Payne Creek Trail is a 5.8 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Bailey, Colorado that features beautiful wild flowers and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, nature trips, and birding and is best used from May until October.
Directions from Bailey: From Bailey proper leave Highway 285 opposite the Post Office and turn on to County Road 64. Drive .45 miles to a Y in the road. Follow the left side of the Y, which is a gravel road and continue 1.6 miles to the trailhead. Drinking water is available at the trailhead.
First hour a moderate uphill to trail junction. The next hour climbs more steeply to wilderness boundary. In mid-March, there was patchy snow on the trail on north-facing slopes. Once you reach the top of the rise, it is a nice downhill (no snow) all the way to the Meadows. More snow once you cross Payne Creek. Only saw a few other hikers on the way in and the same on the way out.
well worth finding the trail head.
Like all Colorado trails, one must get more than three miles out to know anything about the trail. The first three miles of Payne Creek will weed out the weekenders, undoubtedly. This ain't Mt. Bierstadt, with wheelchair accessible trails and burrito salesmen at 6 AM. This is out-there-alone-hiking. Of course, you ain't really alone, are you? The piles of bears*** every quarter mile will remind you of that. This trail is what I refer to as, "a hump."
It's a steady hike up for three miles, meandering through bear country and mountain lion paradise before you come to "The Road."
As another reviewer stated, The Road is no joke. It's about 1.7 miles of steep uphill hiking. It's unrelenting. (-and undoubtedly the reason why we only saw one group of badass middle-aged women, and one well-dressed family, who had a fantastic hatter and clever accents, beyond that treacherous hill) The Road is rocky, like a creek bed, but as wide as an old logging road. The real joy is, you get it both ways. As soon as one finally summit's that sonbitch, one begins a steep hump down it. This is all fine and dandy on the way out. On the way back, it's Kilimanjaro.
We set out for the CT. I had to guess that it was about 10 miles out, one way. In all the reviews, I couldn't find anyone who could talk about distances beyond the first five or so, miles. I don't get many days to hike, so like some-a'-you, I want it to hurt for a few days when it's over. I want to go far and fast. I want it to hurt like hell on the way back.
Brookside/McCurdy trail winds on for a little over a mile before Payne Creek splits off. It's a hard-hard left, and in the dark you could miss it. It was about 9.7 miles from the Brookside/McCurdy Trailhead sign, to the Colorado Trail/Payne Creek Trail sign, so maybe just over 8 miles on Payne Creek, from start to finish? Regardless, it's awesome. It's a great dog-trail, with plenty of water and shade. The trail is mostly softish, but it's rocky too. As far as camping, there are some super-cool spots (perhaps illegally close to the water, but too far out there for anyone to police it) just waiting to be taken.
So, here's my summary. Payne Creek is 8ish miles on somewhat predicable 9000-10000 ft trails, but stunningly beautiful for it. A 20-miler on PCT will put you down for a day or so, in that -oh-you-hurt-me-so-good kind of way. Push up that 1.7 miles of hot torment and see the part no one else is talking about.
The crowds were non-existent. The views were not epic Colorado views but it was still really nice. There were still some wildflowers. I bet they are amazing earlier in the year. The aspen groves were lovely and I bet stunning in the fall. We hiked out 6.75 miles and camped in one of the sites by the creek. The trail is rated as moderate but don't be fooled. The hike over the pass is pretty tough with a full pack. Coming back down it was no picnic either. We saw tons of bear scat on the trail but luckily no bears. Didn't see much in the way of wildlife at all which was surprising. Given the lack of crowds I thought we might see something.
Ibeautiful, a few early wildflowers & only saw 3 others people.
I started at the Payne Creek Trail head. I was planning to get to Craig Meadows but stopped short due to a nice set of storms (and a bit of fatigue). Took me about an hour to the wilderness sign in, and another hour to the top of the pass with a beautiful aspen forest. From there, I went about 30-40 min more down the back side of the pass and camped near the river at a large camp site. It rained a ton so I couldn't explore.
Word to the wise: The climb, which was described as "steep" by some sources, is exactly that. And long. It is not a switchback, rather a straight up old jeep road that used to be used for logging. The Road was built with a car in mind, not a hiker with a backback. Be advised, the ascent to the pass from the wilderness sign is to be taken seriously, but only if you are backpacking.
The trail takes you through pine and aspen forests with great wildflowers and the creek at the bottom where I camped (Craig creek?) was actually quite large for a mountain creek. While not making it down to the meadows, I'm sure there is a large hungry trout downstream somewhere.
I'd like to loop this trail to the CO trail and out.
I took the Payne Creek Trail from the CO Trail segment 4 down to Craig Meadows. This was a good hike, I took the trail to the west end of the meadows (I was coming from the east), and then backtracked to where the campsites are on the east side of the meadows.
The trail east of the meadows is nice, a little up and down, some considerable vert in a short distance, but nothing too bad. Some nice creek crossings.
I camped at the confluence of the Craig Creek, and the Bluestem Draw. There are some nice pine forest campsites, and some down in the meadow. With the best one in the meadow being just after you cross the Craig Creek coming from the east. On my track I marked all 4 campsites I found on the hike.
Hopped onto the Payne Creek Trail after starting at the Rolling Creek/Colorado Trail trailhead south of Bailey. This section of the CO trail is nice and wide and travels steadily up until meeting up with the Payne Creek Trail. From there, you slowly descend into Craig Meadows. Beautiful stands of Aspens all along Payne Creek, great fishing in Craig Meadows. There are a few nice campsites in Craig Meadows too if you're looking to do some backpacking. Excellent hike for mid September.