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Trail Report: Bison Peak via the Ute Creek Trailhead

Basic Information

  • Name: Bison Peak
  • Where: Lost Creek Wilderness, Colorado
  • Max Elevation: 12,431 feet
  • Distance: 11.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 3,864 feet
  • Time: 6-8 hours round-trip
  • Difficulty: EasyModerateHardDifficult
  • More Information: US Forest Service website

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Bison Peak Hike Topographic Map

Bison Mountain Topo Map

Bison Peak Elevation Map

Bison Mountain Elevation Map

Narrative

I took my family recently for a drive up the Tarryall Road outside of Lake George, Colorado to see the changing colors of the aspen leaves.  The road drives adjacent to the Lost Creek Wilderness which I have had multiple people recommend that I check out some time.  The drive up the Tarryall Road was enough to convince me to do some hiking in the Lost Creek Wilderness. Here is a brief history about this wilderness from the US Forest Service website:

Lost Creek Wilderness was officially designated in the Colorado Wilderness Act of 1980. Today it totals 119,790 acres. Elevations range from 8,000 to 12,400 feet above sea level. Lost Creek was named after a creek of the same name that repeatedly disappears undergound only to reappear again further downstream where it ultimately becomes Goose Creek.

There are nearly 130 miles of trails that traverse tree-lined mountain parks, fascinating rounded granite domes, and rare granite arches. Black bears, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, and bobcats share the region. Vegetation includes ponderosa, bristlecone, and lodgepole pine, aspen, spruce, fir, and alpine tundra.  [US Forest Service]

The following weekend I decided to do the most popular hike in the wilderness which is to summit of its highest point, the 12,431 foot Bison Peak.  The mountain can be hiked up from various trails, but the most popular route is to begin from the Ute Creek Trailhead along side the Tarryall Road:

The trailhead is located about 40 minutes from Lake George and very easy to spot alongside the road if it is daylight out due to the large parking area and signboards that describe the history of this area:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

However, in the early morning darkness the trailhead can be harder to spot because I almost drove by it before realizing this was the trailhead.  After getting my gear ready I began the hike at 6:15 AM and it was still quite dark out so I had to use a headlamp.  The darkness was increased by the heavy fog that had engulfed the valley due to the Tarryall Creek.  The trail begins near the signboards by crossing over the creek using a very well constructed bridge.  Before crossing the bridge there is this sign pointing out Ute Creek Trail (629):

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

I had to follow the Ute Creek Trail for 4-miles to the intersection with the McCurdy Trail which I would follow for 2 more miles to reach the summit of Bison Peak.  I hiked up the Ute Creek Trail for about 45 minutes before the rising sun penetrated the fog and I was able to take some pictures.  Here is a picture of the sign designating that I had entered the Lost Creek Wilderness:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Just passed the sign there is a box where hikers have to register for a permit to hike in the Wilderness:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

The permit is free, I just had to fill out the paperwork in the box and then keep a copy of it on my person during the hike.  This next picture I took is from where the trail crosses over Ute Creek:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

For about the first 2-miles of the trail it follows the pleasant Ute Creek which is surrounded by groves of aspen trees:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

As the sun continued to rise the colors of the aspen leaves became better and better:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

The last 2-miles of the hike to the intersection, the trail ascends steadily up Bison Peak.  Eventually I gained enough elevation to where I could see the fog bank that had engulfed the valley down below:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Something I was impressed by as I ascended up the trail was how thickly forested these mountains are:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

I would not be surprised if these mountains were never logged before considering how large and the amount of the trees there were.  Here is another view from around 10,000 feet of the fog bank down below:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

As I reached 10,o00 feet this is where I began to see some snow appear on the ground:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Here is a view from higher up on the trail looking southwest where some snow can be seen on the trees:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

After 4-miles of hiking I reached the trail intersection that was covered in snow:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

At the trail intersection there is a sign pointing out the direction to take to access the McCurdy Trail (607) which leads to Bison Peak:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

The McCurdy Trail was blanketed with about 2-4 inches of snow:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Since it was still cold out, the snow was packed pretty hard and was slippery in places.  So I decided to stop and put on my microspikes:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

My microspikes definitely gave me some better traction while hiking through the snow.  As I approached treeline I could see a large rock formation looming ahead of me:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

I eventually busted through treeline near this big rock:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Here is the view looking back down the trail towards treeline where the postholes I made in the snow can be seen:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

My first views above treeline were of the Front Range to the north where I could see the 14,060 foot Mt. Bierstadt and the 14,264 foot Mt. Evans which are pictured on the far right:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Here is a closer look at Mt. Bierstadt (left) and Mt. Evans (right) and the Sawtooth Ridge that runs between them:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

You can read about my prior hikes up these mountains at the below links:

To the northwest I could see the Mosquito and Ten Mile Ranges which are home to six 14-thousand foot mountains:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

You can read about my prior hikes up all of these mountains at the below links:

To the West I could see the highest peaks in the entire Rocky Mountains, the Sawatch Range:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

I have climbed 13 of the 15 fourteen thousand foot peaks in the Sawatch Range.  From left to right the 14ers Mt. Shavano, Tabeguache Peak, Mt. Antero, and Mt. Princeton can be seen in the picture below:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

You can read more about my hikes up these mountains at the below links:

Here is a closer look at the beautiful Mt. Princeton:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Another Sawatch Range mountain I could see from Bison Peak was the 14,196 foot Mt. Yale:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

You can read about my prior hike up Mt. Yale at the below link:

The rest of the Sawatch Range I could not see either because of clouds or being blocked by the mountains of the adjacent Mosquito Range.  As I hiked up the summit plateau I had to cross an area that was covered in deep snow:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

It was at this point that I wished I would have brought my snowshoes.  I only had one more mile to hike to reach the summit so I figured I can just suck it up and break trail through the snow for the remaining distance.  As I crossed the summit plateau of Bison Peak I entered a world very different from most mountains in Colorado. The summit plateau is covered in large and unusual rock formations:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

I then hiked into a basin that led towards Bison Peak in the distance:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

In this basin is where the most famous rock formation on the mountain this granite obelisk can be seen:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

The trees provide some sense of scale, but this towering rock formation is quite impressive to see in person.  I also had a really good view of the 14,110 foot Pikes Peak as I crossed the basin:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

You can read about my prior hikes up Pikes Peak at the below links:

I eventually came to the final summit approach of Bison Peak.  The summit is the pile of rocks located in the distance on the left of the below photo:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Here is the view from the base of the summit approach looking back down the basin:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Here is the view looking towards the Sawatch Range and the South Park basin to the west:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Here is the view towards the northwest where other peaks and the thickly forested hills of the Lost Creek Wilderness can be seen:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

The final push to the summit required me to scramble through some rocks which was complicated by the ever deepening snow:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

After some hard work getting up the rocks and through the snow; the summit marked by a large stick was within reach:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

The below picture shows the postholes I made to reach the summit from the basin:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

As I climbed through the rocks to the summit I noticed the remains of what appeared to be some kind of structure that was built on the summit at one time:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Here is a view of the summit marker:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

After one final rock scramble I was able to touch the ice covered marker myself to officially summit the 12,431 foot Bison Peak:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

On the summit there is also box with a trail register in it for those that like to sign them:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

I even spotted a US Geological Survey marker near the summit as well that was installed all the way back in 1894:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

From the summit I had a great view of the 12,168 McCurty Mountain in the foreground and Pikes Peak looming in the background to the south:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

To the southwest way out in the distance I could see the 12,347 foot Greenhorn Mountain:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

You can read about my prior hike up this mountain at the below link:

Also to the southwest I could see the mighty Sangre de Cristo Range:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Here is a panorama of the view from the summit looking from the south towards the west:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

This next panorama is centered looking towards the west:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Here is another panorama looking from west to north where the Sawatch and Mosquito Ranges can be seen in the distance:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Finally to the east I could see the Great Plains out in the distance followed by the hills that compose the Rampart Range, and then the adjacent hills of the Lost Creek Wilderness:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

This final panorama photo is centered on the view looking towards the east:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

I only ended up spending 10-minutes on the summit because I could feel the wind picking up and storm clouds moving in from the north.  I did not want to get caught in a large winter storm in such an exposed area.  So I headed back down from the summit towards the basin below:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

This time I took a more direct route to save time which was steeper and required me to do some more postholing in the deep snow:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

I was very careful as I worked my way through all the rocks:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

I eventually reached the basin and re-found my prior posthole trail that I had made which helped me move faster.  As I crossed the basin I could see the dark storm clouds approaching which caused me to pick up my pace even more:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

The approaching storm clouds though were not enough to make me miss taking some more pictures of the impressive granite obelisk:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

This rock formation is extremely impressive and I wish I had more time to check it out, but the storm was bearing down on me now:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

I next had to climb up the small hill to get out of the basin.  Here is the view from the top of the hill looking back down into the basin with the summit of Bison Peak visible on the center left in the distance and the large granite obelisk visible in the foreground in the center right:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Here is a wider angle photo of the same view looking down into the basin:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

From the top of the hill I quickly crossed over the exposed plateau area towards treeline where I could see the trailhead located 5-miles ahead in the valley down below:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

As I began to feel the first drops of moisture falling on me I entered into the treeline:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Since I was now in treeline I slowed my pace a little bit since I was no longer exposed to the wind and impending snowstorm:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

As I hiked through treeline I saw two other hikers heading up the trail.  They were the first people I saw all day.  I gave them some advice about what lied ahead and told them to take advantage of the trail I blazed through the snow. I also told them to be careful because of the storm rolling in which would hopefully blow over so they could get some summit views.  After one more mile of hiking I found myself back at the trail intersection:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

I had just four more miles to go to reach the trailhead.  After the intersection most of the snow had melted so I took off my microspikes as well as the extreme cold weather gear I had been wearing.  The last four miles went relatively quickly because it was all down hill:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Here is one last view I had of Bison Peak before all views were blocked due to the thick forest:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

For the rest of the hike I kept a steady pace and enjoyed all the autumn colors I was surrounded by:

Picture from Bison Mountain, ColoradoPicture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

It was during this section of the hike that I saw three other people hiking up the trail.  This gave me a grand total of 5 people I saw on the trail on a Saturday and this is quite possibly the most popular trail in the Lost Creek Wilderness.  This shows how few people know about this place.  I eventually came back to the crossing of Ute Creek which meant I had about one more mile to go:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

With the sun fully up now I could actually enjoy walking by the little creek:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Here is a picture of a little waterfall that I saw:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

One of the major initial landmarks on the trail is this fallen down tree that is known as the “Tree Bridge”:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

This tree was quite large and was high enough that I could walk right under it with out having to crouch.  Soon after the Tree Bridge I exited the trees and could see Tarryall Creek ahead of me:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

The creek was quite scenic with its cloak of autumn foliage surrounding it:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

For the last half mile I just had to follow the creek and take in the views:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

I eventually reached the bridge I had to cross to reach the trailhead again:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Here is a picture from when I crossed the bridge:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Here is a photo of Tarryall Creek from the bridge with the trailhead located on the left:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Back at the trailhead I loaded up my gear in my truck and headed back towards Lake George.  I pulled off the road at a lookout that provided a view of Bison Peak on the far left in the distance and McCurty Mountain on the right:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

I could see that the storm had now blown over the mountains so hopefully the other hikers that day were able to enjoy the same views I had.  Here is a closer look at Bison Peak from the lookout:

Picture from Bison Mountain, Colorado

Of interest is that this lookout is where the famed British world traveler Isabella Bird took in the views of the Lost Creek Wilderness.  For anyone interested in the hiking and the history of Colorado Isabella Bird’s book A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains (The Western Frontier Library Series) is a must read.

Isabella Bird

Conclusion

Overall the hike ended up taking me 6 hours and 50 minutes to complete.  4 hours and 10 minutes to ascend, 10 minutes on the summit, and 2 hours and 30 minutes to descend.  Without snow I probably could have cut an hour or more off of this time.  Regardless of whether this trail is hiked in the summer or in the snow this makes for a great day hike from both the Colorado Springs and Denver areas which made me surprised there was not more people hiking the mountain.  I guess that is part of the charm of the Lost Creek Wilderness, since there are no 14ers here not as many people visit these mountains.  I will definitely be back to this area again because I would like to climb up the nearby McCurdy Mountain as well as go back up Bison Peak during the summertime just to further explore the rock formations up there.  One of the signs of a great hike is one where you can’t wait to go back and try it again; Bison Peak falls into that category for me.

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