Lost Creek Wilderness Loop Trail – Colorado Backpacking Guide

Colorado is a place known for backpacking trails with snow-covered peaks and rich blue-colored lakes. However, the very name Colorado refers to the red sandstone found throughout much of the state in iconic spots like the Garden of the Gods and the Red Rocks Amphitheater. In the center of the state lies a vast nearly untouched wilderness chock full of massive red boulders. The Lost Creek is also a unique stream in the way that it disappears beneath the surface of the earth and then reappears further down the gulch. It does this so much so that it gained the notoriety of being lost. The Lost Creek Wilderness Loop Trail is the best way to begin to explore the beauty of this unique area of Colorado

Red Rocks of Refrigerator Gulch
These giant red rock formations can be found in the heart of the Lost Creek Wilderness.

Lost Creek Wilderness Loop Trail – Colorado Backpacking Guide

Stats for Backpacking the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop Trail

  • Trailhead: Goose Creek Trailhead
  • Type: Loop
  • Rating: Strenuous
  • Distance: 26-miles
  • Total Elevation Gain: 5,789′
  • Highest Elevation: 11,528′ (on the loop)
  • Trailhead Elevation: 8,212′
  • Lowest Elevation: 8,167′
  • Recommended Time: 3 days, 2 nights
  • Backpacking Season: Early June thru Late September
  • Backpacking Permits: Required but easily obtained at the Trailhead

The Lost Creek Wilderness Loop Trail

Through the Red Rocks
Looking north at Mount Evans and Mount Bierstadt from the bouldery Rock Garden found at the highest point on the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop.

Depending on where you look on the internet you will see the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop Trail listed anywhere from 24 to 54 miles in length. This is because there are really two loops within the Lost Creek Wilderness and either could be considered the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop. The smaller (southern) loop is the 26-mile adventure we will describe here. The second is a larger loop that extends to the north for which we cannot give an accurate account. Reports vary on the larger loop being 37 to 54 miles long but I believe based on studying a few maps that it would be closer to the 37-mile length. The larger loop also would cut off the most scenic section of the smaller loop that passes through Refrigerator Gulch so it is not recommended.

This 26-mile loop consists of the Goose Creek Trail (#612), McCurdy Park Trail (#628), Brookside McCurdy Trail (#607), Lake Park Trail (#639), and Hankins Pass Trail (#630). Full details of what to expect in each section of the loop are in the trail details section below.

Parking/Trailheads

Goose Creek Trailhead Mystery Animal
While we never saw anything bigger than a bear while hiking the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop our truck apparently had a big visitor at the Goose Creek Trailhead. Does anyone know what kind of prints these are?

While there are several access points to the Lost Creek Wilderness the Goose Creek Trailhead is the only one that makes sense for the 26-mile loop. If you decide to take on the larger loop you could use the Lost Park Campground as an alternative. The Goose Creek Trailhead is fairly small (Around a 30-car capacity) and this can be a popular trail so plan to arrive fairly early if you plan to start your journey on a weekend.

Access

County Road 211
Colorado’s County Road 211 is fairly well maintained throughout the summer backpacking season.

The Goose Creek Trailhead is most commonly accessed from the east by taking County Road 211 from Highway 126 near Deckers, Colorado. The roughly 13 miles of County Road 211 and the last mile on Goose Creek Trailhead Road are entirely dirt. The roads are fairly well maintained throughout the summer season making them accessible to most vehicles. They can however be narrow in places and can become wash boarded. Google Maps will lead you directly to the trailhead but there is zero cell service in the Wilderness Area and for miles around so make sure you have your GPS set up well in advance with a backup alternative if you lose your direction. I recommend the app maps.me which is one of our favorite outdoor apps because it works offline.

Hiking Direction – The 26-mile Lost Creek Wilderness Loop

The 26-mile long Lost Creek Wilderness Trail is a loop so while it can be hiked in either direction it is most advisable to do so in a counter-clockwise direction. This is primarily because the elevation gain is acquired over several days rather than all on the first day. It also has a tendency to space reliable water sources better for the more strenuous sections.

Lost Creek Wilderness Loop - Elevation Profile
Elevation profile for the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop.

Trail Details – The 26-mile Lost Creek Wilderness Loop

Lost Creek Wilderness Trail
The initial descent from the Goose Creek Trailhead into the Lost Creek Wilderness.

The 26-mile Lost Creek Wilderness Loop starts at the Goose Creek Trailhead and descends quickly about 60′ in less than a quarter of a mile to the Hankins Pass Trail (#630) and Goose Creek Trail (#612) junction. Along this short route, there are sweeping views of the Lost Creek terrain. This is one of the only areas on the loop that still shows signs of the 2002 Hayman fire although there is still plenty of signs of the 20-year-old burn scar during the drive up Country Road 211. At the junction, you take a right onto #612 to start a counterclockwise traverse around the loop.

Goose Creek Trail (#612)

Goose Creek Trail
The Goose Creek Trail is the scenic start of a journey through the Lost Creek Wilderness.

The Goose Creek Trail section of the loop is 7.25-miles long. It begins by following the small creek coming off of Hankins Pass as it descends to meet the much larger flow of Goose Creek itself. The first mile following Goose Creek hugs the bank tightly before branching off and beginning an undulating ascent through the mostly pine forest. At roughly 4.25-miles on trail #612, it comes to a sign indicating “Historic Buildings” to the left. Up to this point, the trail is very wide as it was most likely the carriage road for this historic area.

Historic Dam Buildings

Lost Creek Historic Buildings
The main Lost Creek historic building is in pretty good shape considering it has stood for well over 100 years in the harsh Colorado climate.

The trail to the historic buildings is only 100′ or so with a marginal descent and well worth the effort for a quick stop. There are three buildings although one is in complete ruin. The other two are in remarkably good shape. This was the housing area of a project that attempted to dam Lost Creek between 1891 and 1913. The site of the dam is about a 1/4 of a mile further up the side trail.

Continuing on #612

Lost Creek Wilderness Colorado
Looking north across the Lost Creek Wilderness Area from the Goose Creek Trail.

Back on the #612, the trail continues to climb through the undulating forested terrain covered in a mix of aspens and pine. After about 5.75-miles on the trail, it finds its way to a small tributary of Goose Creek. This is the last (we believe) reliable water source for about 4 miles. There are several well-established campsites in the area although most do not meet the wilderness requirement of being at least 100′ from the water and the trail. After another 1.25-miles of climbing the trail arrives at 9,434′ and the junction with the McCurdy Park Trail (#628). The smaller loop takes a left onto the McCurdy Park Trail but the longer loop continues straight ahead continuing to follow the Goos Creek Trail.

McCurdy Park Trail (#628)

Refrigerator Gulch - Lost Creek Wilderness
Looking into the Refrigerator Gulch from the west side.

The McCurdy Park Trail section of the Lost Creek Loop is about an 8-mile long cutoff trail of the larger Lost Creek Wilderness Loop. However, this is the most gorgeous section of the smaller loop and perhaps the entire Lost Creek Wilderness making it a must when visiting the area. As it is the only section of the loop that actually finds its way to the Lost Creek itself also makes it pretty special.

#628 Terrain

Lost Creek in Refrigerator Gulch
The Lost Creek cuts through Refrigerator Gulch. This is a scene reminiscent of The Narrows in Zion National Park.

The first section of the #628 trail crosses over a ridgeline before dropping more than 500′ through a series of tight switchbacks into a tributary canyon of the main Lost Creek Canyon (AKA: Refridgerator Gulch). The trail makes its way over two smaller ridgelines before dropping down into the heart of the Refridgerator Gulch and finding the elusive Lost Creek at roughly 3 miles on the #628 trail. This entire section of trail cuts through beautiful terrain adorned with massive red boulders and cliff faces intermixed with the gorgeous white trunks of old-growth aspen trees.

Climbing out of the Refridgerator Gulch

McCurdy from Refrigerator Gulch
Looking up at the 12,172′ McCurdy Mountain from inside the Refrigerator Gulch.

The beauty continues as the trail follows Lost Creek for a short distance before crossing over the flow. When we were here in July we were able to leap across the creek without getting our shoes wet. However, others have reported that during the melt (May and June) the crossing can be 4 to 6 feet deep. Once on the other side, the trail begins to climb away from the creek following a set of tight switchbacks up an adjacent stone slab. At the top of the switchback, you will find yourself in a massive rock garden with more towering red boulders intermixed with aspens.

Climbing towards McCurdy Pass

McCurdy Pass
Looking up at McCurdy Pass from the north side of the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop.

After a short descent, you will cross over a small tributary of Lost Creek and then find yourself at a series of small ponds that look like they might have been constructed by some local beavers. Here you will also find yourself staring up at a massive densely tree-covered canyon. McCurdy Pass is hidden more than 1,600′ above. Ahead you will cross over the small creek that has cut this canyon before ascending the eastern wall through a set of long switchbacks that stretch on for the next mile and a half.

Last Reliable Water Source

At roughly 6.5-miles on the #628 trail, you will find your way back to the creek now flowing towards the top of the canyon. The next mile will follow the flow of the creek and there are several very nice established campsites in the area. Once you leave this section there are no other reliable water sources for the next 8 miles.

McCurdy Pass (10,907′)

After leaving the flow of the creek behind it is a short half-mile hike to the top of McCurdy Pass (10,907′) and the end of the McCurdy Trail. Here you will intersect the Brookside McCurdy Trail (#607) which is a part of the larger loop.

Brookside McCurdy Trail (#607)

At just over 1 mile in length, the Brookside McCurdy Trail is the shortest section of the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop. Stay straight at the junction continuing in a southward direction and descend half a mile into a small meadow where Hay Creek will flow early in the season. There are a few campsites located in the area but I don’t think any meet the Leave No Trace principles. Leaving the meadow the trail begins what will be a long climb through a forest consisting of various species of pine tree including the ponderosa pine. After a short half-mile hike into the climb, you will arrive at the junction for the Lake Park Trail (#639). The Brookside McCurdy Trail continues straight ahead descending into the large valley beyond.

Lake Park Trail (#639)

Lake Park Trail
Jennifer looks up at the highest point on the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop.

The moniker Lake Park Trail is an odd one as it conjures up the image of strolling alongside a picturesque mountain lake, similar to Lake Sylvan on the Black Elk Peak Trail in South Dakota. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are some reports that early in the season a little water exists on this trail but it is reported to be very acidic in nature. However, by the time we hiked the loop in early July, this 5-mile-long section was bone dry.

It should be noted that this is a cutoff trail and that the Brookside McCurdy Trail does eventually intersect with the Hankins Pass Trail but the Lake Park Trail is said to be more beautiful and we can’t disagree. Just make sure to carry plenty of water to get through the dry terrain.

The Top of the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop

The first mile and a half of the trail continues through the forest, climbing an additional 750′ to the very top of the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop. Here at 11,528′ you will find a peak crowned with yet another bouldery rock garden.

Reaching the Very Top

Lost Creek Wilderness Panorama
This epic view of the Lost Creek Wilderness requires a scramble up the highest point along the Lake Park Trail. Click and zoom in on the photo to spot Mount Evans and Mount Bierstadt on the left and Pikes Peak on the right.

While this may be the top of the loop there is a small unmarked trail located to the east (left) that you can scramble your way up another 50 feet to reach the very top of the peak. From this vantage point, the entire Lost Creek Wilderness unfolds beneath you. To the north Mount Evans (14,265′) and Mount Bierstadt (14,065′) reign over the landscape and to the South Pikes Peak (14,115′) can be seen standing alone like a giant sentinel. Additional snow-covered peaks (earlier in the season) can also be seen to the west. Just be careful not to lose yourself while gawking at the beauty and fall off your rocky perch.

The Meadow

Back on the loop, the trail begins a mile and a half descent into a high-altitude meadow (10,870′). I can only assume that a little water might exist here very early in the season because of a few dry creek beds we crossed and signs of a few campsite fire rings. However, by the time we arrived in early July, there was nothing so I wouldn’t count on it.

Descending the Lake Park Trail

Lake Park Trail View
Looking west from the Lake Park Trail.

Reaching the other side of the meadow the trail climbs up and over a small ridge and then begins a nearly relentless descent. The remainder of trail #639 roughly follows the rocky ridgeline with an occasional view west over the valley far below and the snow-covered mountain peaks to the west. It is a pretty trail as it makes it way across the ridgeline peaked with rocky outcropping and house-sized boulders.

Hankins Pass Trail (#630)

After losing 1,500′ of elevation from the Loop’s highest point you will find yourself at the intersection with the Hankins Pass Trail (#630). From here the trail continues the seemingly relentless descent 4.5 more miles before reaching the intersection with Goose Creek more than 1,800′ below.

Water!

The Hankins Pass trail begins the descent in a thick old-growth pine forest with the occasional grove of aspen. At just under a mile you will finally find a small creek in the depths of the forest that you will continue to roughly follow for the remainder of the loop. This is the same creek that you first followed on the loop as it flowed into Goose Creek.

The Aspen Meadow

You only temporarily venture away from this creek as you cross through a half-mile long meadow starting at about 1.5-miles down the #630 trail. This is one of the more picturesque meadows on the loop as it is predominately covered in new growth aspen and wildflowers. It also has some rocky boulders with towering mountain cliffs rising on both sides.

The Final Canyon

Hankins Pass Creek
Jennifer crosses over one of the many log bridges laid across the creek on the Hankins Pass Trail.

The final 2.5-miles of the Lost Creek Canyon Loop enters a very tight and lush canyon. The trail while well established is often overgrown making it difficult to spot your footing. This is very different from the rest of the loop which is easy to follow and almost never overgrown. As the trail descends the canyon it crosses over the creek at least twelve times the majority of which come in the final mile. There are logs and stones to help hikers get across the narrow creek and back to the Goose Creek Trailhead.

Season

  • Early June thru Late September
Western Tiger Swallowtail
Western Tiger Swallowtails visit the Lost Creek Wilderness during the summer season.

The Lost Creek Wilderness Loop tops out at 11,528′ making it a relatively low elevation trail by Colorado standards. This makes it a great early-season backpacking adventure. Keep in mind that snow can linger on the highest sections of this trail until early July but that will also mean more water access throughout the loop making mid to late June a great time to hike.

Fall Color

The Lost Creek Wilderness Loop is also covered in aspen trees making mid to late September an excellent time to backpack the trail. Just be aware that water will be harder to come by.

New Growth Aspen Forest
Jennifer hikes through one of the new growth aspen forests found on the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop Trail.

Winter

County Road 211 is closed throughout the winter and really dictates the backpacking season. The road typically closes in October with the first heavy snow and reopens after the melt in May (Colorado’s Mud Season).

Dangers

Beaver Pond - Lost Creek Wilderness
One of the beaver ponds found at the base of the climb to McCurdy Pass.

As we have alluded to thus far the lack of water is the real danger on the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop. While there is an ample amount in the larger streams, many of the smaller creeks dry up as the summer stretches on. This makes long sections of the trail completely dry. The longest stretch is about 8 miles long and is found on the steepest/highest section encompassing the entirety of the poorly named Lake Park Trail.

Bugs

In addition to the lack of water there are a lot of mosquitos in the areas with water so make sure you bring your bug net and bug spray.

Bears

While Jennifer and I have never seen a bear in the backcountry of Colorado we have seen them in urban areas so we know they are out there. We have come across moose in the backcountry and they can be just as dangerous. Carry bear spray and make sure you store your food properly at your campsite.

Backpacking Permits

Lost Creek Wilderness Loop Registration
Jennifer fills out a free trailhead reservation for the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop.

You are required to carry a permit when backpacking in the Lost Lake Wilderness Area. As of 2022, there are self-registration stations at the trailheads where you fill out your permit. You must carry your permit at all times and display it at your campsite. The permit has the Leave No Trace principles listed on the back.

Campsites

There are no named or signed campsites in the backcountry of the Lost Creek Wilderness Area. However, there is an abundance of established campsites on the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop but many are located too close to the trails and/or streams to make them usable. Do your best to select good campsites that have already been established but that also follow the Leave No Trace principles laid out on your permit. I have marked 12 locations on the map where you should be able to find established sites.

Lost Creek Wilderness Loop Campsite
Jennifer enjoys the solitude found at one of the large established campsites (Our list: #10) on the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop.

Goose Creek Trail (#612) Campsites

  • 1st Campsite: The first mile along Goose Creek has a ton of established campsites. Most are far too close to the water but you should be able to find a few that meet wilderness requirements. The ones I marked are in a wider section of the canyon and would make a great spot for those looking to spend a few stationary days fishing Goose Creek.
  • 2nd Campsite: Camping is allowed near the Historic Buildings. Water is available from Goose Creek nearby. Located only 4.25 miles in these sites are best used for those who get a late start on their first day.
  • 3rd Campsite: Located about 5.75 miles in this grouping of sites would also make a good stop on the first night if you are getting a late start. This is the last area for reliable water on the Goose Creek Trail.
  • 4th Campsite: Located about a half mile beyond the creek (6.25 miles on trail) this campsite is nice and secluded but you will need to haul some water up.

McCurdy Park Trail (#628) Campsites

  • 5th Campsite: This campsite is located 8.25-mile on the loop and inside a tributary canyon of Lost Creek. Water flow isn’t great and may not be reliable all season long.
  • 6th Campsite: Located about 9.25-miles on the loop there is a grouping of sites located here. Similar to site #5 this water source may not be reliable for the entire season.
  • 7th Campsite: At about 9.75-miles the trail finds its way to an area inside Refridgerator Gulch just above Lost Creek. There are two very nice campsites located here that would have great access to this reliable water source.
  • 8th Campsite: Located about 10.5-miles in on the loop these grouping of campsites are easily seen and are too close to the creek and trail but there should be some useable areas near this location if you look around. I would error toward site #7 myself.
  • 9th Campsite: Here at nearly 12 miles is another campsite located to close to the trail but if you poke around there is probably some site hidden amongst the rocks that would be useable and have close access to the reliable water source. This is the last camping area before the big climb begins.
  • 10th Campsite: Located at 15 miles along the loop there are several large campsites scattered along the final half-mile of the creek coming off McCurdy Pass. This is a great place to camp as it is likely the last reliable source of water for 8 miles.

Brookside McCurdy Trail (#639) Campsites

  • 11th Campsite: About 3/4-of-a-mile past McCurdy Pass is Hay Creek with a few established campsites in the meadow. The water source here may not be reliable all season long.

Lake Park Trail (#607) Campsites

  • While the Lake Park Trail does have a few established campsites, none have good access to water.

Hankins Pass Trail (#630) Campsites

  • 12th Campsite: Located about a mile beyond the Hankins Pass Intersection and only about 3.5-miles from the end of the loop this site doesn’t make for a great stop on the loop but it is the first reliable source of water in 8 miles so it may be useful. There are a lot more established campsites as you continue down this fast-flowing but narrow creek towards the trailhead.

Backpacking Gear & Logistics

Backpacking the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop
Jennifer stops to take in the scenery surrounding Refrigerator Gulch while backpacking the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop.

Most of the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop Trail sits around 9,000′ in elevation. Depending on when you choose to hike during the season the weather could range from 50 degrees to 90 degrees during the day and drop below freezing at night. Make sure you get an updated weather report before heading out and pack layers. Afternoon thunderstorms are common in Colorado so pack your rain gear as well.

Our gear is designed for three-season Colorado backpacking. Check it out for more ideas on what to pack.

Food Storage

While bear canisters are not required in the wilderness area you should store your food safely in a way that bears and other critters can’t get access to it. Check out our post on the best backpacking food storage for ideas, if you are new to camping in bear country. We also have a running list of reviews of freeze-dried foods which really helps to keep your pack weight down on the trail.

Toilets

Simply stated, there are none! The closest pit toilet to the trailhead is found at the Goose Creek Campground about 2-miles back along Country Road 211. Make sure to pack your camping towel and bury all waste at least 6″ deep and 200′ away from any water source.

Campfires

Campfires are generally allowed in the Lost Creek Wilderness. However, check with the forestry service for current restrictions before starting your journey. You could also stop at the Goose Creek Campground on your drive-in and check with the host for up-to-the-minute information on any fire bans for the area.

Recommended Itinerary

While some crazy people will hike the entire 26-mile Lost Creek Wilderness Loop in a single day, we recommend slowing down and enjoying the journey on a 3-day, 2-night backpacking trip.

As a reminder campsites are not labeled or signed in any way. Reference the provided google map and elevation profile for location.

Lost Creek Wilderness Loop Overlook
Jennifer stops to enjoy the scenery from an overlook found on the McCurdy Park section of the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop.
  • 1st Day: Hike 9.75-miles to Campsite #7. Located near Lost Creek inside Refridgerator Gulch, this is one of the best campsites on the loop.
  • 2nd Day: Hike a short but very steep 5.25-miles up to campsite #10. This is another great camping area and the last reliable source of water.
  • 3rd Day: Make sure you fill up on plenty of water and set out on the remaining 11 miles of the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop Trail.

After Backpacking the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop Trail

McCurdy Mountain
The 12,172′ McCurdy Mountain rises above the Lost Creek Wilderness Area.

After a great backpacking trip, I am always looking for some tasty food and a place to sleep for the night. Well, you are in the middle of nowhere so both might be hard to come by depending on your requirements.

Nearby Camping

The Goose Creek Campground located about 2 miles back along Country Road 211 is the only campground in the area and its only amenity is a pit toilet and some fire rings. However, boondocking is allowed in signed locations along the entire length of the road and there are plenty of spots.

Accomodation

For those seeking a hotel room or a campsite with full hookups, you will have to travel substantially further. Depending on if you are traveling south or east, Woodland Park or Castle Rock are your best options.

Food

Food is hard to come by as well. Woodland Park and Castle Rock both will have plenty to choose from but are well over an hour’s drive from the trailhead. That being said one of our favorite restaurants in Colorado, Zoka’s, is found in the tiny town of Pine, Colorado located to the north. Just be aware that they aren’t open every day of the week so plan accordingly.

Lost Creek Wilderness Loop Trail – Colorado Backpacking Guide

Lost Creek Wilderness Loop Trail - Cover
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The Lost Creek Wilderness Loop Trail is an atypical Colorado trail. It doesn’t explore the snow-covered peaks or deep blue lakes that the state has become so famous for but with its giant red boulders and clear streams it is uniquely Coloradoan. The beauty of Refrigerator Gulch, the solitude found along Goose Creek, and the views from atop the Lake Park Trail will leave any hiker with a sense of awe of this amazing remote wilderness.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Anonymous says:

    Just got back from 3 nts. backpacking in Lost Creek Wilderness area. Your write-up/report was extremely helpful. We hiked the Goose Creek trail up to McCurdy Park trail, over to Lost Creek. My only recommendation would be to add that when you encounter Lost Creek, especially earlier in the year, you may be crossing a 4′ – 6′ deep creek. Your write-up states you will be “crossing over the flow”. We had no idea what we would need to go through water that deep with a full pack.

    1. NomadicMoments says:

      Thanks for letting us know. When we were there in July the flow was very low and we never got our feet wet.

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