Elevation: 8,000 ft - 8,830 ft
Elevation Gain: 830 ft (net), 1,060 ft (cumulative)
The Ponderosa Pine Forest on the Brookside-McCurdy Trail. Ponderosa Pines (Pinus Ponderosa) have long 4-7" needles, dark red trunks, and full canopies. The tree in the right of this picture is a typical example.
The Brookside-McCurdy Trail (BMT) is a 36 mile (one-way) trail that transects the Lost Creek Wilderness. Looking for a doggie outing on a rainy 4th of July weekend, we did just 3 miles (one-way) on this trail to a pleasant outcrop overlooking the peaks on Guanella Pass. There are no killer views on this trail, but there is an amazingly open and living Ponderosa Forest, a beautiful grass-filled meadow, and a stand of old-growth Aspens that majestically tower upwards. I never new Aspens could grow so large.
The trailhead for the Brookside-McCurdy Trail is on County Road 64 near Baily Colorado. Once you get on Hwy 64 it is best to ignore the guide books and just drive until you see the rather large and prominent forest service sign pointing to a large parking area off to the left.
There is no demarcations at the parking area to give you an idea of where you are except for a sign advertising the Lost Creek Wilderness. Don't be fooled by this sign. The wilderness boundary is more than 3 miles up the trail.
We figured that this trail was so obscure, that we would have it to ourselves. This turned not to be the case. The parking lot was almost full when we arrived at 10 AM, so plan accordingly. It seemed to be a popular spot for families with small children.
The trail itself is amazingly soft on the feet. Absent is the usual gauntlet of rocks that after 6 miles or so make one's feet ache. Instead, the trail was composed of packed earth and pine needles. We managed to walk along at 3.4 miles per hour almost effortlessly. I can envision coming back to run the trail. It seems ideal for that purpose. There are quite a few ups and downs however, so don't be surprised if you loose elevation. I calculated 115 ft one way in additional elevation gain out to 3 miles. Most of the dips are down, over, and up small streams.
The trail transitions into a Lodgepole Pine Forest. Lodgepole Pines (Pinus contorta) have very short 1-3" needles and tall, boughless trunks.
Normally, I hate walking in the trees, being the spoiled tundra-loving Coloradoan that I am, but this trail surprised me. Instead of the trees being dense and foreboding like those on Gold Hill, these trees were actually welcoming. There was a park-like feel to them that reminded me of my childhood camping in the Sierra Nevadas. The light filtering through a Ponderosa Forest and the smell of the sun-warmed pine needles will forever be Summer to me.
Here are some milestones along our short route.... It is 1.9 miles to the junction with the Payne Creek Trail (8,495 ft), 2.11 miles to the old-growth Aspen forest (8,602 ft), 2.41 miles to the start of the Lodgepole Pine forest (8,712 ft), 2.62 miles to a defunct bridge, 2.82 miles to the turn off for our lunch spot, and 2.93 miles to the rocks where we ate (8,830 ft). Note that our lunch spot is not on the trail but is located off to the right. It should not be difficult to find but in case you have a GPS, it was located at 39° 23.638'N 105° 31.495'W.
The only view on the trail. I took this standing on a rock outcropping. There was no way to get a shot without that pesky tree in the middle.
I have no idea if the views improve farther up the trail or if there is a notable turn around point. Still, if you are looking for a pleasant and easy ramble in the woods, this trail may just fit the bill.