The Lost Creek Wilderness provides an outstanding setting for a day trek or backpacking excursion, with its spectacular granite formations, huge aspen woods, and above-treeline views.
The Platte River, Kenosha, and Tarryall Mountains, which are located in the 119,790-acre wilderness, contain a broad diversity of landscapes with elevations ranging from 8,000 feet to 12,400 feet. Within the 105-mile-long Lost Creek Wilderness (LCW), there are routes that lead through ponderosa, bristlecone, lodgepole pine, aspen, spruce, and fir woods and up to alpine tundra. Seeing the distinctive red granite domes and arches and having the ability to see animals including black bears, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, and bobcats are both attractions.
Many of the pathways are far-flung and lengthy in the large wilderness area. However, this is one wilderness region that will reward hikers who are willing to put in miles, whether you’re planning a lengthy day trek or a backpacking trip with a few overnight breaks. You may take shorter, easier out-and-back hikes from the numerous trailheads that reach Lost Creek. Be ready for strenuous days with high mileage and a lot of standing around if you really want to explore Lost Creek. The benefits are definitely worth the work.
Preparation is key. Bring plenty of water because there are lengthy sections without access to water, especially in the summer and fall, and many of the streams are seasonal. Even though there may not be any snow at lower levels in the spring, as you ascend into the mountains, you should expect to encounter snowpack until the end of May or the beginning of June. Day hikes and backpacking trips require wilderness permits, which are available for free at the wilderness boundary. Bailey, Deckers, Fairplay, and Lake George are the closest towns.
1. Shaft House to Lower Goose Creek Trail
Why you ought to go: Take a well-liked day trip to a number of historic structures and discover how the wilderness obtained its name.
Take the spacious and popular Goose Creek Trail north from the Goose Creek Trailhead. A lot of people, especially families and anglers hoping to spend time on Goose Creek, go through this well-liked day-use area. For the first two miles, the trail crosses and then proceeds down the stream, providing several opportunities for a picturesque rest break to take in the rills and pools of this mountain creek.
In order to keep things interesting, the trail continues to almost exactly travel north while trending higher. As you travel further from the creek, you’ll pass by ponderosa pines and evergreen forests instead of the lush riparian scenery, which provides some much-needed shade in the summer.
Look for a spur route on the left that leads west toward the creek around 4 miles into the trek. You can access various ancient structures, including the ruins of an old shaft house, through this short route. The structures and abandoned equipment were constructed during a failed attempt to build a reservoir in the late 1800s by a business to block off the underground channel of Lost Creek. Northwest of the shaft house is where the creek that gives the area its name can be found before it goes underground and reappears as Goose Creek.
2. The Ben Tyler Trail Roundtrip
Why you should go: This ascent through a forest will give you a good workout and reward you with stunning scenery.
Parking is available near the little pull-out trailhead along Highway 285 just past the town of Shawnee for this out-and-back option along the Ben Tyler Trail. You should be aware that the parking lot is constrained, therefore on busy summer weekends, you should arrive early.
The trail begins by climbing steeply up a series of switchbacks from the North Ben Tyler Trailhead. Get accustomed to the slope since you’ll be climbing almost the entire way out, but generally more gradually. After crossing Ben Tyler Creek, the path gradually levels off and meanders through a forested gulch. If you go in the fall, the trail passes past several impressively big aspen groves. As you gain altitude during the ascent, you’ll also be treated to views down Ben Tyler Gulch.
After ascending a further set of switchbacks at little under 5 miles, you’ll reach a fork in the trail where the Craig Park Trail meets it. The Ben Tyler Trail ascends to its highest point at just over 11,000 feet just beyond this intersection, where you may take in amazing above-tree-line vistas from your vantage point in the Kenosha Mountains. You may turn around and go the opposite direction from here for a about 12-mile round-trip hike.
The Ben Tyler Trail ends at a junction with the Colorado Trail after a distance of almost 11 miles when travelled one way. You can hike the entire distance to the western Ben Tyler Trailhead if you can arrange a transport. There are various locations for dispersed camping along the trail, so you may also schedule an overnight stop somewhere along its length. Simply turn around whenever you reach your chosen mileage if you want a shorter day out.
3. Lollipop Loop from Lizard Rock to Lake Park
Why you ought to go Beautiful alpine meadows are where you can find peace and wildflowers.
The Lizard Rock to Lake Park lollipop loop is a terrific way to experience some of the best that Lost Creek Wilderness has to offer, especially if wildflowers and fall foliage are your thing. You’ll begin your journey at the Spruce Grove Trailhead along the steady ascent of the Lizard Rock Trail to Hankins Pass. You’ll cross the wilderness limit close to the trail’s eponymous rock feature as you get closer to the trail’s terminus.
You will turn north on the Lake Park Trail after a brief detour on the Hankins Pass Trail to the east. Before slightly descending to Lake Park, a wetland valley at about 11,000 feet where you may see wildflowers and fall colours, in season, this walk continues its slow ascent through red granite outcrops.
Following the last ascent of the Lake Park Trail, you will join the Brookside-McCurdy Trail and go south on a largely forested return to the intersection with the Lizard Rock Trail. Although you can backpack this loop, keep in mind that water is in short supply along the way and that dispersed campsites with level ground might be challenging to locate. You can add an overnight stop with a little planning, but do your research beforehand.
4. Bison Peak via Ute Creek Trail
Why you ought to go The Tarryall Mountains offer breathtaking views and surreal rock formations.
Plan a hike to the base of 12,432-foot Bison Peak, the highest point of LCW, if you’re looking for a challenging climb and beautiful vistas to reward your efforts. The Ute Creek Trail begins at the Ute Creek Trailhead, which is off Tarryall Road on the western edge of the Lost Creek Wilderness. Although there is less traffic on this path than on some of the others in the wilderness area, you should still get there early on busy summer weekends.
Following the Ute Creek drainage, the trail crosses Tarryall Creek and starts to rise nearly immediately. Although the hills are initially gentle, think of them as a warm-up because as you proceed, the path suddenly becomes steep. You will reach Bison Pass and the junction with the Brookside McCurdy Trail after travelling about 4 kilometres. Here, turn right to go in the direction of Bison Peak.
From this point on, the trail climbs steadily until it emerges from the trees and leads to an area of quite wide, open alpine tundra that is dotted with red rock formations. A cairn designates the peak cutoff from this saddle. Simple off-trail route finding is required for the final ascent along the summit plateau. You have the option of taking a more circuitous approach to explore the twisted and stacked rock gardens, or you can choose to summit atop the rocks that mark the summit (after some simple scrambling).
Simply return the way you came once you’ve finished investigating. Although it is possible to complete this climb in one long day with an early start, bringing a backpack allows you to set up camp close to the summit for some absolutely amazing stargazing.
The Refrigerator Gulch Circle will dump you off among the aspen forests and granite formations of Refrigerator Gulch if you desire a lengthy loop that leads to the most iconic location in LCW. This 20+ mile loop won’t be simple, but you can finish it in a long day. You can also reduce your length by turning this trip into a backpacking trip.
If you prefer to complete the loop clockwise, beginning at the well-known Goose Creek Trailhead, you can tackle the challenging ascent to Hankins Pass through Lake Park and McCurdy Peak first. Although the first 7 miles are a relentless climb, there is plenty of scenery to distract you from the effort.
Additionally, you will quickly forget about your sore legs once you are on the McCurdy Park Trail. With its towering granite outcrops, aspen-forested slopes, picturesque streams, and lush mountain meadows complete with beaver ponds, this lonely trail traverses some of LCW’s most beautiful landscape.
The going becomes easier as you rejoin the Goose Creek Trail because it continues south and descends gradually to bring you back to the trailhead. If you want to spend some well-deserved time taking in the surroundings, you should definitely consider planning a backpacking trip for this one.