In late June 2019, my mom and I were lucky enough to snag spaces on a Women Who Hike overnight backpacking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park. She’d already purchased her plane ticket to come visit me for the week, so it worked out perfectly when this hike was scheduled for the very weekend she’d be here. It was her first ever Women Who Hike event and we were really excited!
Unfortunately, the weather had its own set of plans. The forecast called for 5-8 inches (13-20 cm) of snow the night before our hike and rain and snow for the duration of the weekend, meaning we’d be pitching our tents on snow and freezing our butts off all weekend. Fortunately, our trip leader was able to find us an alternate plan outside the broad span of this stupid summer snowstorm. We still froze our butts off that night and we woke to ice on our tents, but at least we didn’t get snowed on.
This alternate hike was located in the San Isabel National Forest about an hour west of Colorado Springs. We arrived at the Browns Creek Trailhead just after 8:00 am on a Saturday; the lot wasn’t quite full, but cars were spilling out of it upon our return on Sunday afternoon. The main attractions on this trail are Browns Creek Falls and Lake, though it intersects other trails as well. The falls and lake could easily be hiked in a day, but this was a great spot for a shorter backpacking trip as well and we had a wonderful time!
Since most of us were either somewhat or entirely beginner backpackers, we only ended up hiking about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) before setting up camp. This is a national forest area, so there are no assigned campsites. As long as you follow Forest Service regulations – camping and using the bathroom 200 feet/61 meters (70 adult steps) away from water sources, storing your food 200 feet (61 meters) from camp, and camping away from the trail – you can camp wherever you want.
In general, it’s recommended to use established campsites and fire rings to minimize your impact, which our group did. While bear canisters aren’t currently required, I’d highly recommend them; there weren’t any suitable trees nearby for a bear hang, but there was no shortage of places to set our bear canisters.
After setting up camp and waiting out a brief rainstorm, we day hiked the remaining distance up to Browns Creek Falls, which was absolutely raging with water courtesy of all the snowmelt. We also had a couple of precarious, bridgeless creek crossings that would have been even more difficult had we still had our full packs on our backs (most of the crossings, though, were on actual bridges).
The weather was not on our side in terms of continuing up to Browns Creek Lake, but it’s a trail I’ll hopefully be able to hike in its entirety sometime in the future. In fact, this entire area of the state is a place I plan to return to multiple times; the views are incredible and there’s so much here to see!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: the Browns Creek trailhead is located near Nathrop, Colorado off County Road 272
- Fees and passes: none
- Hiking: Browns Creek Falls is a 6 mile (9.6 km) round-trip hike with just under 1000 feet (305 m) of elevation gain; the Browns Creek Trail continues an additional 3 miles (4.8 km) to Browns Creek Lake
- Where to stay: we passed dozens of dispersed campsites on the way to the trailhead, and there are also many established campgrounds in the area. Backpacking is allowed anywhere along the trail as long as you follow proper Leave No Trace protocols, including camping and using the bathroom 200 feet/61 meters (70 adult steps) away from water sources and storing your food 200 feet from camp
- Other: in drier years I imagine the creek crossings wouldn’t have been problematic, but if you hike this trail in spring or after a wet winter, plan for some precarious log hopping