24 Hours in the Wilderness – Lost Creek Backpacking

A quick overnighter in the Lost Creek Wilderness on the classic Brookside-Payne Creek loop.

The Lost Creek Wilderness of Colorado is often my “go to” for early summer backpacks.

In June, the snow is usually melted off, the scenery is great and the wildflowers are blooming.

This past weekend, I had a last minute opportunity to backpack.

I quickly pulled out my dog eared copy of  good ole’ Trail Illustrated map #105 and eyed a route I have not done in a while: the Brookeside – Payne loop.

If other loops in the Lost Creek Wilderness (LCW) offer amazing ridge walks and tundra views, this loop is more sublime.

Large meadows, meandering creeks, wildflowers and amazing groves of aspen are what this loop offers.

On Saturday morning, when plans had changed, I quickly packed up, grabbed some food and off I went up 285. I arrived in what I feel is a border town between the mountains and the Front Range urban area: Bailey, CO

A small, sleepy town I always manage to go through several times a year on my way to other places.

This time? It was the end destination for a short (less than 90 minute drive) to a trail head outside of town.

I quickly arrived at the  trail head, shouldered my pack and made my way up the trail starting at 11 am.

After steadily gaining elevation, I reached the crest and descended to Craig Park.

The wide open meadow and creek running through made it a welcome spot to take a late lunch.

Started to climb up again and found myself in a surprisingly lush looking area that reminded me a little bit of the Maine woods.



I continued my descent and met up with The Colorado Trail that ran along North Fork  of Lost Creek.

Some trail markers were more, ah, interesting than others. 🙂

This stretch of the CT features both wide open meadows and striking wildflowers.

The meadows gave way to an old road bed that was abounded on each side by incredible stands of aspen and golden banner.

I pushed on until almost dusk. I knew of some good campsites that would be coming up along the Payne Creek Trail.

I made camp near a creek and a view of sky above.

The views of the full moon and the sound of the rushing creek was a perfect way to spend Saturday night.

The following morning, enjoyed some quiet views in Craig Meadows.

From there, I made a climb and descended down some steep trail.

Some last views were had to the Mosquito Range that still had remnants of snow.

I continued my hike and started seeing some day hikers.

The trailhead was soon reached.

By 11:20 am, I was back in a cotton t-shirt and sandals.

A short, but very satisfying trip was again had in the LCW.

The views were not breath taking, the scenery was not grand.

Instead the experience  was subtle, beautiful and relaxing.

What more can a person ask from a weekend of backpacking?

All the photos


Getting There:  The town of Bailey is a straight shot up 285. Once in Bailey, take 64 (at the turn off for Ace Hardware / the lumber yard) until it turns into FS-110.  The road is  across the only gas station in town. Follow the dirt road  up for about 2 miles. The TH will be on your left.  There is a moderate amount of parking. The road is suitable for passenger cars.

The MapI found that TI Map #105 is perfect for both on-trail and off-trail hiking in this area. The mountains are fairly gentle so I have not found the need for more detailed topos.

The Route:  A very big lollipop with a short stick. Follow the Brookside Trail until it connects with The Colorado Trail along the North Fork.  Follow the CT until you peel off to the Payne Creek Trail to complete the loop.    According to AllTrails.Com, the loop is ~27 miles and 6200′ gain.

Post Trip Munchies:  Zoka’s in Pine, CO is a a slight detour off 285 (about 15 minutes away from Pine Jct or 8 miles) on the way back to the Denver metro area. Not far from Bailey, really. However it has a great front porch, good burgers and a good beer selection.  The bar and grill in Bailey is not bad, the one in Pine Jct has become very mediocre and is not one I can suggest anymore.

If you want some very good home style food, esp for breakfast,  the Cutthroat Cafe’ in Bailey, CO is very good, reasonable in price and only minutes away from the trail head.  They open at 5am and a serve a very hearty breakfast….all day! 🙂

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10 years ago

Thanks! im planning on some short trips to Lost Creek soon.Have you been to the Bucksnort above Pine? Another unique option…

10 years ago

Hey Paul, A great read mate and some amazing pics. We hooked up on Twitter today so I look forward to keeping in touch and seeing more.
Take it easy,

9 years ago

I am planning a trip over spring break (1st week in april) with my teenage sons (3 of them). Where is a good place to go without too much snow? We are pretty good outdoorsmen, but the boys are not super experienced backpackers. Want to spend 3 days, 2 nights on the trail.