good, but ice cream is meant to be the closer.  For this reason, I’d probably hike this loop counter-clockwise if I were to redo it.

As previously mentioned, this loop begins at the Goose Greek Trailhead.  I hiked clockwise, which starts you hiking west on Hankins Pass Trail, the southern most trail in LCW.  Once you reach the junction with the Lake Park Trail, head north, and then north again on the Brookside-McCurdy Trail.  At the Brookside-McCurdy Trail / McCurdy Park Trail split, continue on the Brookside-McCurdy Trail to the northwest.  You’ll remain on this trail for quite some time (~10.5 miles), until heading east on Wigwam Trail (no relation to the socks), and then finally south onto Goose Creek Trail back to your vehicle and, if you planned properly, an ice cold beer chilling in the cooler.

lost creek wilderness trail loop
Click to enlarge.

Temperature

I hiked this trail in early July.  The temperature ranged between the high 70s and 35-degrees over night (I slept without my rain fly to enjoy the galactic show).

Elevation

The elevation (according to the Fenix 3) ranges between 9,100 and 11,850 feet.  I’m not quite sure what the total elevation gain was, since my GPS system pooped the bed prematurely (I should’ve brought a portable battery), but at the point that it died (~2 hours prior to finishing), it was just shy of 6,500 ft.  If I were a betting man, I’d venture to guess the total gain was closer to 7,000 ft.

Bugs

Mosquitoes were present, primarily in the wetter sections of this trail, but nothing outrageous. I used a natural bug repellant which did the trick.

Photos

A picture is worth one thousand words, so I’ll spare you the descriptions, and instead let the fancy camera do the talking.

All photos taken with a Sony a6000 or iPhone 6s plus.

Trailhead

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Hankins Pass Trail (~4.5 miles)

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lost creek wilderness

Lake Park Trail (~4.5 miles)

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Lake Park Trail

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Brookside-McCurdy Trail (~10.5 miles)

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IMG_7709 IMG_7697     IMG_7707 IMG_7702 IMG_7700  IMG_7669 IMG_7664     IMG_7708   IMG_7667 IMG_7663 IMG_7660  IMG_7748  IMG_7706 IMG_7704 IMG_7694

Wigwam Trail (~8.25 miles)

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Home for the night

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Goose Creek Trail (~9.25 miles- I think)

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Comments 6

  • david : Feb 19th

    Excuse my ignorance, but how does the elevation range between 9100 and 11,850, but then you say that you can 7000 ft? Wouldn’t 11,850 – 9,100 = 2,750? Or does 9,100 to 11,850 just means those are the ranges of each of the peaks that you travel???

    “The elevation (according to the Fenix 3) ranges between 9,100 and 11,850 feet. I’m not quite sure what the total elevation gain was, since my GPS system pooped the bed prematurely (I should’ve brought a portable battery), but at the point that it died (~2 hours prior to finishing), it was just shy of 6,500 ft. If I were a betting man, I’d venture to guess the total gain was closer to 7,000 ft.”

    Reply
    • Zach : Feb 20th

      Hey David-

      Yup- your premonition is correct. The total elevation gain accounts for all the little ups an downs along the way. The range is just the relative high and low points on the trail.

      Reply
  • Joseph Dean : Jun 9th

    This report has helped me a ton! Thank you. However, how are we looking on water?

    Reply
    • Josh Martin : Jul 5th

      Try and plan getting your water from the creek crossings and not from the “parks” shown on the maps. These are mostly snowmelt marshes and water is not always on the surface. At Lake Park there was surface water but it was red colored and arsenic.

      Reply
  • Josh Martin : Jul 5th

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m currently planning out my second LCW backpacking trip. I rarely backpack the same place twice so that tells you how much I enjoyed my first visit. As you said the McCurdy Park trail offers the best scenery. Next time continue North on the McCurdy Park trail into Refrigerator Gulch instead of circumventing it on the Brookside-McCurdy trail. This will shorten the loop by probably 10 miles but you’ll see the most iconic part of LCW. Allow yourself time to explore and enjoy!

    Reply
  • Mike : Jul 16th

    Just did a portion of this loop. Started at Goose Creek and worked our way up Hankins Pass. Some of my observations:

    1. Water is hard to find at higher elevations. You don’t have snow pack feeding the higher elevations.

    2. Some of the trails are extremely steep. This is wilderness, not a national park with logical switch backs.

    3. We ran into several groups that quickly scaled back their orginal plan of doing the larger loop in four days. Most opted for the smaller loop after the first day of hiking.

    Reply

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