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: kalestew
Info: Drove to the top twice in my lifted Expedition without issue. As others have said, choose your lines carefully, take it slow and you won’t have a bad time. The snow hasn’t accumulated on any steeper parts or larger obstacles yet and the few patches you do encounter aren’t too intense. It is pretty muddy near the top and that was the sketchiest while driving back down in the late morning. AT tires are probably recommended this time of year. Only other car we saw all day was a few guys on horseback.
Posted By: TwoMeterTrophy
Info: Read lots of reports and still wasn’t quite sure what to expect, so here’s my take. I was driving a stock 2020 Tacoma Off-Road, double cab with long bed, and stock tires. The first half of the road is similar to other "4" trailheads like South Colony, Grizzly Gulch, etc. I did this section in 2WD and dodged most of the rocks. After this section come three major 4WD obstacles:
#1: The creek crossing. The exit is a sharp left uphill turn with a big rock in the middle and one on the inside of the turn. This was not that bad at all going up but this was the sketchiest section on the way back down. Enough clearance to clear the middle rock would make this much easier.
#2: A steep banked, left switchback with a deep ditch in the middle. I was able to straddle the ditch by getting my left tire on the bank but a high clearance front bumper was key for that move.
#3: A final steep left switchback with two big rocks in the middle. This is where I bailed, leaving a 1.3 mile hike to the upper TH (but not much more elevation gaining). If you can make it through this one, it’s an easy cruise the rest of the way.
A shorter wheelbase would definitely make all of these obstacles easier, but I’d still call it a 4+. As others have said, 4WD experience is highly encouraged and the more capable your vehicle, the more peace of mind you’ll have along the way.
Would/will I do it again? No.
Posted By: Guabell
Info: Stock 2008 4runner Limited. It was not easy but we arrived without too much trouble. If you can drive 4WD and you pick the correct lines you’ll be fine. We had a handful of hits but nothing too bad - again, pay attention to the hazards. Several stock 4Runners at the trail head along with the Jeeps and OHVs.
Some tight switchbacks, deep gullies, large rocks and a couple of steam crossings. You need to engage your 4WD low and take it slow.
Posted By: LoneStar
Info: Traveled this road 9-8-21 in a stock 4x4 Toyota Tundra crewcab. The truck made it but I regretted not renting a jeep in town. The road is significantly rougher than I recall from 2018 (when I went up in a shorter wheelbase Toyota Sequoia 4x4). My transmission got stuck in 4L - which was fine for the trip up and back, but was not going to serve me well trying to get to Denver on a schedule. Not knowing the extent of the situation caused us to cut our hike short so we could get back to town and get to a (the only!) mechanic. Point being: I wish I would have trusted my gut and rented a jeep. If you have any doubts about whether your vehicle will make it - or whether you want to put your day-to-day vehicle through this very rough road - consider renting something better equipped to make the trip. PS - It is beautiful at the top! And the outhouse is working!
Posted By: swesleyc7
Info: Be advised: this trail should be rated "5", not "4". For contrast, the Crestone’s South Colony Lakes 4WD trailhead is also rated "4", but a stock Subaru Forester can drive to the 4WD trailhead without issue. Not this. It is highly advisable to drive with 8.5"+ of ground clearance, skid plates, 4WD with a locking differential and good condition off-road tires. All-season tires will not do. Ground clearance from rocks isn’t the issue - it’s the very deep gullies in the road, canted angles, river crossings, and sharp corners that will give anyone but competent 4WD owners trouble.
Posted By: rsuminsby
Info: Concur with some of the more recent should not attempt this road unless you have 4WD and high clearance. I made it in a stock 4Runner. Yes, there was a Subaru Outback at the TH (there’s probably one at Everest Base Camp as well...), but taking an AWD vehicle with street tires up this road is just asking for trouble. The rating may be more like a 5 on scale to 6.
Posted By: rsuminsby
Info: Concur with some of the more recent should not attempt this road unless you have 4WD and high clearance. I made it in a stock 4Runner. Yes, there was a Subaru Outback at the TH (there’s probably one at Everest Base Camp as well...), but taking an AWD vehicle with street tires up this road is just asking for trouble. The rating may be more like a 5 on scale to 6.
Posted By: DUtecht
Info: This road is very difficult. Lot’s of washed out areas and large rocks. There are two stream crossings. The first one is quite difficult. On the decent, I watched a subaru’s back-end lift completely in the air. They made it down ok, but it could have gone much worse. I took my Rav4 up this road and camped at the top. Considering the circumstances, we did pretty well, but it still got banged up and I wouldn’t recommend doing this with anything other than a 4wd + high-clearance. This road is no joke and not for the faint of heart.
Posted By: Chadament
Info: We made it up this to the top again recently, but found it to be WAY harder than some other trailheads considered in the same category. This has eroded severely, be aware. I went up this in 2019, and in 2021, and either I had forgotten the surface and was once a better driver, or it has greatly worsened.
Posted By: jhmcknight11
Info: Attempted to drive up Nellie Creek but could not get far. We were using our 4x4 Expedition with not-so-great clearance. We only made it about 0.2 miles because of clearance and width issues. Luckily, we were able to hitchhike in the back of a 4x4 Ram 1500 which handled it well. Lots of 4Runners, Jeeps, and trucks up there. There were a couple of very rocky parts that might damage the undercarriage.
Posted By: Imcp
Info: Made it a bit past the first creek crossing in a 2016 Forester XT with skid plates. You can get past the rutted out part with some careful driving (I did hit the skid plates doing that) to the left but higher up between the two creek crossings there are a few spots that are rutted out as bad or worse than the creek crossing and they happen on steeper sections of road. We couldn’t get up past one of them, even with X-mode. My lift kit is still in the mail but that may not have helped. Also I don’t have the greatest of tires. Point being, if you have a Forester XT, you won’t make it far past the first creek crossing unless you have a fully outfitted off-road setup.
Posted By: mvandergrift
Info: No problem in Jeep Wrangler stock 2 door. Road is rough with tight switchbacks with moderate obstacles. Mostly dry except for the two river crossings.

When we left around 1030, the trailhead parking lot was exclusively Jeeps and ATVs.
Posted By: mvandergrift
Info: No problem in Jeep Wrangler stock 2 door. Road is rough with tight switchbacks with moderate obstacles. Mostly dry except for the two river crossings.

When we left around 1030, the trailhead parking lot was exclusively Jeeps and ATVs.
Posted By: rebeccasimeone
Info: We tried the creek crossing with a Subaru Forester and did not succeed. We got through the creek just fine, but the part after is the tricky spot. Like others have stated, the small section after the creek crossing is now rutted out. Posting a pic for reference.
Posted By: ochres
Info: Made it up to the 4WD trailhead in a stock 4Runner with all-terrain tires. Nothing terribly gnarly if you’re a confident driver--just go slow and pick your lines. All Jeep Wranglers and 4Runners at the top.
Posted By: haowawa
Info: Due to heavy rains in the past few days, the creek is deeper and wider. The path to Upper TH requires a ATV or jeep. I saw regular cars/SUVs parking at the lower TH or stopped in the mid-way.
Posted By: Kekman
Info: Drove to Nellie Creek TH on Sunday to hike Uncompahgre. Dry, no trees blocking but heavily rutted requiring high clearance in places. Both creek crossing are running relatively light and easily passable even on low clearance. The exit on the inbound from the first creek crossing is the roughest spot (see pic) given the pitch/incline and rocks, deep rut on sharp turn. The switchbacks thereafter require 3 point turns if not in a jeep or short wheel base. I was in a stock Jeep and had no issues. Saw several stock, long wheel base pickups camping (above creeks) and at TH. Doable, w clearance, just takes patience - 40 min by jeep.
Posted By: JamesK
Info: road to 4x4 TH is completely open. Drove up from dirt road in about 35 minutes in a stock 4runner TRD.
Posted By: sierramtngoat
Info: Miller Creek Road is high clearance 4-wheel drive minimum however, the description is inaccurate in that there is no difficult section at the beginning. It looks like the forest service must have regraded the bottom the because it’s relatively Smooth compared to the rest. Passenger vehicles are probably good to the first stream crossing where there is some serious articulation, so if you’re low clearance in the front you’re probably going to scrape coming out of the water. The most difficult part is probably the second switchback, especially on decent. There is a fallen aspen tree that’s blocking the road partially; this might be a problem if your car is super wide; my Jeep was able to get around it without scraping.
Posted By: climbingcue
Info: If you have the skill level any 4wd suv can make it to the end of the road. My climbing partner made to the top with a stock 4wd Ford Expedition, she is a badass driver. So just know the road is clear to the end. Good luck.
Posted By: coopereitel
Info: Drivable to ~10,700’ then there is a 200 yard not passable snow bank. Main stream crossing down low aint no thang but a chicken wang.
Posted By: COnaive
Info: We were able to drive to the first creek crossing, probably could have pushed through some more snow drifts a bit higher to where the road splits, but past that had a couple north aspects with 4+ feet of snow. Continuous snow was only maybe the last mile to the trailhead, the wife made it there without flotation, just a bit of post holing on the way down. Also, we found an Oboz boot higher on the road that looked like it fell of a pack recently, brought it down to the 2wd parking and hung it on a post.
Posted By: Squirrellysquirrel
Info: From the lower Henson Creek TH, packed in a snowshoe trail to just over 3.5miles. Ice flows present over road and three minor stream crossings with unstable snow bridges. Knee to thigh deep powder started to be more consistent at the turn-back point for my hike as the snow became unmanageable with and without snowshoes; snowpack on adjacent slopes to the road varied from safe (first 2 miles) to questionable. Rollerballs (2-8 diameter) present over my tracks for east-northeast slopes on the return hike after the 30-40 mph winds kicked up. Test holes reveal weak underlying snowpack 6-48 with soft slab atop as the weather heated up.
Posted By: Squirrellysquirrel
Info: 4WD recommended to get to lower TH at Henson Rd junction. After that its probably best for a snowmobile type: Jeep Rd to upper TH is not maintained and presently has about a foot or more of mostly unconsolidated snow pack. Yesterday boot-hiked up about a mile, but didnt attempt anything big just wanted to get a sense of trail; concern over avy potential *leading up to* upper TH, CAICs special bulletin and call for a Considerable 3, did another route to get a sense of snow potentially in this area. Included a picture of untapped grandeur here, taken today, from aforementioned alternative route. Got snow stats if anyone wants to geek out on that, too.
Posted By: supranihilest
Info: Some large, long snow and ice patches on the road. The first creek crossing looks gnarly, but we hiked the entire road instead of driving. There are a couple of less-than-stellar walkable creek crossings on icy rocks and logs - be careful. Someone did drive all the way up to the upper trailhead so if you’re super brave driving on snow and ice you can still make it.

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