Published: April 18th 2008July 27th 2007
Distance: 12.8 miles to junction with Wigwam Trail
For my first hike back in Colorado after the Wyoming trip, I picked right back up where I left off with my Wilderness Area tour. I’ve mentioned the Lost Creek Wilderness in many of my entries, but this is the first time that I’ve actually entered it. The wilderness area is a vaguely boomerang-shaped, 120,700 acre plot of land in the northern part of the Pike National Forest. Lost Creek stretches over three distinct mountain ranges, the Platte River Mountains, the Kenosha Mountains, and the Tarryall Mountains. There are about 100 miles of trails, but only a few of the trailheads are easily accessible from major roads. Lost Creek itself gets its name from a series of sections where it disappears underground making it difficult to follow.
The trailhead for the Rolling Creek Trail (USFS #663) is located along the Forest Road 560, a dirt road that heads south from the town of Bailey to Wellington Lake and beyond. The trail starts at the same location as the trailhead for the Colorado Trail Segment 4. Like much of the region around the Platte River, this area is dotted with
numerous granite outcroppings and domes. In fact, the some have come to compare the Lost Creek Wilderness to a small version of California’s Yosemite National Park. One of the largest formations in the area is the aptly-named Castle, a craggy formation that dominates the view to the south for the first part of the hike. Eventually the trail climbs out of the canyon carved out by Rolling Creek, crests, and then descends into the area known as Wigwam Park. From the trailhead to the intersection with the Wigwam Trail is 6.4 miles one way.
The actual trailhead is about a quarter of a mile from the parking area just off of FR 560. At the trailhead, veer left for the Rolling Creek Trail rather than the Colorado Trail to the right. This initial section of the trail is relatively easy, with only a few short climbs along the densely forested rolling hills. The trail passes over several small seasonal creeks on this initial part. The Castle remains the dominant feature to the south, but there are also several other granite formations that can be seen in the hills to the west. At a sharp bend in the trail, there
is a nice overlook that provides close-up views of the Castle and the canyon that the trail will eventually enter. Someone has even been kind enough to leave two plastic lawn chairs here for people needing to take a rest! After leaving the overlook, the trail descends to and crosses Rolling Creek. At this point, hikers have officially entered the wilderness area. After the creek crossing, the hike goes from easy/moderate to strenuous in a hurry. The trail follows an unnamed creek that cascades down a granite-lined canyon that climbs behind the Castle. After several miles of very steep climbing through thick foliage and boulders, the trail eventually crests before it descends into Wigwam Park. On this particular day, my dad and I did not make it to this crest, opting instead to turn around a little past the halfway point.
Other options in this area include the Colorado Trail. Segment 4 heads west and south from the Rolling Creek trailhead, while Segment 3 can be accessed to the east (on the opposite side of FR 560). Heading further south down FR 560 past Wellington Lake, the Wigwam Trail can be accessed without using the Rolling Creek Trail.
I may sound like a broken record, but I can’t emphasize the importance of bringing rain gear whenever hiking in the mountains. On our way back, we were stuck in a torrential down pour that instantly flooded some parts of the already saturated trail. Because the trail spends much of its time in dense forest and a narrow canyon, it can be difficult to see an oncoming storm. An early start is highly recommended. The steep part of this trail is made significantly more difficult by the overgrowth that can make the path hard to follow. If you happen to loose the trail, do your best to follow the creek.
Directions: From Denver, take US 285 west for about 30 miles to the town of Bailey. Just before entering the town, 285 will head sharply downhill. Just as the road levels off, look for signs indicating Wellington Lake and CR 68 on the left (south) side of the street. CR 68 turns into FR 560. There are a few forks in the road, but the area is well signed. Just continue heading south toward Wellington Lake. Look for signs along the right (west) side of the road for the
Colorado Trail. There are two small parking areas, one right off of FS 560 and one closer to the trailhead. FS 560 is a good dirt road, and a 4-wheel drive vehicle is not necessary.
There are more photos below