Nellie Creek Trailhead


Range: San Juan Mountains
Coordinates: 38.06209, -107.42158
14ers: Uncompahgre Peak, Wetterhorn Peak
PhotoPhotoPhotoPhotoPhotoPhotoPhotoPhoto Add

Road Difficulty

Moderate 4WD, long wheel base vehicles not recommended. Good clearance required. 4   (0=Paved, 6=Very Difficult 4WD)
2WD dirt to 9,300' at the lower TH. 4WD to 11,400' at the upper TH.

Driving Directions

From Lake City, turn west onto Second street. Drive 0.1 mile and turn left onto Bluff Street which turns into the Henson Creek road/Alpine Loop Scenic Byway. Drive 5 miles to the sign for the Nellie Creek trail (#877), on the right. If you don't have a high-clearance 4WD vehicle, park on the Henson Creek road and start here. It's 4 miles up the rough Nellie Creek road to reach the trailhead. If your 4WD vehicle makes it through the rough section at the start of this road, you'll probably be able to make it to the trailhead. Cross Nellie Creek at 1.8 miles. At 2.3 miles, stay left at a junction. At 2.7 miles, cross the creek a second time. Grind up the remaining narrow road to reach the trailhead.

Winter Access

Usually closed a short distance up the Henson Creek road - many miles from the TH.
Status Updates 
Posted By: eskermo
Info: Was able to drive all the way to the upper trailhead in a 4runner. Both creek crossings are raging with water but if you have the clearance they are totally manageable. The only sketchy part is immediately before the second creek crossing. There is some snow on the road that looks like it wants to keep lingering. If you are going toward the trailhead, the left two tires will hit this packed/icy stretch and your two right tires will be in messy mud. Even with some momentum, this slick area will force you downhill toward the creek drop off/off the road. I slipped and had to take a few runs at it both on the way up and down the trailhead. Just be careful and you should be fine.
Posted By: Stevo
Info: The road is clear until mile 2.5 at which it is covered in snow until mile 3. The last half mile has regular snow drifts. The rest of the road is dry and easily walkable, however, a vehicle won‘t make it past mile 2.5.

The picture is what is enountered at mile 2.5. It probably needs another 3-4 weeks of warm temps before the Nellie Creek TH is reachable by fully
Posted By: a forest
Info: made it all the way up in a stock suv in 2wd. no snow
Posted By: Doug62
Info: Took me about 45 min to drive the 4 miles from the Alpine Loop (Henson Creek Road) to the upper trailhead in my 06 4Runner with mud tires. Road was dry with low water levels at stream crossings. This trail has a number of tight switchbacks and blind curves, with only a few pullouts for passing oncoming traffic. There are also alot of dirt benches and some fairly large rocks that require higher clearance.
Posted By: Mountain Tim
Info: Drove up to the TH in a Nissan Frontier 4WD. Except for a few spots and the creek crossings the road was dry. I would suggest that anyone who doesn‘t have a high clearance 4WD vehicle should expect some damage to the vehicle if they attempt to get up to the TH. I have a 2006 Toyota Highlander and I would not take it up this road. The other 2 vehicles at the trail head the night before and when we got back to the TH were all high clearance vehicles.
Posted By: hvbrogan
Info: Got my ‘94 Subaru Legacy to the trailhead. The first stream crossing was the most difficult, definitely scraped on the large rock in the middle. We stopped and got out of the car once or twice to choose the best route on the more difficult sections. The mud was slick, but didn‘t create major problems. Descent was about the same. We just took it slowly and carefully. Overall a fun road!
Posted By: My-Therapy
Info: We made it to the trail head without any problems in a stock 1998 Toyota 4runner. All of the vehicles that were parked at the trail head were true 4wd’s except for one older Subaru Forester. Many sections of the road were wet and somewhat slick, however none of the road is what I would consider treacherous. The very beginning of the Fall color change can start to be seen along the road up to the trail head. There was no toilet paper in the outhouse at the trail head, so you will need to bring your own.
Posted By: mkim822
Info: After reading a lot of the other reports regarding driving up Nellie Creek Road, I was really nervous and worried about making it up the 4WD road to the trailhead with my 2WD 2004 Toyota Tacoma (rear wheel drive). However, I successfully drove up Nellie Creek Rd with no problems. I definitely agree with the other reports that you NEED high clearance, but I do not think you absolutely need a 4WD vehicle, as I made it up with my 2WD. I just drove really slow and stayed in LOW GEAR. Also, I have All-Terrain tires, which I think helps. I had read an old trip report that another person made it up with a Chevy S10 that was also 2WD. I will say that I probably only made it up the road because it was completely dry and the 2 creek crossings had very low water levels, as this past winter had very little snowfall. If you do attempt this road with 2WD, just make sure it’s dry, go slow in low gear, and try not to make any stops along the way. I was lucky that I didn’t have to back up or stop for other vehicles, which allowed me to keep my momentum the entire time. Nellie Creek road is not as steep or bumpy compared to the 4WD road to the Mt. Massive N. Halfmoon Creek trailhead, which is much more steeper. I did not make it up to the Halfmoon Creek TH.
Posted By: AeroFaze
Info: My manual tranny, AWD ’07 Forester XT Limited with 7.9" clearance and 99.4" wheelbase made it fine all the way to the trailhead. Fun road!

The only hairy part was exiting the first stream crossing. I blame it on being lazy and not spending the time to switch out my extreme performance summer tires with something a little more substantial (all-seasons would’ve been fine). The wheels spun a couple times just before we hit the dry dirt again, so I had to reverse it a couple inches before we were able to get it moving again.

Also, I had to ensure plenty of room between my car and the vehicle in front. As they were true 4WD with lo and hi options, they were able to ascend much more slowly, whereas my car needed to maintain speed to get up some of those switchbacks. So the one time they stopped just above us, I had to back down to a flat area a couple yards before I could regain acceleration again.

I wouldn’t recommend a Mazda 3Speed, WRX, or an Impreza up there.

Keep in mind this has been a low precipitation year so far, so the streams may have been lower than in past years at this time.
Posted By: Jyak
Info: Took a new model Subaru Outback (2" more clearance than the old model) all the way to the upper trailhead. Saw another new model Outback up there as we got back to the car after the hike. Creek crossings are a breeze with good entry and exit points going in both directions.
Posted By: hiker55
Info: Road to TH in decent condition. Water crossings were easy with 4 wheel drive, high clearance vehicle. No problems.
Posted By: mikefromcraig
Info: The trees the previous report mentioned have all been removed. You can make it all the way to the 4wd trailhead if you can cross the creek. There is no snow at all on the entire 4wd trail.

I was in a new outback and the 4wd trail was really easy but when I got to the first creek which is about 2 miles up the 4wd trail I decided not to risk it because I was alone. Probably could have made it but I‘m not real experienced with that stuff. There‘s room for one car to park right in front of that creek crossing.
Posted By: Chicago Transplant
Info: Nellie Creek Road has 4 downed trees stretched over a 1/4 mile span about 3 miles up from the 2WD parking, you will need a chainsaw to take them out. There is only room for 1 or 2 vehicles at this point, so some backing may be required if you don‘t secure one of those spots. Below that, there are some patchy snowbanks along the road after the second set of switchbacks above the lower creek crossing, they have tire ruts through them and should not pose a problem for anyone who was able to drive that far. There is also one really rocky sections that appears to be from a rock slide around the 2.5 mile mark, lower clearance SUVs may hit some of them.
I drove my 2012 Outback to the lower creek crossing (about halfway up the road) before deciding I didn‘t want to push it, I had to back down the road a short bit to get a parking space. The road walk for the last 2 miles is pleasant enough and goes quick.
Posted By: blondie1
Info: Henson Creek road is easily 2WD with Nellie Creek defininitely 4WD - there was a lot of ATV traffic and only 4WD vehicles at the TH, creek crossings were easy but there is water. I would not take a 2WD or lower clearance vehicle to the TH.
Posted By: Boomerang
Info: Trailhead is easily accessed by small SUV’s, and though I have AWD it wasn’t needed (Ford Escape). As this vehicle has only decent clearance (8.5"), but I never scraped a rock, I would say all 2wd’s with some clearance would have no problem on this road - I saw several other vehicles this size at the TH including an Outback, a CRV and a RAV. The water crossings were uneventful at this time of year.
Info: Both creek crossings running very high, especially during hot afternoon. Couldn‘t do much more with a Dakota longbed. Lower crossing has a deep hole on upstream side that will swallow your right front wheel (going up) if you turn too high. Upper crossing was easier. Road is good to TH.
Posted By: Gahugafuga
Info: Clear to the top.
Posted By: colorado yooper
Info: Took the Forester loaded with 4 adults, a kid, gear, and a dog up to the meadow just before the 4WD trailhead on the 18th and out on the 19th. Only hit bottom 3 times (lightly) and my fault. River crossings were OK. I did move a few big rocks out of the way and cut a small aspen out of the trail today. There is a big tree that blocks the upper trailhead (14 inches circ) and some snow drifts yet.
Posted By: stevevets689
Info: Took my Jeep Cherokee and was able to drive past the first creek crossing up some switchbacks and was stopped by a major drift a couple hundred yards before the second crossing, about 2 miles short of the summer trailhead. First creek crossing was wide but not deep at all, no problem. Watch for rocks. Large drift continues until the second crossing which was difficult in ski boots. There are a couple small drifts after that but nothing major (i.e. requiring snowshoes or skis) until about a mile later, at the end of a large meadow. Coverage from there on is fairly widespread.
Posted By: JsinDeAZ
Info: Was able to get about 2.1 miles up the road. Snow drifts are way too deep after this point (maybe 75% chance with a tractor). Rocks had fallen in road and we stopped and moved them in several spots. One big slide across road was barely passable to one side. Creek crossing expanded considerably in the one day we were up and it’ll probably get wider with runoff. Still lots of snow up high.
Posted By: PKelley
Info: Just letting everyone know that the first 1/4 to 1/2 mile of the Nellie Creek Road is plowed and that much of it is passible for 4WD with good tires. Hey it cuts a mile off of the hike right now..... More to follow in the coming weeks.
Posted By: pioletski
Info: Henson Creek Road is plowed and dry a short way past Nellie Creek. The 4wd Nellie Creek Road is still snowpacked.
Posted By: globreal
Info: For access to Uncompahgre Peak, County Rd 20 (Henson Creek Rd) is driveable to County Rd 23 (Nellie Creek/4WD road) as of Dec. 13, 2010. I was told this road is plowed throughout the winter (to the Nellie Creek turnoff) however, they don‘t plow it on weekends.
Posted By: timf
Info: Bone dry without a trace of snow as of 10/14 & 10/15. Zero snow at 12K‘ and light snow at 13K‘ on Uncompahgre.
Posted By: tlee83
Info: After reading about the road up to the Uncompaghre TH, we were concerned that our RAV 4 wouldn‘t make it, but we had absolutely no trouble and made it all the way. Other vehicles at the top - 4Runner, Tacoma, Highlander, Tundra (it was a Toyota party), and 2 Jeep Cherokees. As we were driving down a Chevy Blazer was going up. I felt there were several places to pull over in case you meet someone going opposite way. Glad we didn‘t have to hike that extra 8 miles!
© 2022®, 14ers Inc.