Clear Creek County, Colorado
Arapaho National Forest
Clear Creek Ranger District
View this on the Colorado Trailheads Map
Forest Service Road: 171.1
Trail Type: Straight Through
Nearby Towns: Empire, Downieville
Nearby Trails: Bill Moore Lake, Red Elephant Hill
Trail Length: 4.7 miles
Elevation: 9,869 to 10,822 feet
If you plan on running Red Elephant Hill and Bill Moore Lake, Mill Creek is a great addition to your day. It is a loop that starts and ends at the northern section of Red Elephant Hill, after the climb up that hill and before you intersect with Bill Moore Lake. You can run it in either direction, and both ways are fun.
Note that Mill Creek and Miller Creek are right next to each other, and there is another trail near Miller Creek that is south of this trail and does not intersect it. Miller Creek intersects Bill Moore Lake near the trailhead to Bill Moore Lake. There is also a Mill Creek Road trail near Vail.
After you have leveled off on Red Elephant Hill you will get to a clearing and a fantastic view of the mountains to the west of the trail. To your right you can take the trail marked 171.3 which is the eastern side of Mill Creek. The western end is just a bit farther down Red Elephant Hill.
It starts as a bumpy road but offers a few rocky sections right away. There are many spots to pull off of the trail, and a few very scenic meadows along the way, though most of the open spaces are near the ends of the trail.
Continue on through some more rocky areas and you come to the first of two Mill Creek water crossings. They are not very deep and should not give any vehicle any difficulties. There are usually rocks on both sides that may give some challenges, especially when wet. One of the crossings is rockier on the edges than the other.
You'll come to a smooth part of the road and see a well-preserved cabin on the left, with a parking area. This is known as the Empire Hilton and is worth some inspection. It is an old cabin but it has a tin roof and a working stove inside. It also has beds, furniture, blankets, cooking utensils and pictures on the wall of people who have stayed there. Anyone is welcome to stay if they leave it as nice or better than they found it. You may consume any food you find in the cabin, though please leave food for the next guests.
There is a bear in the area named Rudy who will eat any food left out, so make sure it is secure inside the cabin. A marmot named Rowdy will get inside the cabin if you leave doors or windows open and unsecured, so make sure you leave it closed when you leave it for any amount of time.
Past the cabin there are more rocky sections and a second Mill Creek crossing.
When you reach the other end, turn right to get to the end of Red Elephant Hill. Going down Red Elephant Hill is not recommended. Not much farther after the end of Mill Creek, Red Elephant Hill intersects with Bill Moore Lake just before the hill of whoopdeedoos.
Mill Creek is more technically challenging than Bill Moore Lake, and can make for a nice diversion while you are in this network of trails. Red Elephant Hill can be more difficult, though Mill Creek can provide some great lines through the big rocks, too.
Information last updated on July 29th, 2012.
- July 28, 2012: ran by Ben, Bob S., Jeffrey, Julie, Ladd, Matt K., Monica and Roger
- November 17, 2007: ran by Bill S., Chad, Don, Michael and Mike S.
- July 15, 2006: ran by Daniel, Dave B., Ed C., Gary, Jed, Micheal, Mike C. and Walt
- July 9, 2005: ran by Aaron N., Bob S., Bob R., Brian E., Cheryl, Dane, Dave B., Eric B., Jed, Jim, Jon G., Mike S., Monica and Wayne
From Denver take I-70 to exit 234 at Downieville. Turn right at the bottom of the exit, then left again to run alongside the highway on the frontage road. Travel west to cross under I-70 and past the entrance to Spring Creek. Keep going until you cross under I-70 again and turn right on a dirt road immediately after going under the highway (only a few feet from the highway). This is Red Elephant Hill. Follow this trail up the hill and to a clearing where you will find the trailhead marked 171.3 as a turn to your right.
Meet at the Starbucks next to the gas station at Downieville, exit 234 off of I-70.