A Weekend Guide to Backpacking Refrigerator Gulch Loop

Lost Creek Wilderness is one of the more secluded, less praised wilderness areas, but trust us when we say it’s perfect for backpacking. With an easy permit process, lots of longer distance trails and a bit more privacy, Refrigerator Gulch Loop in the Lost Creek Wilderness makes for a perfect weekend backpacking getaway.

Only about two hours from Denver, this trail is a 21.9-mile loop with roughly 5,500 feet of elevation gain and can be split up into two to two and a half days if you’re an intermediate to advanced hiker. Beginner hikers and backpackers may want to take an extra day to complete the loop.

Packing and preparation

Photo by Taylor Sienkiewicz

For general safety information refer to our article, How to Plan a Weekend Backpacking Trip and 7 Nearby Trails to Try. For this particular trail, here is what you need to know and what to bring. Since the loop is near Fairplay, you can expect the weather to be similar to weather on the Front Range, but check the local weather for any storms and lower temperatures.

As for permits, you will simply need to fill out your name in the permit book located at the trailhead. This allows the forest service to keep track of trail users. There is no fee associated with the permitting process. If you plan to build a fire while camping, check the fire restrictions to make sure you aren’t jeopardizing the forest in the event of a fire ban.

When backpacking in this area in the late summer/early fall, you will need to bring some layers. Your hiking clothes maybe shorts and a shirt, but bring an outer layer for warmth and a waterproof layer in case of rain. At night, you will want to bring thermal layers to sleep in.

Much of the trail follows a creek, making water plentiful except for your pass over Refrigerator Gulch. For this section, you will want to carry at least two liters of water. Of course, make sure to filter creek water. Since you’re following a creek though, this means mosquitos. Make sure to bring repellent and bug nets.

As always, practice Leave No Trace principles and leave the area better than you found it.

Getting there and trail directions

From Denver, take Highway 285 South to State Highway 211. Goose Creek Road will lead you to Goose Creek Trailhead. Once you arrive at the trailhead, take the trail clockwise. While you can go either way, we chose clockwise to hit the more gradual side of Hankins Pass first.

If you want to look this trail up on AllTrails, it’s called Goose Creek, McCurdy, Lake Park, and Hankins Pass Trails Loop. Starting clockwise on the goose creek trail, you will start a gradual climb with some decrease in elevation. You’ll start seeing great views within the first five miles. If getting in on a Friday evening, there are plenty of camp spots within a few miles of the trail that are close to the creek for water.

When you make the switch to McCurdy Trail, there will be an overlook that’s a perfect photo op spot. At the junction, head towards the Brookside McCurdy Trail. There are lots of small side trails you can take that will lead you to the creek and other great camping spots, but make sure you don’t venture too far off the main trail and lose your way. Set up camp for your first or second night, depending on if you left Friday night or Saturday morning, somewhere in Refrigerator Gulch before you make the climb over Hankins Pass. There are plenty of large campsites with fire rings.

The main climb over Hankins Pass is a tough and dry one, so fill up your water bottles before making the ascent. The pass boasts stunning views of the area. Stop to take it in before making your descent down the pass and back towards Goose Creek Trailhead.

And…you did it! Enjoy the hike, it’s a perfect challenge for an intermediate backpacker and gives you great views and terrain all in one weekend.

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