The Abyss Trail is an old pack trail that is worn, wide, hot, and dry for the first 2 miles. Then it is a delight, entering a large valley with beaver ponds, streams, and fantastic views. The last 3.5 miles of the trail is in open meadows and tundra. The views are extraordinary above treeline all the way to Abyss Lake.
This is very difficult to complete in one day.
Drive 10 miles west from Bailey or 11 miles north from Jefferson on Highway 285 to the town of Grant. Drive north on Forest Route 118 (County Road 62) for 4 miles to the Abyss Trailhead, south of the Burning Bear Campground. Parking is available at the trailhead.
What it is
Ascend through a dry lodgepole pine forest on the broad pack trail. The Scott Gomer Creek is out of sight to the right. At 0.75 miles, cross over Francis Creek. Continue on the dry hillside for another mile, then parallel the creek for 2.0 miles, crossing twice. Look east to the barren slopes of Mount Kataka for the remnants of an old sluiceway. Views to the northwest include a 1000-ft cliff face on Geneva Mountain (elev. 12,335 ft) with beautiful stands of aspen. Watch for beaver ponds on the right containing small brook trout. The trail at 3.5 miles joins briefly with Rosalie Trail #603 before climbing east. (This is a good spot for an overnight camp.) Views are spectacular north to Guanella Pass and south to Kataka Mountain (elev. 12,441 feet). Climb east up a steep, well-maintained narrower trail through mixed fir, spruce, and bristlecone. The trail reaches a ridge, then crosses over an unnamed creek from Frozen Lake. The remainder of the trail is above tree line, passing around the south flank of Mount Bierstadt. The trail winds around massive rocks, crossing the Lake Fork of Scott Gomer Creek a mile below Abyss Lake. Then it is an easy hike along the east side of the glacial cirque to the lake.
Brookside-McCurdy Trail is a former pack trail that traverses the Lost Creek Wilderness from north to south. The entire trail could be backpacked, but would take 5 to 7 days. The descriptions here will only be of sections of the trail suitable for day hiking. These hikes are very scenic, with Ponderosa forests and open meadows in the lower elevations to dry lodgepole pine forests in the middle elevations to mixed fir, willow and spruce at the higher elevations. Water can be scarce in July and August. Thunderstorms are frequent.
North: From Bailey turn south on Forest Road 110, on the west side of town, immediately crossing the North Fork of the Platte River. Drive one mile past Bailey Picnic ground to the Payne Creek Brookside Trails trailhead.
Central: Drive one mile north of Jefferson, then east on Forest Road 56, 18 miles to the Lost Park Campground.
South: Just north of the grocery store in Jefferson, turn east on County Road 77 southeast for 26 miles, past Tarryall Reservoir to the Twin Eagles Trailhead.
What it is
North section: The Brookside McCurdy and Payne Creek Trails are conjoined for the first mile. The trail begins its climb on the western hillside of Payne Creek, avoiding the private property below. Ponderosa pines forests and small stands of aspen make the first section very pleasant walking. Gradually gaining elevation over the next 1.5 miles, undulating around small ridges, until the serious switchbacking begins. Gain 2400 ft in elevation over 4.5 miles, reaching the summit ridge of the Platte River Mountains at 11,200 feet. Two hundred feet below is the trail junction with Craig Park Trail, a lovely spot for a deserved rest.
North central section: At Lost Park Campground, pass through a gate on the north side of the campground. The trail follows the west side of North Fork of Lost Creek. Travel north in a very pleasant open meadow on slightly rocky trail for about one mile, turning in a northwesterly direction into a moist forest. The trail crosses the North Fork after another 0.5 mile, joining the Colorado Trail #1776, that follows the old Hooper pack trail. Continue upstream in a pleasant open meadow on the northeast side of the stream for an additional 2 miles. The trail now separates from the Colorado Trail, heading steeply uphill. Continue on the east side of an unnamed tributary creek of the North Fork for about 1 mile, crossing to the west side to skirt large areas of dense willows and bogs. The trail continues less steeply, finally gaining a ridge of the Kenosha Mountains above timberline at 11,960. There are excellent views to the Platte River Mountains to the north and south to the Tarryall Mountains. The trail descends 2 miles into lovely open Craig Park to the junction with Craig Park Trail.
South central section: Starting at Lost Park Campground, cross on a good timber bridge to the east side of Willow Gulch. Hike due south on an excellent easy trail, skirting myriads of beaver ponds. The sun sparkles on the water while overhead happy birds flit and twitter in the aspen groves. Hike along a tributary, Indian Creek, gradually gaining about 600 feet. A short section of steep climbing begins, 600 feet, until finally one arrives breathless at Bison Pass at 11,200 feet for the spectacular view over the Tarryall valley.
South section: Park at the Twin Eagles Trailhead. Cross the timber bridge over Tarryall Creek. Follow the excellent signage, turning left for a short distance and then begin climbing. The trail ascends the hillside above the large private ranch in the valley floor of Hay Creek. Spectacular granite cliffs line the north side of the valley. The trail rises gradually through the cool aspen forest for about 1.8 miles to the junction with Hankins Pass Trail. Hankins Pass trail then quickly enters the wilderness. Continue on #607. Cross some tributary creeks and then climb up the hillside. Fortunately, the 32 switchbacks are mostly in cool tree-covered gulches. The entire trail has wonderful views to the south and to the massive granite cliffs on the hillsides above and to the west. Gain a small pass at 10,700 feet at the junction with Lake Park Trail. (An alternative return is to take Lake Park Trail back to Hankins Pass, an additional 800 feet of elevation gain and one mile of distance. Then go west on Hankins Pass Trail, returning to Brookside McCurdy Trail.)
Mt. Bierstadt is one of the easiest “14ers” to climb. The hike is strenuous and a bit disheartening (especially on the return) because the trail begins with a 200 ft altitude loss. With the fairly recent edition of numerous bridges and boardwalks to facilitate the traverse through the infamous willows, the ascent is spectacular.
Approach: Drive south out of Georgetown on County Road 381 for 9 mi to Guanella Pass. There is ample parking on both sides of the summit.
What it is
As noted above, the trail descends 200 ft to Scott Gomer Creek, then winds through the willows on boardwalks and bridges protecting the wetlands. Then the real climb begins, ascending on a very well maintained trail, with great views in all directions, especially northeast to the saw tooth ridge of Mt. Bierstadt. With perseverance and strategic rests, the summit is finally reached.
The giant Hayman Fire of 2001 burned thousands of acres surrounding and to the east of this hike. Fortunately, this premier hike was spared! The first portion has fabulous views of giant granite boulders and aspen covered cliffs. The section beyond 6 miles winds through small stands of aspen, entering more alpine and open terrain.
This is a gorgeous but long and steep trail into the best parts of the Lost Creek Wilderness. The views over the granite domes and formations of the eastern wilderness are fantastic. The complete trail cannot be done in one day.
From Lake George, drive west 0.25 miles to Colorado 77, north 7 miles to Forest Route 211, north 11 miles to Forest Road 558, then 2 miles to the Goose Creek Trailhead.
What it is
Descend steeply for a short distance to Goose Creek, where Hankins Pass Trail #630 splits off south and ascends through a burned area. The trail turns north and parallels Goose Creek, crossing a bridge over the vigorous creek to the northeast side. At about 2 miles the trail begins a steep ascent up a rather eroded trail, till it begins to wind around small ridges, all with tremendous views westward. At 6 miles, a short trail breaks off, descending to a historical building, the Shafthouse. Continue on the main trail, ascending 3.5 miles to the junction with McCurdy Park Trail #628. The trail continues an additional 5 miles to the junction with Wigwam Creek Trail #609, reaching a high point of 10,000 feet, before descending 400 feet to Wigwam Park.
The Hayman Fire of 2001 has devastated this once lovely forested trail. Now the east side of the trail ascends through jagged charred trunks of Ponderosa Pine, fir and spruce. At 2 years post fire, there is some regeneration of low vegetation. In former groves of aspen, if the soil was not sterilized from the heat, small aspen are regenerating from the roots. A walk here is an education in the life cycle of a forest.
West segment: From Jefferson drive west on County Road 77, 23 miles to the Twin Eagles Trailhead.
East segment: From Lake George, drive west 0.25 miles to Colorado 77, north 7 miles to Forest Route 211, north 11 miles to Forest Road 558, then 2 miles to the Goose Creek Trailhead.
What it is
West segment: Cross the footbridge over Tarryall Creek, ascending the Brookside-McCurdy Trail #607 gradually rising through open Ponderosa pine forest. The trail contours above and to the east of a large ranch nestled beside Hay Creek, at times closely paralleling the eastern fences of the ranch. After about 3 miles enter the Lost Creek Wilderness. The trail continues over several switchbacks up cool forested slopes. The engineering of this trail is superb. There are occasional views to the west and north, but generally this is a densely forested trail on steep slopes. Climb one more mile and arrive at the junction with Lizard Rock Trail #658. It is an additional 0.5 miles to the actual Lizard Rock. Continue on to Hankins Pass, the left hand fork. Since this is considered a pack trail, both eastern sections of Hankins Pass Trail and the Lake Park Trail #658 at the top of Hankins Pass, are heavily eroded from horse traffic.
East segment: Descend steeply for a short distance to Goose Creek, where Hankins Pass Trail #630 splits off south and ascends through a burned area. Ascend the deeply eroded trail as it heads southwest and then due west, crossing the tiny Hankins Creek several times.
This is a long and strenuous hike over a high ridge into the gorgeous valley of Craig Creek. The beginning section of the trail is pleasant hiking through aspen groves and Ponderosa pine forests. The climb to the ridge is dry, hot, and eroded. The descent into the aspen lined Craig Meadows is a delight. It is a very long and difficult one day hike.
On the west end of Bailey, turn just before the lumberyard onto Colorado 64 or Forest Route 110. Drive two miles on winding roads to the trailhead for the Brookside-McCurdy and Payne Creek trails. The trailhead is about 300 yards beyond the private road on Payne Creek.
What it is
The trail begins its climb on the western hillside of Payne Creek, avoiding the private property below. Ponderosa pines forests and small stands of aspen make the first 1 mile very pleasant walking. Soon our trail departs from the Brookside-McCurdy trail #607, and begins a steep climb through a dry lodgepole pine forest towards the headwaters of Payne Creek. After crossing Payne Creek at 2.5 miles, the trail follows an abandoned road, unpleasantly eroded by horse travel, for another 1 mile.
Finally, gain the crest of the ridge. The terrain to the south changes to rounded hillsides coated with aspen. Descend gradually on the west facing slopes to a beautiful tributary of Craig Creek. Follow this tributary for another mile until it merges with the main creek and its numerous beaver ponds. The trail skirts the creek for another ½ mile, crossing a primitive bridge to the south side and ascending the hillside beyond. Rest for a bit under the cool trees before beginning the return trip. Payne Creek trail continues east and will eventually end at the Colorado Trail, after a climb of 600 feet in 1.5 miles.