Colorado’s rugged mountains are full of backpacking opportunities, but most people make the mistake of focusing too much on the high country and not enough on the foothills. Lost Creek Wilderness is a prime example: A fantastic 2-4 day backpacking route less than two hours from Denver that gets very little attention despite its amazing views, bubbling creeks, and great wildlife views. Here’s what you need to know to plan a backpacking trip along the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop.
Note: There are several different loops in Lost Creek and many of them overlap. Don’t just follow others – and make sure you are looking at the correct loop while doing research by checking the elevation gain and mileage first.
Zapata Falls Hike | Fast Facts
CAUTION: This Route is Hazardous!
You are responsible for your personal safety in the backcountry.
These peaks can be unpredictable and dangerous. Help is often hours or days away: your safety is primarily your responsibility. Prepare for your trek, understand your limits, be aware of the risks, and equip yourself with the necessary skills and gear.
Lost Creek Wilderness Loop Guide
From Jefferson, Colorado:
Head northeast on US Hwy 285 N toward Michigan Creek Rd and drive 1.2 mi. Turn right onto Lost Park Rd and continue for 19.5 mi along the rough road. Take a slight right and park ahead of the camping area.
This loop is long – 28.3 miles in length. I recommend taking 3-4 days to complete it. We did it over two days and it would have been nice to have more time to relax and explore. You can hike the loop clockwise or counter-clockwise. Either way works – we saw people doing both when we visited. We went counter-clockwise and will describe the route that way.
Leave the Lost Park Trailhead area and cross a muddy creek to continue south along the Brookside-McCurdy Trail. The initial section of the loop is gentle with a mix of forests and open meadows. This is a great place to view wildlife and moose (remember to keep your distance).
Around four miles in the slope increases as you start climbing out of the valley and above the tree line along the south side of Bison Peak. I recommend refilling water before you begin this climb and leave the creek as water is scarce for the next portion of the loop.
Six miles in, you will reach the highest point of the loop – approximately 11,880 feet. The next three miles are all above 11,300 feet as you hike along a broad ridge above tree line. The views here are incredible, with Pikes Peak and many other major 14ers visible on the skyline. Water is scarce and there aren’t many campsites, so try to move through this area during the day.
Nine miles in you will begin to descend into a valley that feeds into Lost Creek. This is one of the less exciting parts of the route, but there are plenty of opportunities to refill your water supply once you begin hiking along the nearby creek again. There are a number of campsites here as well.
14 miles into your hike you finally reach Lost Creek – the lowest point along the loop at 8,880 feet. If you have time to spare, I recommend exploring the area with a buddy. There a number of natural caves along the creek formed by large boulders that the water has carved its way under – but beware of falling and loose rock and do not go alone or in the dark. Crossing the creek will require navigating a sketchy log, hopping across rocks, or wading directly across. Continue right along the trail through the rocky, rugged Lost Creek Canyon for two miles
Sixteen miles in, begin your ascent up and out of the valley using switchbacks and then following a ridge north that tops out above 10,000 ft.
Eighteen miles in, descend gently for a time along a creek with some fantastic campsites – these were some of the best we saw during our trip.
Twenty miles in, reach a junction and take a left to join the Wigwam trail which will bring you back to the starting point. The trail begins to gently climb again along Wigwam Creek and a series of meadows and ponds.
Twenty-two miles in, leave the creek as the trail turns right and climbs a small slope into another drainage north. Follow the last two miles of trail along the creeks and meadows until you see Lost Park Campground ahead on your right. Pass it and cross the creek again to get back to your car at the trailhead.
Digital maps like this are helpful planning tools, but you should always bring a paper copy as a backup. Phones break and batteries die – especially in cold, high-altitude environments. Be prepared and print out a map or buy one online to bring with you.
Just because you can hike in a pair of sneakers and jeans does not necessarily mean you should. The right gear and clothing will help you stay safe and comfortable so you have a more enjoyable hike. Here’s what I recommend bringing with you while hiking the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop and other areas in Front Range.
Hiking Boots: Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GORE-TEX Boots
Power through uphills and descents in any weather with Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GORE-TEX men’s hiking boots. They give you the stability and grip you need, plus a higher cut for extra ankle support. Buy at REI →
Backpack: Osprey Atmos/Aura AG 65 Pack
The Atmos AG, along with its women’s version, the Aura AG, are the best backpacks you can buy for long, multi-day backpacking expeditions. When you’re hiking multiple miles and thousands of feet upward, their patented anti-gravity suspension system makes a real difference. It has great tool attachments and pocket space, a built-in rain hood, and enough space for your sleeping bag, tent, food, and other gear. Buy at REI →
Trek Poles: REI Co-op Traverse Trekking Poles
Trek poles provide stability while hiking and help you use your upper body strength while moving to give your legs a break. These award-winning poles from REI are lightweight, strong, and adjustable for rugged terrain. Buy at REI →
Always Pack the Ten Essentials
The ten essentials are the most important pieces of gear you need to survive in an emergency in the backcountry. They empower you to actively respond to a crisis instead of passively waiting for search and rescue to respond. You should tweak the specific equipment you bring on each hike according to conditions, but you should always have something for each of these ten categories.
1. Navigation Gear
I recommend bringing a map and compass. If you want to use GPS, get a dedicated unit. Phone batteries die quickly in the cold on a 14er.
2. Headlamp and Batteries
Even if you don’t plan to be out until dark, you can’t plan for everything. If you’re running behind, having the ability to see – and be seen – is everything.
3. Emergency Shelter
When bad weather strikes without warning or someone falls and is injured, a shelter to get out of the elements can save your life.
4. Extra Water
Bring 2 liters of water per person on your hike – if not more. You also want to bring a purification system to get more if you get stuck outside. That could be purification pills or a life straw.
5. Extra Food
I recommend packing 1,000-2,000 extra calories while hiking. If you do get stuck out there longer than expected, some extra power gel or energy bars will make a big difference.
6. Knife or Multi-tool
The benefits of having this around in an emergency are self-evident: You can prepare firewood, create a shelter, fix gear, and solve other problems. I recommend a leatherman multitool, which is so much more helpful than just a knife.
7. Sunglasses and Sunscreen
The solar radiation is powerful when you are above the tree line. Bringing strong sunscren (60+ SPF) is recommended to avoid sunburn. Bring a pair of polarized sunglasses to protect your eyes too.
8. Fire-Starting Kit
If you get stuck outdoors in the mountains, the cold is one of the biggest immediate threats to your life. Being able to start a fire can keep you alive through a cold night. Bring a small kit with matches and tinder for starting a fire.
9. First Aid Kit
For hiking Adams Falls you don’t need to go overboard. Some bandages, moleskin, and pain relief medication is more than enough to deal with falls and scrapes, blisters, and altitude sickness.
10. Extra Layers
Bring one layer beyond what you expect to wear. In summer, that usually means bringing an extra coat or jacket you keep packed away in your bag. If you end up stuck outside overnight with a broken ankle, you will very happy you brought it with. Nanopuff jackets from Patagonia are lightweight but provide a ton of warmth.
Satellite Messenger/SOS Device: Garmin InReach Mini
When something goes wrong out on the trail, it is immensely helpful to be able to contact search and rescue teams quickly. Many areas in the National Park do not have dependable cell service. A satellite messenger or personal locator beacon allows you to call for help in an emergency in almost any location. They are expensive and require a subscription, but they have saved many lives.
I recommend the Garmin InReach Mini 2, which also offers premium GPS mapping in addition to text and SOS features. Buy at REI →
While backpacking along the loop, you can camp in any existing dispersed campsite so long as it is not clearly visible from the trail and 100+ feet from any sources of water. There are dozens of sites along this route, especially along gentle sections by creeks and meadows.
Looking for somewhere to stay before or after your backpacking trip? Here are some excellent places to stay before or after your hike along the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop.
Camping near Lost Creek:
- Lost Park Campground
- Kenosha Campground
- Michigan Creek Campground
- Lodgepole Campground
There are also many dispersed camping opportunities along the forest roads and Bureau of Land Management areas around the South Park region. Learn more about nearby dispersed camping by talking to a ranger at one of the nearby National Forest Visitor Centers in Fairplay.
Lodging near Lost Creek:
Not a fan of camping? Here are some great motels and hotels in nearby Jefferson and Fairplay. They are only a 45-minute drive away from the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop trailhead.
There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Fairplay and the towns along Hwy 285. They’re a perfect solution for staying the night before or after your backpacking trip.
Note: As a Booking.com affiliate I receive a small commission if you book a room using the links above – but your price remains the same. Thanks for supporting The Next Summit.
In this section, we answer some common questions about the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop.
Q: What is the best time of year to hike the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop?
A: This route is lower elevation – entirely below 12,000 feet. So it usually melts earlier in the spring and remains accessible later in fall than higher altitude trails like the fourteeners. The route is busiest during the summer and weekends when conditions are warmest, and much quieter during the spring and fall. I recommend a visit in September when the leaves are changing and things are less busy but it isn’t that cold yet.
Q: Are permits or fees required for hiking or camping in Lost Creek Wilderness Loop?
A: There are no fees required for the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop. However, there is a mandatory self-issue permit you must fill out using a trail-side kiosk at each major trailhead and entry point. This helps land managers track use and provides information in case of a search and rescue mission. Keep a copy of the permit with you during your trip and follow all of the Wilderness Area regulations listed on the back.
Q: Are there designated campsites along the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop, or is dispersed camping allowed?
A: This route has many dispersed camping sites located along the route for backpackers. There are no official designated sites or reservations – all sites are informal and first-come first-serve. When looking for a campsite, ask other hikers you pass for information and try to find a site before it gets dark and things become more difficult. Look for campfire rings and large clearings to spot campsites – they are not always easy or obvious to see.
Never create new campsites while backpacking, even where dispersed camping is allowed. It significantly speeds up erosion, increases long-term impacts, crowds users, and ignores land management plans and assessments. Stick to established sites instead.
Q: Are there water sources along the route, and do I need to purify the water?
A: Most of the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop follows a creek – including Indian Creek, Lost Creek, and Wigwam Creek. You do need to purify the water using a stove, chemical treatments or filters to avoid parasites and diseases in the water. Be mindful of the high-altitude portion of the route between Bison Peak and Lost Creek as water is scarce during this 4-mile section.
Q: Can I bring my dog on the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop, and what are the regulations for pets?
A: Dogs are allowed within the Lost Creek Wilderness Area but they must be leashed at all times. This includes while you are hiking and when you are relaxing at your campsite. I recommend bringing a shorter, flexible leash to use while backpacking along with a longer rope for them to use in camp. Remember, dogs can cause significant stress for wildlife simply by chasing them – and many people are deeply afraid of dogs, even if they are friendly. Please respect wildlife and others in the outdoors by keeping pets leashed at all times.
Lost Creek Wilderness is a pristine area, but more people are visiting with each passing season and the impact is growing. Help us preserve the natural beauty of these mountains by practicing these Leave No Trace ethics during your hike.
- Plan Ahead: Check the weather and trail conditions so you can bring appropriate clothing and gear to stay safe.
- Dispose of waste properly: Use the pit toilets when possible and pick up and carry out any litter or trash you encounter.
- Stay on designated trails and campsites. Don’t wander off-route or clear new campsites as this speeds up erosion.
- Give wildlife 75+ feet of space and avoid feeding them either purposefully or by accidentally leaving food out.
- Minimize campfire impacts: Only use pre-existing metal and rock rings, keep fires small, put them out cold, or skip them entirely.
- Practice proper trail etiquette. Smile and say hello to others. Yield to uphill hikers. Don’t listen to music with speakers, and help others when you can.
Lost Creek Wilderness Area was created in 1993 and protects 119,000 acres of public land for rugged outdoor recreation and adventure. It is a hidden gem close to Denver, Colorado, often ignored by out-of-state tourists who have their sights set on the taller thirteeners and fourteeners. The tallest peaks in Lost Creek Wilderness are 12,400 feet high.
The area is named after the main creek that runs through and drains it. As it flows through the rocky terrain, the creek has carved a path around and under many large rocks and boulders – disappearing underground for several hundred feet before re-appearing further downstream. Hence its name: Lost Creek.
There are more than 130 miles of trails throughout Lost Creek Wilderness. This route will bring you through around 20% of them – leaving plenty to explore and discover on future visits to the area.
Hiking in Lost Creek Wilderness is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe.
- Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
- Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
- Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
- Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
- Start early, and end early: Be back below tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
- Bring a buddy on your first ascent, preferably someone experienced.
Hiking the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop and other mountain trails is an inherently high-risk, dangerous activity. There is a significant risk of injury or death, even with proper planning and experience. Those using my guide accept all risks associated with hiking in the mountains and do not hold this website or any information they obtain from it liable for any accidents or injuries that occur while engaging in these activities on Colorado’s high peaks. It is each hiker or climber’s responsibility to research their route carefully, bring the ten essentials, and practice other safe practices, though even these precautions do not eliminate risk and danger. Visit these hiking trails at your own risk.
Need some additional information about the Lost Creek Wilderness Loop to plan your backpacking trip? Here are some more resources and websites we found helpful while writing this guide. If you have more sources or personal experiences with this route, please share your feedback with the community below in a comment.