West Elk Wilderness Trails
The West Elk Mountains define this large, remote wilderness west of Gunnison. The volcanic ridges and long valleys of this area offer countless opportunities for extended expeditions. As an added benefit, West Elk receives relatively few visitors outside of hunting season, probably because the area lacks fourteeners or numerous alpine lakes, which typically attract recreational users. In my days of backpacking and hiking there, I’ve seen but two other people. Of course, I’ve gone out of my way to avoid popular trails and high-use seasons, but my experience is that secluded trips are readily attainable in West Elk, Colorado’s fifth largest wilderness. Formed approximately 25 million years ago during explosive eruptions, the West Elk Mountains consist largely of volcanic fragments embedded in coarse volcanic tuff. The erosive forces of wind, rain, and snow have carved ridgelines into spires and buttresses, leaving more resistant rock layers as isolated castle towers standing guard over wilderness valleys. The names Castles, Castle Pass, and Castle View refer to these eroded pinnacles. Aspen blanket the steep-sided valleys, and hikers visiting in late September are rewarded with golden fall colors, clear blue skies, brisk temperatures, and the unmistakable sound of bull elks bugling. Elk and deer herds numbering in the thousands also attract crowds of hunters in late fall. An extensive network of trails along ridgelines and valley floors creates a multitude of loop trips, allowing for multiday or week-long excursions. This trail guide includes descriptions of Beaver Ponds, Bonfisk Peak, Storm Pass, Beckwith Pass/Castle Creek, Kaufman Creek/Soap Creek, and Curecanti Creek.
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Directions to: West Elk Wilderness Trailsprint directions
Trail Statistics & Information
|Skill Level||Easy to Strenuous|
|Season||Best Spring through Fall|
|Trailhead Elevation||7,500 ft|
|Top Elevation||13,000 ft|
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