Hadley Gulch

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 11 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 6267 - 9508 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 6 hrs.
Trailhead: Hadley Gulch
Fee: none
Attractions: Forest hike




The Hadley Gulch trail is located in the Clinetops area of the White River National Forest near Rifle, Colorado. The trail begins off of the Main Elk Creek Road where it climbs steeply up Hadley Gulch to the Clinetop Cow Camp. From there a forest road can be followed for just under a mile to reconnect with the Main Elk Creek Road. The Hadley Gulch trail also provides fishing access to Deep Creek and several rock climbing walls that are located in the mouth of the gulch.


To get to the trailhead take the New Castle exit, Exit 105, off of Interstate 70 and head north. At the roundabout you can either drive through town on Main Street and follow the National Forest Access sign that will have you turn at 7th Street or continue north on the Castle Valley Road. Both routes will meet up once again and become the Buford/New Castle Road. From the point where the two routes merge continue on the Buford/New Castle Road for 3 miles and turn north onto the Main Elk Creek Road. Follow the Main Elk Creek Road up the valley for 5.85 miles where the trailhead will be on the left hand side of the road.


The trail cuts across private property as it begins. Somewhere around the quarter mile point the the fishing access trail branches off on the left. That trail gets more use by fishermen than the Hadley Gulch trail gets from hikers.


Just past the half mile point the trail turns up Hadley Gulch. Permanent anchors used by rock climbers can be seen on the high walls of the canyon across from the trail. The trail gets steep in places as it continues up the gulch.


The Clinetops get their name from the Clinetop Member of the Dotsero Formation that is found in the area. More information is available on the GeoScienceWorld website. Call them what they may, they make for some pretty nice scenery for a hike.


The gulch gets confined in places by rocky outcrops and an abundance of trees and other vegetation.


Probably the most amazing aspect of the trail is a berry patch that stretches out for a good two miles or more. It begins with a few currant bushes and then it gets into a plethora of thimbleberries mixed with numerous raspberries. There is so much bear scat that in places it can be seen every 5-10 feet. If you can hike the trail without stepping in some then you did much better than we did. Interestingly the only bear that we saw was in some brush where we couldn't get a picture of it. By the way, thimbleberries are edible and closely related to raspberries.


In 2010 the Meadow Creek fire burned through much of the area leaving a forest of bare trees in its wake. Many of the trees ended up in the bottom of the gulch creating log jams. In this photo you can see the lavender blooms of the fireweed wildflowers mixed in with the carpet of thimbleberries.


Hiking on the mid to upper section of the trail is over a troublesome amount of talus. It isn't too bad in the downhill direction other than you have to keep your eyes on the trail to assure good footing.


As the 5 mile point approaches a faint trail that is unmarked branches off on the right. The gulch then narrows once again and becomes very scenic when at its narrowest point it passes through a very tightly strung gate. Route finding gets extremely difficult a short distance past the gate so unless you are hell bent on making it all the way to the Clinetop Cow Camp this is a good place to turn around. TIP: You can climb between the gate post and the cliff and avoid a wrestling match that involves barbwire.


A little past the gate the official trail gets completely obscured by the thick brush along the creek. The trail goes into the brush on the right and then climbs over the knob of a hill before dropping back down near the creek. There is a fork in the gulch at that point where the ground forms a small slough. The official trail stays to the right and continues up Hadley Gulch. An alternate route would be to follow the trail to the left at this point. After a short distance the trail enters an open area and disappears but if you keep climbing you should be able to find another route that you can follow to the right that will lead to the Clinetop Cow Camp.


The main trail gets easy to follow again for a few hundred yards as it travels along the creek heading up the drainage. After a bit it comes to an old fenceline. There is a trail that travels up a steep hill beside the fence that by our reasoning would also lead to another route that would get you to the Clinetop Cow Camp. The official trail though passes through the fence and heads more directly to the cow camp. The only reason that we knew the trail was there was because it showed up on our GPS. If it wasn't that we wanted our map to come out looking like the official map we would have hiked along the fence instead. If you cross the fence you won't find any trail but if you work your way along the side of the hill above the creek you will see the cow camp as you come around the bend.


As we approached the cow camp we saw a couple of horses grazing and felt like we were trespassing so we worked our way around a grove of aspens until we came out on the road. From there we could see that the area wasn't posted 'No Trespassing' or 'Private Property' and there were no locked gates. The forest road also ran right by the cow camp so whether the cow camp is a forest lease or not we couldn't tell. Rather than continue hiking down the road for another 3/4 of a mile to get to the Main Elk Creek Road we turned around at this point.


When we set out on the trail the cloudless sky was azure blue. Several miles back down the trail we began hearing thunder behind us. By the time we got back to the trailhead there was a steady rain falling. Sounds like summertime in the Colorado mountains to me. Good thing we had our raingear. Hadley Gulch is a tough trail if you hike all the way to the cow camp. With a little over 3,300 feet of elevation gain you can expect a big workout. As a reward, besides the exercise, you can fill up on berries and enjoy the peace and solitude of Hadley Gulch. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.