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: Flyingfish
Info: The first river crossing is still pretty high so be aware of where your air intake is if you plan on crossing. Road is also pretty muddy the last mile before the parking lot.
Posted By: reymannadam
Info: Drove this road weds/thurs in a newer Ram 1500 w/ 3" lift and off-road tires providing 17.5" clearance to the rocker panels. There were two crux maneuvers and one other notable obstacle. The first crux is at the lower creek crossing. The crossing itself is fine, with water at least up to the rocker panel, but the ramp to get out of the creek is a steep wet trough with largish rocks into an immediate steep sharp left turn that is muddy and rutted. This was the roughest part of the road. The next obstacle comes in between the creek crossings where there is a short but deep, steep, muddy washout across the road. Longer wheel-base vehicles and vehicles with low clearance or bad tires could have an issue. I bottomed out and felt tire-slip climbing out of it on the way up. The other crux maneuver is right after the upper creek crossing where there are a number of tight steep switchbacks. On the way up I had to make 3-point turns in a couple of them. The last two are back-to-back and the 2nd (last) of them has a large rock on the inside and a left-hand slant to the outside. I put the left wheel on the rock and crawled up it. It would be a challenge with low clearance or bad tires. Driving back down the road was much easier, no need to make 3-point turns or whatever. The only other obstacles were vehicles traveling the opposite direction. Lots of razor and atv tours up there, and the road is narrow with few pull-outs.
Posted By: nagodekar
Info: This was a concentrated effort on my Off-Road 4Runner with a 2 inch lift. The 4WD road is 4 miles long and 80% of the road has a lot of small boulders everywhere, but a good driver can navigate them. The creek crossing at 1.9 mile mark is around 20 inches. If you stay left as you are heading up, you can manage it quite well. The biggest challenge for me was a steep hairpin after the 2nd creek crossing (which is much shallower than first). You have to choose between a significant side tilt or going up a big vertical rock. It’s more iffy coming down. The road between the 1st and 2nd creek crossing was very muddy and parts of it were slippery. After the hike, the vehicles I saw on the upper trailhead were all Jeep’s, 4Runners and Trucks. I saw a Subaru and Toyota RAV4, parked just before the 1st creek. High clearance helps a lot.
Posted By: BethL
Info: Creek crossing running ~20 inches deep. Water was up to the bottom of the door of our RZR. There are a few tight switchbacks that require careful driving for longer vehicles. The start of the road is much improved from a few years ago. Gravel was brought in that makes it a much easier start than it used to be.

Picture looking at the creek crossing from the uphill side, and the other was taken while in the creek crossing.
Posted By: JQDivide
Info: Several vehicles of different make/models made the 4wd TH. Even a Ford Edge almost made the TH, but hit a rock which knocked out its fuel line. High clearance helps. So does picking good lines. Saw a Suburban going up, think it had a small lift.
Posted By: kendricb
Info: Road crews have been out repairing damage at the first stream crossing this week. Although it looked deeper given the constricted reroute, seeing a RZR cross easily gave us confidence. We had no trouble crossing the creek in a stock 4Runner and were eventually joined by several other vehicles at the trailhead (several Jeeps, a Tundra, and another 4Runner).
Posted By: bosnian2014
Info: Road to upper TH (cr23 or Nellie Creek Road) was closed for vehicles yesterday and this morning but reopened today afternoon ( we were picked up by a driver who gave us a lift back to 2wd TH) . It was open to hikers - we did Uncompahgre from 2wd TH. There are logs placed across both creek crossings. First crossing, there are 2 logs. Left one is a little unstable. I would try to keep the weight on the (climbers) right log. Some groups turned back at the first water crossing. Second crossing is short, but only has one log across. I have videos of the crossings if anyone wants to see them, feel free to message me.
There is significant washout on the road before you enter the creek (first crossing).
restroom at upper TH is operational.
Posted By: sdicenso
Info: Temporarily closed due to runoff.
Posted By: tpk7500
Info: Made it all the way to the parking lot in my 2010 Lincoln Navigator. Road was clear of trees and snow. Nellie creek is at peak runoff and eating up the first crossing. Both photos were taken on the way down. The picture that still shows the road is the second crossing.
Posted By: salleybthomas
Info: CR 20 is open to the Nellie Creek 4x4 road, rented a 4x4 in Lake City and made it a quarter mile from the trailhead. Both creek crossings are high and fast, but doable. Lots of snow drifts still on the road but we were able to get through in the Polaris. High clearance definitely necessary
Posted By: marianne
Info: I talked to the chamber of Commerce in lake City They told me they have closed the nellie creek TH and Engineer pass is closed for now. they said there is 80 feet of snow on cinnamon pass right now.
Posted By: Yalegirl09
Info: Per Hinsdale county - CR20 is closed at the ATV staging area a mile out of town while the Treasure Dam is removed. It is closed to all traffic including foot traffic. Nellie Creek trailhead is inaccessible until further notice.
Posted By: Aphelion
Info: Road to the trailhead is gated off and closed to all vehicle/foot traffic, due to uncleared avalanche debris and lingering avy danger.
Posted By: Corey17
Info: The Henson Creek road is plowed to the Nellie Creek turn off, 4 miles below the upper trailhead - any vehicle could make it. There are plowed pullouts for parking for several vehicles. There was no evidence of foot traffic or snowmobile traffic on the Nellie Creek road, so we spent our morning trenching. Heavy snow from the very start of Nellie Creek, don’t expect to do any driving up it any time soon
Posted By: gcbighorn
Info: Henson Creek road is open and regularly plowed to start of Nellie Creek 4WD road. On 12/28/2018, four strong backcountry skiers attempted to summit Uncompaghre Peak. The ski up the 4WD road to the trailhead parking lot at timberline took 4.5 hours, taking turns breaking trail through a depth that was surprisingly deep. The day was stormy and cold, so we made some phenomenal turns in the alpine, then turned around at this point and skied back down the road. Given the big New Years Day storm that has happened since then, the road will definitely have enough snow to ski up/down until warmer temps arrive this coming Spring.
Posted By: bigDmulc009
Info: Gave it our all in a 2017 Outback. We did not have much difficulty for the first half of the road- the feature 200-300 yards in did not prove too difficult to navigate. The creek crossing into the large rock and switch back proved too much for our car. We couldn’t get a line with traction enough to get up and over and decided to back out. I imagine a bolder and more intrepid Outback driver could maybe make it happen but we weren’t trying to risk a tow to Lake City and back to Denver.
Posted By: Strider29
Info: This is a pretty legit 4WD road. As others have said - very rocky at the start with a couple of tight switchbacks. Worst part is the second creek crossing with the large rock and switchback on the other side. There was a Subaru Outback at the upper TH, so it can be done - but I wouldn’t recommend it (see pic). FWIW, we also saw a Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo (QuadraTrac I / AWD), several Wranglers, a Nissan Xterra, a Toyota Tacoma, and a brand-new Lexus GX (still had temporary plates on it).
Posted By: Jon1702
Info: This was a true 4x4 road. High clearance is mandatory-- my Jeep Liberty has 8" of clearance and still scraped more times than I would have liked. I didn’t think the first creek crossing was that bad. Though, to be fair, the first creek crossing was only about 3" deep when I went, and the second creek crossing was about 4" deep (ish). The photo shows an average section of the Nellie Creek road-- large rocks and steeper angles. Be prepared for many dips. I agree with others who said the hardest parts were right at the beginning (large rocks) and at the end (narrow hairpin turns on the switchbacks).
Posted By: cyrrus
Info: I was expecting much worse. Made it with ease in an xterra. There was also a newer model subaru outback at the 4x4 trailhead. the stream crossings were wide but shallow. agree that the crux is coming out of the stream with the rock in the middle and the sharp turn to the left. very doable however with minimal effort. if you can get past the first feature maybe 200 yards in, you will make it to the TH unless you are a horrible driver.
Posted By: madmattd
Info: If you get over the bumps right at the start, the first half of the road isn’t too bad. The first crossing is probably the toughest spot, combining a steep exit bank with a large rock in the center and a tight switchback right beyond it. The switchbacks beyond are tight but doable with care. 4WD and high clearance highly recommended. The outhouse just below the trailhead lot was unlocked, did not check to see if the TP was stocked.
Posted By: hitithot
Info: Road was in good shape. Made it up the road in about 45 minutes in a fully stock Outback with 5 people in the car. Hair pins are tough but manageable! Just watch ahead to pick the right line!
Posted By: Craig Jones
Info: Road clear, though there is roadwork a short distance in (USFS doing improvements?). Toilet at trailhead was unlocked and being used (but no TP). On a clear Saturday at 8:30am, primary trailhead lot was full (8 cars?) but plenty of places to pull off nearby. Several nice campsites along the road near the end. Stock Toyota Highlander made it in from CR20 in 0:35 and out without problems--several different regular SUVs at trailhead. Some of the notes make this sound worse than it is--you do need decent clearance and 4WD/AWD and a decent sense of driving to avoid hitting things in the road, but no worse than Engineer Pass. There is a decent example of the worst of the road about 200-300 yards in; pass that and you should be OK. Most persistent problem are the waterbars, which can demand minor maneuvers if your wheelbase+clearance are just right. Switchbacks are tight and steep enough that 2WD will not work; first one coming out of the creek does have a big enough rock that you don’t want to just be focused on the creek and then come out poorly placed to maneuver around the rock. Also the road junction is at a left turn (basically a switchback)--would be easy to accidentally go on that little stub. As with any such road, careful attention to geometry of the roadbed (holes, rocks, waterbars) is important.
Posted By: merrion13
Info: Trail is open! Drove up last night, took 50 minutes from the start of the 4WD road and the two creek crossings were about 8 inches at the deepest. Stock 2015 Grand Cherokee with all terrain tires made it no problem. This road was way easier than Lead King! Just air down the tires and take your time.
Posted By: illusion7il
Info: At 9pm last night the road was clearly signed as closed. Rolled by at noon today and it looks to be open. There is now just a sign that says heavy machinery ahead.
Posted By: Bob Kocher
Info: Just talked to the Gunnison FS office again and their current info (which was from yesterday) was Nellie Creek Rd is still closed. She didn’t have any other details.

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