Two Elk Trail

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Two Elk Trail #2005

The Two Elk trail starts and/or ends at Forest Road 762 near Minturn and the Vail Pass / Tenmile Canyon National Recreation Trail in East Vail: This trail is popular as a one-way “shuttle hike” where people will leave a car at one end and drive a second car to their trailhead. From the east end, it travels through the cool shady Timber Creek Canyon, climbs a steep section to the Two Elk Pass summit with views of the Gore Range, Sawatch Range, and Vail’s Back Bowls, and descends slowly through meadows and the valley between Vail’s Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin Bowls finally emerging from the last section of cool aspen-pine forest to the west trailhead.

Current Conditions: * Closed annually from May 6 – July 1 for elk calving and migration.
Usage: Light
Restrictions: The portion of Two Elk Trail that travels through Vail’s Back Bowls is closed annually from May 6 – July 1. Please observe these closures out of respect for resource protection and wildlife calving, feeding, and migration needs.
Closest Towns: Minturn

Directions: EAST TRAILHEAD: Travel east on I-70 to exit 180 for East Vail. Turn right and travel 2.3 miles east on the south frontage road, passing under the interstate and past the Gore Creek Campground. Park just beyond at the road closure gate and walk 1.8 miles up the old Vail Pass road, today’s recreation path, to the Two Elk trailhead on the right. WEST TRAILHEAD: Travel west on I-70 to exit 171 for Minturn, Leadville, and Hwy 24. Turn right and travel south 2.7 miles and into Minturn to Cemetery Bridge. Turn left, cross the bridge and tracks, then proceed south past the cemetery. Go right at the first fork and left at the second fork. Follow this somewhat rough dirt road about 1.8 miles and park at the trailhead at the end.

Access from Vail:

EAST TRAILHEAD: Travel east on I-70 to exit 180 for East Vail. Turn right and travel 2.3 miles east on the south frontage road, passing under the interstate and past the Gore Creek Campground. Park just beyond at the road closure gate and ride 1.8 miles up the old Vail Pass road, today’s recreation path, to the Two Elk trailhead on the right.

WEST TRAILHEAD: Travel west on I-70 to exit 171 for Minturn, Leadville, and Hwy 24. Turn right and travel south 2.7 miles and into Minturn to Cemetery Bridge. Turn left, cross the bridge and tracks, then proceed south past the cemetery. Go right at the first fork and left at the second fork. Follow this somewhat rough dirt road about 1.8 miles and park at the trailhead at the end.

Trail Highlights: From the east trailhead, follow the Old Vail Pass road, now the Vail Pass Recreation Path, 1.8 miles to the junction with the true Two Elk Trailhead on the right. The trail drops from the recreation path to a bridge crossing the Black Gore Creek, then passes under I-70 into the tight Timber Creek canyon which is a cool shady forest alongside the creek. At mile 2.6 the trail makes a sharp right across a third bridge before starting the steepest climb. The majority of the trail’s altitudtude gain happens in this next difficult 1.5 miles to the Two Elk Pass summit. The summit is marked, but does not provide the scenic vista encountered on some of the higher summits. As you ride on, the trees open up to reveal views of the Gore Range, Sawatch Range, and Vail’s back bowls. The rest of the trail is a challenging single-track descent. Note: the next portion of the trail that crosses through the bottom of Vail’s back bowls, and travels alongside the Two Elk Creek, is closed for elk calving from May 6 to July 1. Soon the single-track trail joins up with a service road; ride along this but keep your eyes open for the trail which breaks off of the service road about 100 yards before the road reaches the first chairlift. Remain alert on this trail, as it is very rocky and has many turns in it. After 9 miles of trail riding, you will cross the Two Elk Bridge. Just a little further on is another bridge just before reaching the West Trailhead and the conclusion of this ride.

Comments: Note: Officially, the east trailhead of the Two Elk National Recreation Trail is at it’s junction with the Old Vail Pass trail, but the mileages on these descriptions include the 1.8 miles of the Old Vail Pass trail you must ride to get to the trailhead. A designated National Scenic Trail, Two Elk Trail can be ridden in either direction, although the Trail Highlights section, above, details the more popular east to west route. Two cars are needed to ride the 11 mile length of the trail oneway. Another option is to ride Hw

Length: 11 miles (one way)
Trail Use: Moderate to High
Difficulty: More Difficult
Open To: Hiking, Biking, Horseback
Beginning Elevation: 8,772 ft. (east trailhead)
Ending Elevation: 8,030 ft. (west trailhead)
Elevation Gain: +2324 ft. – 3066 ft. = -742 ft.
USGS Map(s): Minturn, Red Cliff, Vail East

Stats

  • Trail Measurement: 11 Miles
  • Compass Latitude: 393508N
  • Compass Longitude: 1062000W
  • Numeric Latitude: 39.5855417
  • Numeric Longitude: -106.3333611
  • Elevation in Meters: 2674 to 2448
  • Elevation in Feet: 8772 to 8030

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References

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