Main Elk Creek

Round Trip Distance: 5 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
MTB Skill level:
Elevation: 6180 - 7736 feet
Cellphone: 0-2 bars
Time: 3 hrs.
Trailhead: Hadley Gulch
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic views of Flat Tops

The Main Elk trail is located in the Flat Tops area of the White River National Forest near New Castle, Colorado. The trail begins off of the Main Elk Creek Road before it crosses the creek and about a quarter mile from the Hadley Gulch trailhead. The trail climbs along the side of the mountain through private property where it picks up a ridge that it follows for the rest of the way up to the Mansfield Ditch trail. The Main Elk trail appears to get very little use. Parts of it are overgrown with oakbrush making route finding difficult at times.

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 5.8 miles where the trailhead will be on the left hand side of the road.

From the Public Parking area near the Hadley Gulch trailhead follow the Main Elk Creek Road back across the creek and around the curve in the direction that you came. The Main Elk trail begins on the west side of the road. There isn't any parking along the road at the Main Elk trail so be sure to use the Public Parking area across the creek.

The Main Elk trailhead isn't really visible from the road but after passing through the gate there is a trail marker and a sign that says it is 2.5 miles to the Mansfield Ditch trail. There is also a sign that mentions to stay on the trail as it passes through private land to get to the forest boundary.

As the trail starts out it is very faint and it doesn't get much better the further you go.

There is a branch of the trail that follows the drainage on the left and then rejoins the main route after switchbacking its way out of the wash. It is much easier to take the more direct route to the ridge that stays more to the right.

Older maps show the trail skirting around the green field in this photo. Be sure to avoid that area and stick to the ridge.

Stay on the crest of the ridge, or close to it, as you continue to climb. There are a couple of small saddles where the trail takes a lower route but it never gets far from the crest.

About midway up the ridge the remainder of the route comes into view. For the most part all you can see are portions of the Mansfield Ditch trail as it cuts across the top of the mountain. The Main Elk trail shows up in places but for the most part it is all guess work.

There is one spot the that the trail comes to near a knob in the ridge where the trail appears to go around it to the left. The knob itself has such a healthy growth of oakbrush that it is obvious that you have to leave the ridge. Hunt around for a trail that goes around it on the right hand side. Once you find the trail it is actually very easy to follow. We went to the left on the way up and it ended up quickly becoming a tangled mess.

If all goes well you will come out on the Mansfield trail right at the markers.

Looking back the way we came there are some nice views of the Clinetops and Hadley Gulch.

Route finding and sections of the trail that are overgrown with brush make the Main Elk trail a rough adventure. The trail is open to mountain bikes but unless someone does a whole lot of grooming it would likely be a bloody mess riding through the brush. Horseback probably wouldn't be much better. The views are pretty incredible so its got that going for it. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.