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- Approximately 33 miles total; about 8 miles to meet the Colorado Trail
- Moderate to difficult
- Why we love it:
- A discrete trailhead offering access to the Lost Creek Wilderness, the Colorado Trail, and Kenosha Pass
- When to go:
- Must be leashed in the wilderness area
About 80 miles southwest of Denver sits the vast Lost Creek Wilderness, encompassing almost 120,000 acres of public land and about 130 miles of trails. Although many think of Kenosha Pass as the main access point to this recreational goldmine, the entry nearest to Denver is actually the Payne Gulch/Brookside trailhead located just outside of Bailey, Colorado, about a one-hour drive from the city.
Tucked into a residential neighborhood and offering just a small, unpaved parking area, this trailhead provides easy access to the area’s expansive trail network, where hikers can connect to a variety of other trails to create the perfect route to meet their needs, whether it’s a simple day hike or a multi-day trek. The trails are well-maintained and clearly marked, making it a great place for snowshoeing in the winter, too.
The out-and-back main trail starts with a moderate, winding climb through a pine forest before leveling out through groves of aspen trees where hikers enjoy small peeks at the surrounding mountain ranges. After the first mile, the trail branches into two directions at the bottom of a small hill. A sharp left turn will lead southeast along the Payne Creek Trail; the Brookside-McCurdy trail continues to the south (or, the right-hand fork). Both options eventually cross section four of the 500-mile Colorado Trail, and those looking for a multi-day hike can follow this famous through-hike as far as their legs can carry them. For those looking to keep things to a minimum, this fork marks a good spot to turn around for an easy, three-mile (approximately) out-and-back day hike.
As its name suggests, hikers are welcomed onto the Brookside Trail with a small stream crossing followed a long, moderate hill that rises above the trickling gulch. This part of the hike is considered easy to moderate in difficulty, but once the wilderness area boundary is reached, the terrain becomes considerably steeper as the trail climbs toward the ridge of the Platte River Range, where it intersects with the Craig Park Trail. This is about halfway to the Colorado Trail crossing, and another good stopping point for those wanting to make it back to Denver in time for dinner.
Thanks to the remote ruggedness of the surrounding wilderness and forestland areas, wildlife abounds here. Also, because of its relatively moderate elevation, many portions of these trails are free of snow during mild winter days.
This hike will burn serious calories, so stop by the Cutthroat Café in Bailey on your way to the trailhead for a hearty breakfast, or re-fuel post-hike at the Crossroads Pub & Grill in nearby Pine Junction with a giant burger or a bowl of super-spicy, homemade pork green chili. Also nearby is Mad Jacks Mountain Brewery, which recently opened the doors to its spacious, beer garden-inspired patio in June.
Getting there: From Denver, take highway 285 south towards Bailey. Turn left on CR 64-A and a hard right on the unpaved yet well-maintained Old Stagecoach Road. The trailhead is on the left, around the bend just past Payne Gulch Road.