Lost Creek: Lost Park-McCurdy-Bison Loop

“Cows do not belong in the wilderness.  USFS sucks.”  I laugh as I read the words someone has scrawled in black magic marker over a long-faded sign near the beginning of the Wigwam trail in Lost Park.  I remember feeling the same way when I was last through here back in October.  Cattle and their pies were visible throughout East Lost Park.  But today, for some reason, it doesn’t bother me.  Summer has just arrived, everything is green and I’ll be hiking for four days, revisiting some old favorite places and hopefully discovering some new ones.  From the corner of my eye I notice another backpacker, a bear of a man toting a big pack, approaching from the other side of the valley.  When I stop for lunch, he catches up to me.  We exchange greetings.  When I tell him where I’m going, he warns me of the steep climb up to McCurdy Park and how hot it’s going to be over the next several days.  Thinking back twenty-six years, I remember the first time I climbed those switchbacks with my friend Dave, who had flown to Colorado to be the best man at my wedding.  It was blazing hot that afternoon, our packs were too heavy, and I remember the words “death march” escaping from his lips.  Leaping forward a few years, I remember hiking up to McCurdy park in the pouring rain with another friend,  Dave.  Why is everyone named Dave? “Death march” was just of the the colorful phrases that I heard that afternoon.  The man then tells me that the section between McCurdy Park and Bison Peak is  “…wild, it’s just wild.” There is excitement in his eyes.

The big man hikes on and I run into him again at the junction of Wigwam and a spur trail that heads southeast following Lost Creek.  Legend has it that you can hike right into Refrigerator Gulch  by following Lost Creek and then by bushwhacking.  The man seems to know a lot about the area, so I ask him about it.  “It’s not possible.” he says. “Lost Creek runs into a box canyon and then runs underground.”

It’s gotten hot now and there’s not a sign of a cloud in the sky.  I dodge a couple of cow pies on the trail.  Soon I climb a small ridge and descend  to the other side.  Lost Park and the cow pies are left behind.  Now it’s even hotter,  the light is harsh and the air still, but the landscape is very green.  In the shadows beneath the aspen, I spot my first golden banner of the year as well as my first columbine.

By mid-afternoon, I reach today’s destination at the junction of the Wigwam and Goose Creek trails.  But it’s not a particularly scenic spot.  One of my favorite campsites in the world is four miles farther, so I press on.  Hiking up the Goose Creek trail, I stop at the top of the ridge to admire the view. The valley I’m about to go into is very rugged and very beautiful.  As I descend the steep trail, a young man with a dog comes up behind me.  I stop to let them pass, then notice that he’s wearing running shoes, carrying a very light pack with what looks like a windshield reflective shade strapped to it.  I ask him if he’s carrying a hammock and he says yes, it’s a Hennessy jungle hammock and he’s trying it for the first time tonight.   We talk gear a bit, I tell him about the country ahead, and he introduces himself as Dave.  Naturally. Maggie is the dog’s name.  Rescued through the Humane Society, she was, at  first, a handful but through a lot of  hard work has become an excellent trail dog.   She lets me sweet talk her and scratch her behind the ears.

Coming into the rugged valley,  I admire the strangely shaped rock formations and the aspen boles.

I gather water at a small trickle and then head up to my campsite.  Once there, I’m delighted to find a Vargo nail stake that I lost there last June.  It appears that no one has camped here since then.  Smoke from a campfire, probably Dave’s, is visible far below in the fading light.

The next morning, I arise when I hear the birds begin to sing.  The next mile or so is landscape I really love and want to see it in the early morning light.  Dave’s hammock is strung over the trail.   Good hammock trees were hard to find.  He’s still uncertain about the hammock and will have to play with it a bit more.  Maggie greets me like an old friend.

Lost Creek disappears underground again.  Sometimes I see faces in the rock formations.

Taking a cave break

Hiking on

The trail climbs steeply up and down and suddenly I find myself at the beginning of the climb to McCurdy Park.  It’s already pretty hot.  I scoop water from the stream, treat it with my Steripen, drink it down and scoop up more water for the hike ahead.  Going into meditation mode, I slowly and steadily ascend the steep switchbacks.  When I break out of the trees at the top, I stop for lunch in the cool shade of a spruce tree by the stream.  Looking up, I’m delighted to  notice the first clouds of my trip.  Grace happens.

Refreshed, I continue on up to the top of the McCurdy Park trail.  Though it’s still early, this is where I’ll be camping.  It’s a beautiful spot.

Tomorrow’s hike, McCurdy Park to Bison Peak, is mostly  new to me.  From the map, it appears as if there will be no water up there,  so I think out my options.  Tonight’s camp is without water, so I’ve had to haul four extra liters up to here.  Since I want to camp near the peak, it may be that my best option is to haul it from the same source back down the McCurdy Park trail.  As much as  I’d like to avoid carrying eight extra pounds, camping near the peak is more important to me.

The night is deliciously cool at this elevation and I sleep well.  After breakfast, I head back down to get water, then laze around my camp for a while.

While I’m packing up, a lone backpacker comes up a little used social trail that runs near my camp.  I call out a greeting and we exchange a few pleasantries.  While we’re talking, I’m getting a feeling that there’s more to this guy than the British accent, so I approach.   It turns out that the hiker, Pete, is a mountaineer who has climbed in the Himalayas.  For his birthday, he always tries to  do something special–for his thirtieth, he climbed Half Dome; for his fiftieth, Denali.   We talk gear a bit and the desire for more comfort as you get older balanced with the desire for a light pack.  Pete is no stranger to lightweight philosophy having been a ultra-runner with a eight-pound total pack weight in his youth.  We talk about Lost Creek.  Pete says that the scenery here is world class and I take his word for it.  In parting, I take couple of photos of Pete striking a mountaineer’s pose  in front of some McCurdy Park granite –one with his camera for posterity and one with mine for my blog.   While putting away my camera, I find, to my chagrin, that I’ve left it on shutter priority with a one second exposure.  The photo is ruined; Pete is long gone.  He’s hiking out today and flying to England tomorrow for wedding.  (Update:  Pete has graciously sent me the photo from his camera.  Thanks, Pete)

When I put on my pack,  it’s surprising heavy;  I’m not used to carrying eight pounds of water.  After I get to the top of the ridge, I soon forget about the weight on my back.  The big man at Lost Park was right.  This place is wild.  There’s a ghost forest of weathered trees, some standing and some fallen, amid some of the most bizarre rock formations this side of Utah.

Flowers find a place to thrive.

I’m in hiking heaven up here; there is so much to explore.  Walking along, I hear the faint sound of a trickle of water.  The day is  hot again and  I look for a place with enough clearance to fill my empty water bottle.   While doing this, I notice a window rock in the granite formation in front of me.

Before long,  I arrive at tonight’s destination, the area around Bison Peak.  I’m glad I decided to carry the water up. This place is amazing.  It’s like an enchanted rock garden and I have it all to myself.

Bowing before the pagan obelisk

Clouds gather above the rock formations.

Bison Peak itself looks like a fairly easy walk-up but now the sky looks gray and threatening.  I head back down to a flat area I had seen to look for a place to camp.  Thunder is rumbling now and flashes of lightning appear.  It’s great to be in the tent.

After dinner, the sky is still gray but the thunder has stopped.  I’m getting restless, so I grab my camera and head back to the rock garden.   It’s late, 7:30 PM and I had no intention to climb now but something draws me toward the peak.

Sleeping ogres block the  way to the peak.  I’m careful not to awaken them.

Alien creature from outer space regards me with disdain.

I scramble to the top only to realize that the summit is farther on.  It’s 8:15 PM now; not enough time to get there and back to camp before dark.  Bison Peak will have to  wait for another day.  I arrive back  in  camp just as the last light of day disappears.  Sitting on a rock high above my tent,  I listen to call-and-response of two birds nearby.  Beyond that is only silence.

In the middle of the night, the rain begins.  Earlier in the trip, I had snapped the carbon fiber strut of my Tarptent.  This wasn’t much of an issue the last two nights because the geometry of the tent still works without it, as long as you don’t need to use the doors.  Wind blows the rain through the  front of my tent.  I deploy the beak, scoot to the  back of my tent, and hope for the best.  Somehow, I fall back asleep.  When the birds began chirping again around 5:00 AM, I’m pleased to find that only a small amount of rain has come inside.

The rain has stopped.  It occurs to me that the clouds may be clearing around sunrise.  Fighting the urge to go back to sleep, I grab my camera and head back to the rock garden.

The day begins to turn light.

In the rock garden

Foothills roll outward toward the mountains

Eventually, I get hungry and hike back to camp for breakfast.  As I leave the rock garden,  I turn around for a final look.

Goodbye, for now.

Friday night’s camp

After a leisurely breakfast, I pack up my stuff and hike onward along the Brookside-McCurdy trail.  I give the rock garden a final look as I walk by.

To the valley below

Leaving the high country is always a bittersweet thing  for me. It’s bitter because it means that my Rocky Mountain high will be over, at least for now.  But it’s sweet because I know that I’ll soon be seeing my family again.


This post marks the one year anniversary of Dondo Outdoors.   I started this blog at the suggestion of my daughter as a way of sharing the photos and stories of my trips.  Thanks to all who visit here and to the other outdoors bloggers whom I’ve come to know online.

The format will be changing a bit from what I’m done previously.  Some have liked have the comments about gear mixed in with the narrative while other have not.  As an experiment,  I’ve decided to follow the example most of outdoor bloggers and save the gear comments for separate posts.   This will enable me to get the photos and narrative out more quickly,  striking while the fire of my trip is still hot, and give me time to think more about the gear before posting.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to go into more detail about what worked and what didn’t for a particular trip without annoying family and friends with inside baseball.


17 thoughts on “Lost Creek: Lost Park-McCurdy-Bison Loop

  1. Mailed you my pic. Enjoy your personal view of this amazing place. That ghost forest is truelly a reminder that all is temporary and that Nature knows best. Isn’t it wonderful that the beetle kill “disaster” of today will be our incredible flower filled ghost forest of tomorrow? Just gotta keep breathing long enough to see it! Cheers Pete.. the Brit.

    • Thanks for the pic, Pete. It really completes the post. It’s true that all is temporary, including ourselves. So I plan to keep on getting out there and enjoying nature for long as possible.

  2. Yes, looks world class from where I’m sitting. I got the tiniest taste of the American landscape when visiting Colorado a couple of years ago on a business trip, would love to go back one day for an extended trip…

  3. There is indeed a way through the box canyon where lost creek flows through. If you look on the Lost Creek map you can see a trail going down from lost park and ending. This is because the trail is impassable for stock. It’s pretty overgrown now and the beavers have made the trail scarce but it’s not that hard. When you get to where the canyon narrows and looks like theres no passage without climbing you just get on the south side of the creek and go up and over the ridge that blocks the way. This canyon is very scenic and well worth seeing especially if you love Lost Creek. Theres a 8-10 ft waterfall there as well. Good camp spots and you come out where the bridge crosses Lost Creek before heading up to McCurdy. The big boulders by the creek are one of my favorite camps. Also, I believe there is a pond at the Mcbison pass I remember. Maybe it’s not flowing all the time.
    Where is the Sand Creek route you spoke of. I have bushwacked all over lost Creek and have seen some really cool stuff if you’re interested. Like by Refrigerator gulch theres a natural arch that can only be seen from the right angle.

    • Thanks for that detailed description of the way through, Keith. I’m already excited to get back there and try it out. ;-).

      If you check out the east side the Trails Illustrated #105 map, you can see the Sand Creek drainage heading south from the Brookside-McCurdy trail just west of McCurdy Mountain. Whether it’s passable or not is anyone’s guess.

      I’m definitely interested in hearing what you know about Lost Creek. Just leave more comments on this thread, if you’d like. Something tells me that there’s a lifetime’s worth of trips in Lost Creek alone.

  4. I just remembered that there is also a class 2+ scramble from the creek on the east side where it cliffs out to get through to McCurdy Park Trail. Comes out at the bridge also and it’s where the two or three campsites are next to the huge boulders. Before the scramble theres a 50 ft. or so waterfall if the snows melting or it’s been raining. It’s thin but cool as it comes out of an invisable gully. One time I went to do the loop and didn’t get as far as I wanted and it was late in the day. From McCurdy Park around the junction with Lake Park you can see a drainage coming down and it goes all the way down to the Shafthouse area. It’s pretty obvious on the topo. I’ll be going up to Mccurdy the first of Sept. or so for a couple of days. I want to check out East McCurdy. Last time I was up there I noticed a huge rock tilted into an overhang that I can see from Castle Rock. I might pitch my bivy up there. When I first started going to Lost Creek back in 1989 hardly anyone knew about it. There’s still places where you wouldn’t see anyone for days if you were to bushwack in.
    Peace, Keith

  5. OK, just to clarify the route through the box canyon at Lost Creek. Lost Park Trailhead/Wigwam trail through East Lost Park. Go left where the trail forks and the left fork follows Wigwam. The dead end trail is on the 105 map. Follows down into the box canyon past some really pretty cascades. This is a destination itself. Once down at creek level theres a good flat scenic campspot at the confluence of Lost Creek and the drainage from McCurdy’s North flank. From here get on the east side of the creek to avoid bushwacking too much and head down creek staying just high enough to avoid the fallen trees, brush and beaver works. There are several faint trails lower to the creek so look for them. Follow the trails past the waterfall I spoke of and there are more good campsites in that area. The creek bends to the south then to the east and dissapears under some talus. As it comes out the talus you will see that you are in a narrow gorge that is impassable at creek level unless you’re a fish. The class 2+ scramble is obvious on the east side of the creek or you can backtrack a hundred yards and head up faint trails on the south side up and over the obstackles. You will come out at the bridge that you cross on McCurdy Park Trail as you are heading up to McCurdy Park. This makes a good shortcut from Wigwam to McCurdy Park and also a good secluded camping spot in the box canyon. If you look at the topo you can see the difference in this area from the rest of the Lost/Goose Creek valley. If you decide to check it out, let me know what you think. I don’t know of anyone else that travels through there but it’s pure Lost Creek without the crowds. Peace, Keith

  6. This is great stuff, Keith. Thanks for sharing all the detailed information.

    “The class 2+ scramble is obvious on the east side of the creek or you can backtrack a hundred yards and head up faint trails on the south side up and over the obstackles.”

    Which of these options seems easier to you?

  7. I’ve done the scramble several times and it may not even be class 2 but there is some exposure. If you go that route then you will either have to veer around a rock outcropping and down to the creek or there is also a chockstone wedged above the creek that provides passage back and forth. However the faint trails before the scramble are steep but easy and would be the choice with a pack on. Just to the west of these routes is a large cliff/rock formation where Bighorns hang out and I saw one do some pretty amazing stuff once. It jumped across a 15 foot gap and landed on a pointed rock pinnacle barely a foot wide. FYI, I wanted a quick way down into the box canyon from the top of McCurdy once and took the NE flank and bushwacked all the way down to the confluence I spoke of earlier with Lost Creek and the McCurdy drainage that runs down from the McCurdy/Bison Saddle. From the North flank of McCurdy, veer NE sidehilling down toward an obvious arm extending from McCurdy. Cross over to the East side of the arm and go down to the creek. You will come out at the campsite I spoke of. Theres some downed trees to contend with but it saved me around 7 miles of heading back down to Brookside McCurdy and going all the way back to LP Trailhead, then to Wigwam. I have been taking my Daughter backpacking in Lost Creek since she was 5 and this last June, at 9 we climbed Bison. I couldn’t believe how excited she was when we got to the flat platau area after the switchbacks. The picture I took of her on the summit is priceless. Peace, Keith

  8. Keith, you’re making that area sound irresistible. Now it’s definitely on my must do list. Congratulations to your daughter for climbing Bison and to you for being such a good dad.

    • Hi Aaron, I camped along the Brookside McCurdy trail just west of Bison Arm. This time of year, water is pretty scarce in the area. If you’re coming from Lost Park, your best bet is to get water from Indian Creek before climbing to Bison Pass. Alternately, you could try looking for water about a mile or so west of Bison Arm along the trail. In early summer, I’ve found a substantial pool of water just south of the trail near the pass between Bison Peak and McCurdy Mountain. I’ve never been up there this time of year, so don’t know whether or not this source of water is reliable.

  9. Another questions if I may? Do you recall if there are good campsites between where the trail crosses at Refrigerator Gulch (I’ve camped south of here in the Gulch where the creek comes out of the cave) and as you approach McCurdy Park?

    Trying to determine multiple places to camp depending on where we wind up late in the day. As we are going to try and do either the Goose Creek 20 something mile loop or the Lost Park loop in an overnight, 2 day trip.

    • There are some flat spots near water just before you start up the many switchbacks to McCurdy Park. If you can get to Mccurdy Park before nightfall there are many more places.

      The Goose Creek Loop is approximately 23 to 24 miles. This is a trip I’ve done many times, once as an overnighter. If you are starting at the Goose Creek Trailhead, McCurdy Park is about the halfway point.

      The Lost Park Loop is about 36 miles long. Pete the Brit, the mountaineer I met at McCurdy Park (scroll down to the twelveth photo), was doing this loop as an overnighter, if I recall correctly. This time of year there will be a lot less daylight. So if you choose this option, you’ll have to start early and keep moving. Have a great trip. I’m looking forward to hearing about it.

  10. I’m planning to backpack from Lost Park trailhead and camp in the clearing approx 0.5 mile before Bison Pass and the intersection with the Ute Trail. Then go up to Bison Peak the next morning. Does the creek still flow in that clearing? Have you noticed any good campsites there?

    I did the Goose Creek loop a couple years back. This area is very nice, national park quality scenery.

    • Hi, Norman. Sorry for the delay in answering; I’ve been away from the internet for a while. Last time I was up there, I didn’t notice flowing water but now that we are in snow season again, you may be able to find something. There was a flat spot where you could camp.

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