Red Elephant Hill
Downieville-Lawson-Dumont, Colorado (ClearCreek) Technical Rating: 6
Last Updated: 10-25-2017
Arapahoe National Forest/ Clear Creek Ranger District
Red Elephant Hill Highlights
About 1 hour from Denver, Colorado and situated within the Arapaho National Forest the Red Elephant Hill Off-Road Trail is the toughest trail in the Empire Loop. The Empire Loop is a network of trails just above Empire, Colorado that also includes Bill Moore Lake and Mill Creek. While Red Elephant is better suited for a built rig, an epic day can be had running the entire loop which leads you through forest, rocks, and open meadows amid high alpine lakes.
Technical rating: (6) Moderate
Quite rocky or deep ruts. Rocks to 12" and frequent. Water crossings may exceed hub depth with strong currents. Shelves to 6". Mud may require checking before proceeding. Moderate grades to 20 degrees. Sidehill may approach 30 degrees. 4WD necessary and second attempts may be required with stock vehicles. Caution may be required with wider vehicles.
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Directions to Trailhead
From Denver: Take I-70 to Downieville/Dumont(Exit 234)
Take a right off the highway and immediately take a left headed west at the 4 way stop and travel along side I-70. Proceed and watch your speed because the speed limit changes a few times. Pass under the highway, then follow alongside the south side of I-70 where you will pass under one more time. Turn right immediately after the underpass.
This is a good spot to air down.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates:
39° 45' 51.29"N
105° 38' 7.1"W
GPS Exchange File:
Make sure to stay on the trail because most of the land on either side of the trail is private land.
We recommend running this route uphill from I-70 since there is little passing and uphill has the right of way.
The trail immediately gains elevation and follows a narrow tree-lined four-wheel drive road almost the entire time. There are washouts, tippy spots and obstacles along this climb. Loose rocks exist and trail conditions change from medium to medium hard and near impossible with wet weather. Take caution if muddy conditions exist.
This route connects you with the Mill Creek Trail and Bill Moore Lake Trail.
1: Trailhead (0.0mi)
Follow the dirt road uphill. The scenery improves the further you get away from the highway. The road will have a few switchbacks with a few houses along the way. Please mind private property and keep the noise and dust to a minimum.
3: Follow Main Trail NW (0.3mi)
Follow the main road northwest. The road to the right and uphill leads to a mining area, but at the time of publishing we are not certain the legal status of using those roads.
10: Begin Rocky Climb (1.1mi)
From here the road turns rough with several small obstacles and boulders to pick your way through.
11: Obstacle (1.2mi)
Most of the obstacles along the trail push you right up against a tree and are slightly off-camber. Just hug your passenger as close to the tree as possible.
14: Tippy (1.4mi)
The road will smooth out and you will want to gain speed, but this short downhill is tippy so keep it slow.
15: Obstacle (1.5mi)
There are two lines depending on your build. Bigger builds can stay on the higher rocks to the left, where the less aggressive builds can hug their passenger side along the tree to the downward slope. This is the notorious tippy section of the trail and the tippy factor changes year to year. Travel carefully.
18: Obstacle (2.4mi)
This is probably the harder obstacle on the entire trail. There are two lines with the harder one being the left side through the boulders.
20: 171.1 Trailhead (4.0mi)
Camping and Lodging
The only dispersed camping would be just before joining the Bill Moore Lake Trail. As always, pack out more than you pack in.
Questions & AnswersNo questions have been submitted.
Offroaded on 10-25-2017
Status: Partially Open
Snow has fallen and this trail is now impassable for the season.
Offroaded on 07-08-2017
Low Temperature: 65° F
High Temperature: 85° F
I ran Red Elephant Hill to Mill Creek, to Bill Moore Lake with the trailsoffroad.com Meetup group out of Denver. This is a rocky, steep, and narrow road in many segments, so bring your low-range and sliders! Line selection through the tougher spots will save your body panels. I made a mistake in one instance and got some rock rash. Overall, Red Elephant Hill merits the "6" difficulty rating, but the views and access to other trails in the Empire area make it so worthwhile!
Offroaded on 07-04-2017
Ran from south to north as recommended; my first time on it. Ignore the "Dead End" sign at the beginning. Definitely not a trail for beginners or stock rigs. There are a few obstacles which require experience, careful navigation, and a capable vehicle. Very dry conditions, so be ready for the dust. Some mosquitoes, so bring repellant or cover up, if this concerns you. Nice views near the top/end of the trail. Definitely will do again with more time to run Mill Creek. From end-to-end, it took me 1.75 hours which included a couple of stops to look around.
Offroaded on 07-04-2017
Status: Not Reported
I try to run a trail every 4th of July. This year the choice was to run Red Elephant to Bill Moore Lake, then Mill Creek and exit via Bill Moore. We arrived on the trail at about 11:15 PM the sun was shining and the trail was dusty. Red Elephant proved to be a little challenging. I had to use my rear locker multiple times, and had a few very close calls. We made our way up to the lake where there were about 5 other rigs up there. Talked to a few people, ate lunch with our feet in the lake and then headed down to run Mill Creek. This trail was fun, not as challenging as Red Elephant, but overall it seemed to be more narrow than the other trails. Came out the lower end and wrapped back to Bill Moore Lake trail and went down the chutes. Ended the day after airing up at just after 3:30 PM. Made it home in time to catch a concert followed by fireworks.
Offroaded on 05-15-2017
Status: Partially Open
Ran part of this trail on 5-15-17 on my way to Moab, UT. Was dry at the bottom but snowy about halfway up. Completely snowed in right about waypoint 17-18. Turned around and came back. Definitely a more difficult trail for modified vehicles.
Offroaded on 08-01-2016
It was day 3 of the Mile-Hi Jeep Club's 50th All-4-Fun event and a few of us decided to head out on a night run. Not wanted to roam too far from the camp located in Empire, Red Elephant was the trail of choice for the night. Running trails at night usually makes them more difficult and tends to change your driving style a bit as you tend to run the trail slower than if it was day time. I can honestly say, it doesn't matter if it was light or not out, this trail is a slow go. It's extremely rocky and the climbs are pretty steep. There are also so many narrow passages between trees that you never really get a chance to pick up the speed til you are 80% through.
Overall, I felt that the trail on this day was a bit more dug out and/or washed out than the main guide written here. Granted, this could easily change again after the next big rain storm, but this was just on observation I had after running it. The obstacle at waypoint 15 is certainly no joke. The boulders on the left side are very big as you approach them, and they are only made bigger on the other side with the giant holes that have been created from previous users turtling on them and digging their front tires into the dirt. This obstacle will easily pitch you towards the downhill side if it catches any low hanging part of your undercarriage. Use extreme caution as it gets quite tippy here.
The rest of the trail was smooth sailing besides the overwhelming amount of blood sucking mosquitoes and other insects. My DEET was all but worthless this night. We followed the trail all the way to waypoint 22 per this guide, and then headed down Bill Moore Lake back to our camp. It took us just under 3 hours to complete our trip. I certainly wouldn't recommend this trail to any stock vehicles or beginning wheelers. I also wouldn't recommend this trail be ran in the snow either because of the many steep climbs and off camber slopes.
Bradley & Rhea Mikkelson
Offroaded on 06-20-2016
Low Temperature: 47° F
High Temperature: 89° F
Ran this trail on Fathers day and had a blast! Very long steep climb to the top of the trail with tons of different routes over obstacles. Jeep got a little hot but no major issues. Overall a fun trail to run especially with all the different mine sites you can explore. Would recomend this trail to only modified vehicles and mildly experienced drivers.
P.S. thats my xj in the way point pics.