Red Elephant Hill

Downieville-Lawson-Dumont, Colorado (ClearCreek County)
Last Updated: 05/17/2018
5/5 (3 reviews)
Nearby Trails
Status: Partially Open
Difficulty: 6-6
Length: 4.6 miles
Highest Elevation: 10588 feet
Duration: About 2 hours
Shape of Trail: Straight Through
Best Direction to Travel: North
Nearest Town: Downieville-Lawson-Dumont
Nearest Town w/ Services: Downieville-Lawson-Dumont
Official Road Name: 171.1, 171.3A, 171.3C
Management Agency: Arapahoe National Forest/ Clear Creek Ranger District
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Highlight: Red Elephant Hill

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.


Route Information

Technical Rating: (6-6)

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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***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

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.

2. Shelf Road (0.1 mi)

Continue following the road. It starts to get narrow from here on out.

3. Follow Main Trail NW (0.25 mi)

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.

4. Wash Out (0.5 mi)

Continue straight. The road is washed-out in places.

5. Right/North (0.6 mi)

Follow the road right/north.

6. Option Hard Right Easy Left (0.7 mi)

Driver's choice. The left line is the easier.

7. Boulder Nest Mine (0.8 mi)

Continue following the road as you pass the Boulder Nest Mine.

8. Straight/NW (0.9 mi)

Continue following the road straight to the northwest.

9. Straight (1 mi)

Continue to follow the road straight.

10. Begin Rocky Climb (1.1 mi)

From here the road turns rough with several small obstacles and boulders to pick your way through.

11. Obstacle (1.2 mi)

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.

12. Obstacle (1.3 mi)

13. Narrow (1.3 mi)

Most vehicles should fit through the rock and the tree.

14. Tippy (1.4 mi)

The road will smooth out and you will want to gain speed, but this short downhill is tippy so keep it slow.

15. Obstacle (1.5 mi)

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.

16. Scenic

Views off in the distance before travelling into an aspen grove.

17. Scenic (2.2 mi)

Perfect spot for a snack and taking in the views.

18. Obstacle (2.4 mi)

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.

19. 171.3 Mill Creek Trailhead (3.6 mi)

Continue straight.

20. 171.1 Trailhead (4 mi)

Turn right to come out on Bill Moore Lake Waypoint 12. Go straight to shorten your return back down to Bill Moore Lake Waypoint 11

21. Mill Creek Trailhead (4.3 mi)

Continue straight and slightly uphill.

22. End/Start (4.5 mi)

The trail joins the Bill Moore Lake Off-Road Trail here. We do not recommend running Red Elephant Hill from this direction for its entirety due to limited passing.

Directions to Trailhead

Trailhead Coordinates: 39.764277, -105.635184

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.


The only dispersed camping would be just before joining the Bill Moore Lake Trail. As always, pack out more than you pack in.
Camping: Red Elephant Hill

Writer Information


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Todd is an avid wheeler who loves to explore new trails whenever and wherever he can. They say necessity is the mother of all invention and that holds true for Todd. His want and desire to find passable trails and new nooks and crannies of the Great American West to explore were his reasons behind starting On any given weekend you can find Todd on some obscure 4x4 trail or using his legs to hike to an alpine lake.


Questions & Answers (2)

Q: Can you download a batch of trail gpx in an area?
–Kar (06/28/2018)
A: From your PC, D/L as many GPX files as you wish into Garmin's BaseCamp. From BaseCamp you can export the entire or selected "batch" to your navigation device.
–Dennis Clark (06/30/2018)
A: Not just yet, that feature is coming!
–Todd (06/29/2018)
Q: Greg, did you get on to Bill Moore Lake or Mill Creek at all? Are they open also? Thanks.
–Erik Dam (05/21/2018)
A: Sorry for the late response. Because I had to clear all that dead fall on red elephant I ran low on time and was unable to run up the last half of Bill Moore.
–Greg (05/27/2018)
A: The last little section down to the Bill Moore Lake is usually the last section to become passable - I am sure its going to be a few more weeks.
–Todd (05/22/2018)

Trail Reviews (12)

Status: Open
Offroaded on: 08/12/2018
This trail is as demanding as ever. I'd say it has gotten rougher just in the last year. The lower, challenging portions (#10-15) are more dug out, demanding a flexy suspension, lockers and/or really good factory traction control, and excellent driving skills. The pucker factor definitely has gone up. Fun as could be, but be ready to be challenged if you're a smaller rig.

Status: Open
Offroaded on: 08/11/2018
We came down this after doing the Bill Moore and Empire Loop trails. I've got a 17 Taco with 33's and some lift and it was manageable. We definitely flexed out and hit some tippy spots, even came close to flopping onto the side. The rock sliders got a workout too. No damage though, so it was a good time. Definitely was happy to see some pavement again afterwards, but this would be a blast in a more built rig.

Status: Open
Offroaded on: 07/14/2018
Just did this run over the weekend and can say it's a pretty tough 6. The steep rocky incline is relentless particularly on a dry day when everything is dusty and ready to give way. The trail edge is a lot of loose rock so there's plenty of pitch in certain parts of the trail so mind your speed. I ran my 2nd gen Taco w/ a BP-51 setup. Anything bigger than this would have had trouble - I've got plenty of pinstripes and a nice big dent (from sliding into a tree) to prove it. Sliders and bash guards are kind of a must if you care about your ride. Bring a spotter and support rig if you have that option.

Status: Open
Offroaded on: 06/10/2018
Ran this in my 2018 Polaris rzr. Machine is sitting on 4" portals and 32" tires. Had no issues getting to the top and was a good test for the new set up. Fun trail not far from home.

Status: Open
Offroaded on: 05/17/2018
Ran all of Red Elephant Hill this afternoon. I can confidently say it is OPEN for the season. There were two very small patches of snow at the very top. I was able to pick a line around them. The trail is in an overall good condition. I had to move 3 dead fall trees off the trail. Which held me up a little bit. Other than that I was able to get through the trail with my Tacoma(33's and locked diffs) by myself pretty easily.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Partially Open
Offroaded on: 10/25/2017
Snow has fallen and this trail is now impassable for the season.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on: 07/08/2017
I ran Red Elephant Hill to Mill Creek, to Bill Moore Lake with the 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!

Status: Open
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.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Not Reported
Offroaded on: 07/04/2017
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.

Status: Partially Open
Offroaded on: 05/15/2017
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.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
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.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on: 06/20/2016
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.