Nellie Creek Trailhead


Range: San Juan Mountains
Coordinates: 38.06209, -107.42158
14ers: Uncompahgre Peak, Wetterhorn Peak
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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: sagepf
Info: Rough road but made it all the way to the trailhead with stock F-150 w/ A/T tires (crew cab long bed), took about an hour each direction. No scrapes but just slow going.
Posted By: Hiker Mike
Info: Certainly the worst road I have been on. Longest four miles I have ever driven. It took about 45-50 minutes each way? My stock 2015 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk made it up and down okay. I scrapped a couple of times. 4WD with good clearance is must.
Posted By: tipiman
Info: Road is hacked...still VERY SUPRIZED that an Outback can do it... here is my vid:
Posted By: Jnaffy
Info: I drive a stock Jeep Wrangler unlimited. This road is easy outside the two water crossings. Those require higher clearance, knowing your lines and 4wd. Other than that i never was in 4wd.
Posted By: gretchhhh
Info: As mentioned in previous reports, the first stream crossing is definitely the crux of the road--very steep lefthand turn with large, protruding boulders. Pick your line carefully and you should be fine. With that said, I would not recommend this road for cars with less than 9.0" of clearance. Trucks with long wheelbases should be able to make it with an experienced 4x4 driver but may have more difficultly on the narrow, sharp turns. At the upper TH, there were 4Runners, Jeeps, Tacomas and Tundras (Subarus or similiar sized vehicles parked before the first stream crossing) and I made it easily in a TRD Pro 4Runner.

Link to my video of the road:
Posted By: sky_high
Info: I agonized over this for a couple of days based on the trips reports. Let me be clear, if you are not in a short wheelbase lifted 4wd this will beat up your undercarriage. Took a stock F-150 and must have hit a dozen times (thank god for skid plates!). It is rough and narrow and opportunities to turn around are few. The entire road is rubbly and tough on the tires, but my highway tires and 4wd had plenty of grip. The first crossing requires a tight steep narrow left turn and much of the filler is completely washed out. If you make that crux you’ll be able to do the remainder of the road, but you will still face at least two more steep uneven patches not to mention the unending rubble, ruts, and tight hairpins. I saw a half-dozen stock trucks besides mine at the top; I can only say I’m shocked the route is not coated from leaking oil pans and busted diffs. Took a good hour in the dark, looked worse in the daylight but got down in 40 minutes.
Posted By: Buckie06
Info: Fairly easy for an xterra/4runner/jeep/etc. The only hard spot is the creek crossing. I would not advise attempting with a sedan or low clearance suv. There are plenty of camping spots along the first few miles, but not a bunch of options at and near the trailhead. I had to just camp in the trailhead as the few other spots were taken.
Posted By: rchacon
Info: Road all the way to the 4WD trailhead was manageable in a stock 4Runner SR5 (no rear locker) with AT tires. The crux of the drive was the exit from the first stream crossing - if you have the clearance to make the exit, you will probably be okay to make it to the trailhead. After the second stream crossing, there were a series of muddy switchbacks that could be a problem without adequate tires, but even light ATs will probably be fine. 4Runners, Tacomas, full size trucks, Jeeps, and Razors can easily make it with just a bit of skill. With the recent storm and resultant mud, this was a true 4WD road and only fools would attempt in a Subaru or similar crossover. Once it dries out, crossovers are probably okay with 8+ inches of ground clearance with a skilled driver.
Posted By: ronxhill
Info: I made it up with my Ram1500 with a 4" lift and 35" tires. The first creek crossing seemed to be the critical point and I made it with 3" or 4" to spare. I wanted to try to give people an idea if they’re particular vehicle could make it based on the measurements of my vehicle. Unless you have the same exact vehicle though, the description of my truck may not help much. So here goes: I believe your entrance and exit angles/dimensions on your front/rear bumper will be the most important parts.
My Front Bumper highest part is 20"
Front Bumper lowest part is 17.5" (see photo)
Lowest point on front suspension is 12.5 (see photo)
Rear Bumper highest point is 25"
Distance to tailpipe (coming out the side) is 20" (see photo)

With a long wheel base vehicle like this, be prepared to do a multi-point turn after crossing the creek to make a hard left turn and repeat on the way back out.
Posted By: Been_Jammin
Info: 2003 Chevy Tahoe Z71 made it to the top easily.
Posted By: bmcconahey
Info: Climbed Uncompahgre yesterday and expected to be able to get to the upper trailhead in my Outback. I have made it to some upper trailheads in my car but NO WAY would I attempt this one in an Outback. We came to the first creek crossing and the exit is steep, gnarly with large rocks, with a sharp turn to the left as well. It appears (in a 2008 photo on this site) that there used to be some filler rock that made the exit much easier. Those have clearly washed away. From the first stream crossing to just after the second stream crossing, there are several areas that I would imagine would struggle without high clearance. There were multiple trucks, 4-Runners, Jeeps, and a FJ that made it up to or near the upper trailhead, but I am impressed that a long wheelbase truck didn’t have some issues. I did hear a truck scrape on a section on our trek back down to the first creek crossing. Attached is a photo of the first crossing.
Posted By: JColk
Info: Did this in my stock Jeep Renegade Trailhawk. First creek crossing is definitely the hardest part, there’s a slight "step" that you just sort of have to power through heading up. Round rock right at the foot of the otherside of the creek crossing, not sure if it hurt or helped. I used ’Hill Decent Mode’ on the way down and bumped by cars backend on the round rock, but nothing problematic. Once past that section, you’re set.
Posted By: dvivs11
Info: Road was fine in a Tacoma with Duratracs. Did scrape the hitch coming out of the first river crossing and perhaps one other time right near the top, but nothing a 4x4 can’t manage (Tacoma, 4Runner, Jeep, etc). Saw some other SUVs and a Subaru or two at the top, but not sure I’d do that if you care about the underside of your vehicle...
Posted By: Squirrellysquirrel
Info: Used Nellie Creek TH for a non-14er hike, the water crossings and road proved too soggy and wet, parked 4WD truck prior to river crossings, could be due to the excessive rain day before; got pictures of the backside of Uncompahgre.
Posted By: pjcolorado
Info: While the road is rough, it is clear - summer conditions. I made it in a 2019 Honda Passport. There was a Jeep Cherokee (?) there when I got there. The next day a Toyota Highlander made it up. Both of the major water crossings were not bad, just ease into them. And I see why some long vehicles have a problem making it around those switchbacks. THEY can be tight.
Posted By: jmfb3
Info: Road was clear. Made it all the way to trailhead in a Subaru Crosstrek, but it required putting into "manual" (1st gear w/ paddle shifters) for some of the steeper parts, particularly after crossing the streams. No snow below treeline.
Posted By: CaptCO
Info: Made it up somehow in a stock RWD F150 (18s). Scraped 3 times, wouldnt recommend driving up with that setup, but for a mechanic it beats walking. Will update the trail tomorrow
Posted By: mtnmaneric
Info: Road to the TH is free and clear of snow. Nellie Creek crossings were navigable with a Tacoma.
Posted By: Eagle Eye
Info: A big front end loader is parked on Henson Creek Road, at the bottom of Nellie Creek road. From the tracks and the sides of the road the county has recently been working there, clearing Nellie Creek Road. At 2.2 miles the loader put up a wall of snow that completely blocks the road. There is an almost level turn-around (and/or parking place) near this dead end. The closure is about 1.8 miles from the summer TH. Otherwise, its just a very steep and muddy road that street tires might not get through.
Posted By: Peak200
Info: Clear 98 percent to 2.3 miles where you hit north
Facing slopes and ice flows
Posted By: markf
Info: I parked at the lower trailhead and walked to the upper trailhead. Henson Creek Road to the lower trailhead was open, clear, well travelled and appeared to be getting plowed. Not sure how long this will last, so keep an eye on weather reports and call the Hinsdale County road department or the county sheriff before you go. From 9200 ft to 11,200 ft a snowmobile would quite likely be the best motorized option, although the lower part of the road was melting out pretty fast when I walked down today (10/31). The stream crossings between 9200 ft and 11200 ft were all exposed and running. Walking with microspikes from 9200 ft to the summit was straightforward.
Posted By: wolfgangstiller
Info: Creek crossings are not a problem but the road is rougher than I have seen it on previous trips. Definitely needs high clearance w4d.
Posted By: JacerJack
Info: Overall, about as expected from the description. However, the described "rough section at the start of the road" seemed to be non-existent, so use the first creek crossing at 1.7 miles as a gauge as to whether or not you can make it the rest of the way. Both creek crossings were running low.

There were a few switchbacks that I had to make some tight 2 or 3 point turns in an F-150, and scraped my running boards twice, but it was pretty easy other than that. A couple other folks in our party mentioned that the road was a lot worse than they remember from 3 or 4 years ago, leading me to believe the road’s condition is deteriorating. Our party had a stock Chevy Colorado, and two leveled F-150s, and everyone made it to the upper TH without a problem. A good driver can make it all the way in a stock SUV with good clearance. Friendly reminder to park head-in as the lot fills up quickly, and there’s not much room.
Posted By: DixieFlyer
Info: I went to the Uncompahgre TH today in a Jeep Wranger. We took our time and did not have any issues. There were 2 other vehicles at the TH: a Rubicon and a stock 4Runner Trail.
Posted By: hike-n-climb
Info: Parked at the 4WD trailhead with a stock Jeep Liberty with AT tires. Went slow (took us about 45 minutes to go the 4 miles of 4WD road), chose our line carefully and incurred no damage. The first river crossing is only about 6-10 inches right now. The second crossing is about 3-6 inches. The tight, rocky, rutted steep switchbacks after the second river crossing made us happy we had a short wheelbase. We didn’t encounter any mud. The whole 4 miles is very rocky with a few short reprieves of easier sections. The road is narrow with an occasional pull out for passing - we met 2 vehicles coming up when we were going down and a bunch of UTVs.

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