Backpacking the West Elk Wilderness


Nov 22, 2016
The West Elk Wilderness is one of Colorado's least visited Wilderness areas. It's just west of Gunnison and Crested Butte.
With over 175,000 acres and 200+ miles of trails it's a great destination for solitude for the experienced backcountry traveler. Earlier this month I hiked a 51 mile loop through much of the eastern half of the Wilderness .

The area is remote and has a wild feel. There is plenty of great scenery and you will see very few if any people. The trails are often tough to follow and the trails are easy to lose. In fact I lost the trail altogether at one point and had to bushwhack up a 1400 vertical foot slope. My navigation was on and I was fine. I recommend the place if you have solid backcountry experience and confident on your map skills. Beginners may be overwhelmed. Signs are often missing at junctions and they don't include trail names or numbers. They are vague and many trail junctions aren't marked.

Click the link for the thorough trip report and 150 or so photos from my trip.

Here are a few photos to get an idea of the area.

West Elk Wilderness Backpack  July 1-2,2018 017.jpg
West Elk Wilderness Backpack  July 1-2,2018 049.jpg
West Elk Wilderness Backpack  July 1-2,2018 058.jpg
West Elk Wilderness Backpack  July 1-2,2018 074.jpg
West Elk Wilderness Backpack  July 1-2,2018 088.jpg
West Elk Wilderness Backpack  July 1-2,2018 131.jpg
Last edited by a moderator:


Because I am able.
Dec 31, 2017
The views look amazing!
Thanks for sharing!


May 25, 2018
I had a trip planned there for the end of June but I ended up starting on the Collegiate Loop early. Looks a lot prettier than I thought it I wish I'd tried my planned loop, although the lack of signage and good trails would not instill confidence in me.


Oct 30, 2016
Great area. One of the first trips I did in CO. The castles are one of the neatest rock formations I've seen - thanks for sharing.


May 16, 2016
I just checked out the blog post, it looks like you had a great couple of days with a lot of scenery, kind of crazy that there aren't more people.

thanks for the report


Nov 22, 2016
I had a trip planned there for the end of June but I ended up starting on the Collegiate Loop early. Looks a lot prettier than I thought it I wish I'd tried my planned loop, although the lack of signage and good trails would not instill confidence in me.
What was your planned route? Maybe I can tell you what trails were easier to follow if you send me your loop if I followed any of the same trails.


Nov 22, 2016
This is very close to my route. The Western point of your route where the 3.2 marker is-is the start of the Soap Basin Trail. This is where there is no sign leading to confusion. There is no sign at the next 3.2 mi section with a obvious trail that isn't actually a trail and finding the actual trail was tough. Then the 2.2 mi at the south part leading to South Baldy is the Sun Park Trail. The trail disappears in a rocky area. The higher reaches of this trail also disappear. From then you drop into Beaver Creek and this trail is rarely visible. The next part after the 6.6mi at the southern end disappears in a canyon and the trail climbing out I never found. Check out my link- it's pretty thorugh in discription and VERY close to your purple route.


Jan 23, 2018
Thanks a ton for sharing those pics @tomcat32! You really made my day! Took me back 20 years to my time in college exploring West Elk Wilderness and the Black Canyon of Gunnison. Now I'm itching to get back there!
Similar threads
Thread starter Title Forum Replies Date
DuneElliot Backpacking Scotland's West Highland Way Trip Reports 5
A Looking for ideas on backpacking the west Uintas Trip Planning 4
Tyler Zion West Rim backpacking September 2009 (Lava Point to the main canyon) Backpacking 7
Nick Zion West Rim Backpacking Trip Planning 42
E Weeklong+ backpacking recs in Yellowstone NP? Trip Planning 9
mikejones3 New Backpacking / Hiking Weight Calculator App Gear 0
R Backpacking in the Pacific Northwest Trip Planning 7
NorthwestWanderer Backpacking Grand Teton National Park : Fossil Pass,Fox Creek Pass,Indian Lake,Alaska Basin,Hurricane Pass,Ice Floe Lake,& Snowdrift Lake Backpacking 19
Mikjik86 Backpacking The Wind River Range - Wyoming, September 2022 Trip Reports 3
norwegianxplorer 6 days Backpacking Norway in the Fall (Part 2) Backpacking 4
V four day backpacking trip in southern Utah starting this weekend Trip Planning 4
norwegianxplorer 6 days backpacking Jotunheimen in the fall Trip Reports 4
Desertratgal Backpacking/Packrafting Needles and Maze Districts of Canyonlands Trip Planning 3
BJett Amazing Appalachians - Backpacking/Packrafting the AT and Nantahala River Backpacking 5
kwc Backpacking on the Northville Placid Trail (NPT) Backpacking 13
norwegianxplorer 7 days backpacking Breheimen/Glacier Home National Park in Norway Backpacking 2
SeanIsADesertRat Old guys backpacking in Dark Canyon Backpacking 17
norwegianxplorer Backpacking the Lofoten archipelago in arctic Norway Backpacking 6
Mikjik86 4 Days Backpacking Grand Teton Wilderness/Teton Crest Trail - Wyoming, July, 2021 Backpacking 0
T Southern Utah Backpacking ideas for MLK Weekend? Trip Planning 21
norwegianxplorer Backpacking SAREK NATIONAL PARK, Arctic Sweden, Camping Above RAPADALEN delta. Backpacking 7
TrailScot Canyonlands NP Needles backpacking permit in winter General Discussion 5
ghsmith76 Looking for best multi-day Backpacking Trips near Livingston, MT Trip Planning 6
norwegianxplorer Finding Hidden Glacier, 9 days backpacking Jotunheimen National Park Pt3, Norway. Trip Reports 0
norwegianxplorer Highest Mountain in Norway, Galdhøpiggen, the start of a 9 day backpacking trip in Jotunheimen national park Backpacking 0
montanaclimber Americans: where was your favorite international backpacking trip? Trip Planning 25
norwegianxplorer 5 days Backpacking Rondane National Park, Norway Backpacking 3
norwegianxplorer Backpacking Norway, Femundsmarka National Park Pt 3, Grand Scandinavian Hiking & Backpacking Tour Ep4 Backpacking 0
norwegianxplorer Backpacking Rogen Nature Reserve, Sweden & Femundsmarka National Park, Norway Pt2 Backpacking 2
norwegianxplorer 10 days Backpacking Femundsmarka National Park and Rogen Nature Reserve, Norway and Sweden Backpacking 8
norwegianxplorer Backpacking Scandinavia, Norway & Sweden June-September Backpacking 4
andyjaggy A couple of Backpacking Trip Report Videos Backpacking 0
NorthwestWanderer Backpacking Idaho's Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds Wilderness : O'Calkens Lake & Bighorn Basin Backpacking 2
forest dweller How did you meet most of your backpacking companions? General Discussion 83
LarryBoy World's Wimpiest Backpacking Trip Trip Planning 19
Jamesoutside life Looking for backpacking buddy montana aug/sept Noobs: Introduce yourself! 0
RyanP Snowy Range (WY) easy backpacking recommendations? Trip Planning 4
norwegianxplorer How a Reindeer herd w/calves invaded my camp & started fighting over turf, backpacking Femundsmarka NP Norway Backpacking 2
D Backpacking Advice in the Winds, Teton Wilderness and the Washakie Wilderness Trip Planning 8
JuddOutdoors What is a good backpacking single person tent? 4 Season Gear 14
norwegianxplorer Backpacking Norway, Lysefjorden/Kjerag/Kjerag Waterfall/Kjeragbolten, 4 days Solo Hiking high above the Norwegian Fjords Trip Reports 2
norwegianxplorer Early Season Solo Backpacking during Snowmelt Runoff in Norway Backpacking 0
angeedraper Canyonlands - Needles 2 Night Backpacking (April 29-May1) Backpacking 0
TrailScot Zion backpacking permit changes General Discussion 3
fiber Off-trail backpacking partners Meet Up (Members Only) 7
norwegianxplorer WHITEOUT, Winter Backpacking Norway in a Snow Storm Trip Reports 0
forest dweller When backpacking, what do you bring a backup of, despite the ultralight backpacking community suggesting you may be crazy? Gear 49
NorthwestWanderer 4 Days Backpacking Capitol Reef : Spring Canyon & Various side canyons Backpacking 5
D Advice for short backpacking trip in Robbers Roost Trip Planning 2
M Overnight Backpacking Indian Peaks Wilderness or Similar Trip Planning 13

Similar threads

Don't like ads? Become a BCP Supporting Member and kiss them all goodbye. Click here for more info.