Ellis Jeep Trail
Jackson County, Colorado
View this on the Colorado Trailheads Map
Forest Service Roads: 82, 499, 500
Nearby Towns: Steamboat Springs
Nearby Trails: Hahns Peak, Sierra Madre CDT, Elkhorn Mountain, Circle Bar Basin, Dead Mexican Park
Trail Length: 17.2 miles
Elevation: 8,444 to 9,461 feet
This is one of those trails that most people have heard of but few people have seen. It's so far north that it meets the Wyoming border at its end, and the nearest major town of Steamboat Springs is over an hour away. Still, it's worth the trip.
The first half is a fairly easy road. It starts on one end of Big Red Park, which is a huge, flat, open space. The road cuts through it and it is often very straight.
A section of the easy trail on the other side of Big Red Park has washed out, and a more difficult bypass around it has been put in place. It is more narrow, a little steep, and it crosses the middle fork of the Little Snake River. Recreational vehicles and large trucks may be turned away at this spot. The washout has made trail maintenance past this point much more difficult, and trail conditions will change from this point.
You continue on into the trees and there are more turns and little hills, but the trail is still not difficult.
The situation changes a little over seven miles into the trail. There is a very important section of trail that is only a few hundred yards long. You have been traveling on forest service road 500 since the start, and forest service road 499 comes in from the right. 500 and 499 merge for a short section, then they split again with 500 on the left and 499 on the right. You are right at the Continental Divide and the line between Routt County and Jackson County.
This section can be confusing. If you have a GPS unit, stay off of the continental divide and you will stay on the Ellis Jeep trail. A spur goes south along the continental divide that eventually turns into an ATV trail and then comes to a dead end. If you travel north along the continental divide you will be on the Sierra Madre CDT ("continental divide trail").
If you stay on Ellis Jeep Trail you will find yourself on a steep downhill and the trail gets considerably more difficult. It is rocky and could give you troubles if it is wet or snowy.
When you get to the bottom of the hill, the trail goes by the remains of an old cabin on the right. Then it weaves around the trees. There are a few hills here and there, and you spend some time on a ridge. Then there is even a creek crossing that is not usually too deep.
You pop out of the trees and find yourself in front of some very big mud bogs. Stay out of the man-made, illegal ones, but do not make your own illegal trail to avoid the correct ones. You can usually tell which way is the correct way. Though these are big mud holes this is not the infamous "mud bog."
There are dry patches mixed with very muddy patches as you work your way across the open space. Then you come out and find yourself on one side of a very large marshy area. The trail continues right through the middle of the marshy area to the trail in the trees at the other side. You can see which way you are supposed to go -- right through the muddiest area. This is the "mud bog" most people have heard of.
There are very deep sections across this marsh, but do not leave the mud to avoid it. The area next to the mud is very wet as well. It might be difficult to get out of your vehicle in this section, so prepare to get very muddy and maybe lose a shoe to the mud if you have to get out for a recovery.
Once you are on the other side you continue through the trees. It is fairly flat but very muddy. There are many, many mud puddles on the way out.
Once you get to the other side the trail suddenly gets easy again and you are out on forest service road 496 in Wyoming. If you turn left here you can get to forest service road 550 and work your way around the north end of Hog Park Reservoir. There are many places to stop and take in the views. You can take 550 all the way back around to the trailhead for Ellis Jeep Trail where you can air up.
Information last updated on September 6th, 2012.
From Steamboat Springs, take county road 129 30 miles further north. The pavement will end at a "Y" crossroads. Take the rightmost fork to Whiskey Park Road 550 and the trailhead. Continue by following signs to Big Red Park and stay on forest service road 500.
Meet at the McDonald's at 1150 South Lincoln Avenue in Steamboat Springs before you get to the downtown area.