Buena Vista, Colorado (Chaffee) Technical Rating: 2-4
Last Updated: 10-10-2017
San Isabel National Forest / Leadville Ranger District
Lost Canyon Highlights
Situated in the San Isabel National Forest, halfway between Leadville and Buena Vista, Lost Canyon is a fantastic day drive for any 4wd vehicle. Home to some great primitive camping, this off-road trail delivers some of the best overall views you can find in the area. You can observe multiple, 14,000+ foot peaks on this drive and also gaze down on several of the largest bodies of water in the area including Clear Creek Reservoir, Twin Lakes, Mt Elbert Forebay, and even Turquoise Lake. During the fall, this trail provides spectacular aspen viewing because of the plethora of Aspen all along the trail. If scenery really isn't your thing, try your luck at gold panning and hope to strike it rich in the popular Cache Creek.
Technical rating: (2-4) Easy
Rutted and/or rocky road. No shelves but rocks to 9". Water crossings usually less than hub deep. Passable mud. Grades moderate, up to 15 degrees. Side hill moderate up to 15 degrees. 4WD under most conditions. No width problems, vehicle passing spots frequently available if less than two vehicles wide.
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Directions to Trailhead
From Granite, Colorado, halfway between Leadville and Buena Vista on Highway 24, look for County Road 398 directly behind SAGE Outdoor Adventures. There is a green and white sign on the west side of the highway marking the direction for Lost Canyon Road.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates:
39° 2' 36.78"N
106° 15' 58.97"W
GPS Exchange File:
Lost Canyon starts as a graded dirt road and stays this way till it climbs up out of the trees near Gold Basin Mine. From here the trail climbs a somewhat steep slope riddled with small rocks, typical of most high alpine routes, and will require a low-end transfer case. Still suitable for stock 4wd vehicles, the trail continues across the ridge line over the same small rocks keeping the trail bumpy and slow. Nearing the end of the trail, drivers will encounter two short, fairly steep declines that could provide a significant challenge to a stock vehicles when it's wet.
1: Turn onto County Road 398 (0.0mi)
From highway 24, turn west onto County Road 398, right behind Sage Outdoor Adventures.
2: Stay Left (2.8mi)
After about 3 miles, the easy dirt road you came in on splits at a Y. Take a left and head south on FS 398.
At this Y intersection you will find lot's of open space for primitive camping. This is also where the unlicensed route starts, so you may see a number of truck and trailers in the area.
3: Flat, Open Camping Area (3.7mi)
Not long after starting the trail, you come to a very flat, wide open area amongst the trees. This is a very popular camping location since it is easily accessible. If you are looking to camp in a trailer, this is a fantastic location. Stay straight on the main road to continue the trail.
4: Camp Spot (5.3mi)
At the third switchback, look to your left where you will see a small camp site hidden in the trees. This site provides amazing views back down into the valley you started in where you can see all the way to Leadville. Two or three tents should be able to fit in this area.
5: Hard Right at Private Log Cabin (6.9mi)
Follow the trail as it heads north, making a hard right. The property in this area is all private, so please be respectful.
6: Climb Uphill (7.9mi)
You will see an old metal mining structure on your left to the south. At this point the trail becomes slightly rougher as you climb uphill.
7: Stay Left (8.1mi)
After the mining structure, stay left on the more maintained road. Both roads do parallel each other and eventually meet again, but at the time of this write up (July 2016), the higher route to the right had a dangerous, off camber washout not suitable for stock vehicles or novice drivers.
8: Stay Right (8.6mi)
It's not long before the two roads meet again. Stay right at every opportunity as the two roads to the left lead to the active Gold Basin Mine. The public is welcome to visit the mine as long as the gate is open. The mine provides an opportunity to rent gold panning equipment so you can pan like a real old time miner.
9: Stay Left (9.7mi)
Once above tree line, after the road has leveled off from climbing, you come to another Y intersection. Stay left and go south to continue the trail. Going right will take you to a scenic overlook where you can gaze down upon Twin Lakes and across the valley to 14,439 foot Mt Elbert.
Don't forget to stop and check out the abundant wildflowers.
10: Stay Left (10.2mi)
As you appear to crest the ridge, continue left towards the old cabin ruins southeast. The route to the right will lead you towards another scenic overlook where you can see Quail Mountain, Mt Belford, and Mt Oxford.
Camping and Lodging
There are no commercial campgrounds in the immediate area, but the trail has many established primitive camping spots from bottom to to top that are very accommodating whether you are looking for a large opening for a few RVs or a secluded spot in the trees for your single person tent.