West Elk Wilderness of Colorado

West Elk Wilderness

Not well known, the West Elk is a place of healthy aspen and spruce forests and rugged volcanic cliffs that tower above long valleys and flowing streams

Of the larger wilderness tracts in Colorado, the West Elk is perhaps the least well known. Nevertheless, the visitor is offered scenic vistas of dark volcanic breccia worn into spires, towers, stone walls and castle-like formations of immense size. Long valleys and sun-dappled aspen forested slopes offer unique scenic beauty to the intrepid hiker. The West Elk wilderness is particularly well suited for alpine backpacking, as it offers unspoiled scenery, long ascending trails, and with no fourteeners, freedom from crowds.

The northern portions of the wilderness contains the twin peaks, East and West Beckwith mountains, and the Anthracite Range. Further in, the rugged West Elk Mountains’ long ridges radiate out from the center and are in turn separated by forested alpine valleys.

The fifth largest wilderness in Colorado, the West Elk wilderness is located in the Gunnison National Forest. near the town of Gunnison, Colorado.

Visiting the West Elk Wilderness

From Gunnison, the West Elk Wilderness can be accessed via forest service roads that join state highway 135, such as Ohio Creek Road (USFS-730). Access to the northern side is via Cnty-Rd-12 from Crested Butte, also known as Kebler Pass Road.

The best times to visit the West Elk wilderness is in the summer and fall. The aspen forests turn color in late September into mid October. For more hiking tips, typical weather in Colorado and other visitor information, visit our Colorado Backpacking Guide.

Recommended Hikes

Stormy Pass – The Mill Castle Trail offers the best views of the “castle” formation that can be seen (albeit from a distance) when travelling on Ohio Creek Road. Both USFS 727 and 728 offer access to one end of the trail. Access to USFS-727 and 728 is available from Ohio Creek Road. To hike the entire trail, leave a parked vehicle at one of the trail heads.

Lost Lake – A short hike from Lost Lake Campground, Lost Lake and nearby Dollar Lake are two small alpine lakes located at the foot of scenic twelve thousand foot East Beckwith Mountain. Take County Rd. 12 from Crested Butte over Kebler Pass to County Road 706 to reach the campground and the trailhead.

West Elk Trail Map

The Gunnison National Forest publishes a trail map of the West Elk wilderness area. A scan of the map is provided below.

West Elk Wilderness Trail Map

West Elk Trail Map

Nearby Wilderness Areas

Raggeds WildernessBlack Canyon of the GunnisonUncompahgre Wilderness