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Fishing: Colorado > Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests > Taylor River Ranger District

Quick Facts

Lowline Trail

Beginning Elevation: 8,880 Feet (2768.1 Meters) Mill Creek Road
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 1,360 Feet (423.9 Meters)
Ending Elevation: 9,440 Feet (2942.6 Meters) junction with Cliff Creek Trail
High Point: 10,340 Feet (3223.2 Meters)
Length: 14.5 Miles (24.17 Kilometers) to the junction with Cliff Creek Trail
Other Maps: Trails Illustrated 133, 134
Recommended Season: Summer to Fall
Trail Number: 438
Usage: Heavy
USGS Maps: Anthracite Range, Mt. Axtell, Squirrel Creek

Satellite and Topo Map

General Description

Lowline Trail, 438, leads north from Mill Creek Road, Forest Service Road 727, to Cliff Creek Trail, 840. It traverses through 15 miles of the eastern West Elk Wilderness. It is a great trail on which to base an extended trip, because it provides various links to other trails. It also provides many hours of hiking amidst glorious scenery.

This trail description begins at the southern terminus of the Lowline Trail, which is Mill Creek Road. This road stems from Ohio Creek Road nine miles north of Highway 135. The Lowline Trail extends north from the Mill Creek Road approximately four miles west of Ohio Creek Road.

Leading north from Mill Creek Road, Lowline Trail crosses the eastern flanks of a steep ridge. It hits a high point of 10,960 feet before descending into the Squirrel Creek drainage. Approximately a quarter mile passed Squirrel Creek, Lowline Trail begins to follow Forest Road 871. The trail makes a sharp eastward turn, follows the road for a half mile, then veers to the left away from the road. Shortly after it leaves the road the trail turns sharply northward.

Lowline Trail follows a relatively flat path for the next two miles then begins to steadily ascend. It reaches a high point of 10,000 feet then slowly descends into the Castle Creek drainage. Approximately a quarter mile from this high point Lowline Trail intersects an unnamed trail and continues descending. A mile and a half passed the trail intersection it crosses South Castle Creek and begins climbing toward Mill Castle Trail, 450.

To continue following Lowline Trail turn right (north) at the Mill Castle Trail junction. Lowline Trail continues north toward Beckwith Pass from this point. This is also where the tread enters the West Elk Wilderness. After crossing Castle Creek, the trail leads over a ridge above 10,000 feet then descends into the Pass Creek drainage. The trail crosses Pass Creek then leads out of this shallow gulch and into the Cliff Creek valley. After paralleling the Cliff Creek headwaters for a quarter mile, Lowline Trail is intersected by Pass Creek Trail from the east. The trail continues to descend into the Cliff Creek valley for two more miles before it ends at Cliff Creek Trail, 840.

Directions from Beckwith Pass Trail, 840: Trail 438 may be reached by Trail 842 near the top of Beckwith Pass, which starts at Lost Lake Campground.

Directions from Paonia: Travel east on Highway 133 for 16 miles and turn right onto the Kebler Pass Road at the base of Paonia Dam. Horse Ranch Park is near the top of Kebler Pass. The trail starts at Horse Ranch Park where you'll find good parking and signage.

Directions from Swampy Pass/Pass Creek, trail 439: The west end of Swampy Pass Trail # 439 junctions with Lowline Trail.

Directions from Mill Creek Road: The trail leaves north from Mill Creek Road, four miles west of the Ohio Creek Road.

Directions from Horse Ranch Park: The trail leads south from Horse Ranch Park, twelve miles west of Crested Butte on Kebler Pass.

Current Conditions & Trip Reports

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Filed By: Audrey Tobin (boulder, CO)
Number of People Encountered: 0-10 ppl
Recommend to a Friend: Not Recommended
Report: We took the Lowline trail from the Mill Castle trail as a 2.5 day loop. I would NOT recommend taking the Lowline Trail south as we did if you are not skilled at compass work and topo maps. The Trail Illustrated Map only shows one trail in the area of the Squirrel Creek Drainage, but this is incorrect. There are many trails that have been made by ranchers for livestock and the sign for trail # 438 at the Forest road 871 points you in the wrong direction. Once you head through the gate at Forest Road 871 you must continue straight on the trail (south) rather than turning right and walking a few hundred yards to a sign that points south for trail 438. If you follow this sign you will end up at the Squirrel Creek drainage, but the trail will disappear .25 miles after the creek. Heading north on the Lowline trial from country road 727 is an easy route to follow as you would not even see the sign that points you towards Squirrel Creek.
Conditions: Muddy conditions abound due to all the drainage in this area. Along with that comes bugs and wet rocks. There are a few fallen trees to navigate and most of the trail is shady.
Water Availability: From the Junction with the Mill Castle Trail, we found 2 reliable water sources (Middle Creek and Squirrel Creek). Treated with a gravity filter and feel fine.
Suggested Accessories: I always backpack with trekking poles. Some parts of the trail are steep, so having poles really takes a load off. Make sure to bring rope and bear bags as there are black bears who would love to eat your food. Plenty of decent trees for hanging a bear bag around.

Recreation Opportunities
Activity Remarks On Site
ICON Cold Water Fishing Castle Creek
ICON Hiking & Walking Lowline Trail
ICON Horseback Riding Lowline Trail
ICON Animal Identification Lowline Trail
ICON Bird Identification Lowline Trail
ICON Mushroom Identification Lowline Trail
ICON Plant Identification Lowline Trail
ICON Wildflower Identification Lowline Trail
ICON Backcountry Skiing West Elk Wilderness
ICON Backpacking Lowline Trail
ICON Viewing Scenery Lowline Trail
ICON Viewing Wildlife Lowline Trail

Related Activities
Beckwith Pass Trail #440 - The trail is in good condition and easy to follow. The trail from Beckwith Pass is well worth a single day excursion.

Castle Pass Trail #441 - This is a difficult trail to access, because Castle Creek Road is private property. Castle Pass Trail leads west from Lowline Trail over Castle Pass to Cliff Creek Trail.

Costo Lake Trail #425 - This trail accesses Costo Lake (fair fishing) in the West Elk Wilderness. The best way to access this trail is hiking north on Lowline or Mill Castle Trails.

Lost Lake Campground - Lost Lake Campground is a great spot for hikers, horseback riders and anglers. The trails surrounding the site are kid-friendly.

Mill Castle Trail - This trail goes through rugged terrain, but is one of the most scenic trails in the West Elk Wilderness.

More Information

Visitor Information:

Gunnison National Forest, 216 North Colorado , Gunnison, CO, 81230, Phone: 970-641-0471


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