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Most trip reports (mine included) focus on noteworthy locations — places that are some combination of remote, challenging, or distinctive. And although hiking may be harder in such places, writing about them is easier.

a view of the mountains from a high point of view
Photo: Drew Smith

But life, very much including the hiking life, is not always lived on the peaks. There is plenty of satisfaction to be found in just being in wild places, even if those places don’t have the biggest mountains, the tallest trees, or the showiest wildflowers.

If a place has pretty good forests, flowers, fish and fields, and it is close by, then you are lucky indeed. You have a retreat and a refuge, a place to go when you need to go someplace. You don’t need to make an expedition of it. Just grab your pack, chuck in some food and go.

I have the good fortune to live near such a place. It is a drainage that stretches from the Continental Divide down to the Great Plains. There are plenty of these along the Front Range of Colorado — but only one that does not have a road traversing its length.

I tend to visit in the fall, winter and spring. Summer is too hot in its lower elevations and wilderness permits are required in the upper basins – and they are usually snapped up weeks in advance.

Author’s Note: BPL’ers, especially those in Colorado, already know this drainage. I’m omitting place names to keep them out of search engines, not to tease backpacking humans.

a dirt road surrounded by trees and mountains
Photo: Drew Smith


a rabbit sitting in the middle of a forest
Photo: Drew Smith

Summer was leaving. Low clouds and high winds were sweeping away what drowse and lassitude still hung in the air. Time to get out before winter’s sharp discipline imposed itself.

Despite the forecast, permits for the high country were still in short supply. I could camp in a valley site near the creek for a day. After that I’d have to move up the basin. The ranger at the permit station gave me a wildly optimistic weather forecast along with a biffy bag and the LNT lecture.

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