Nellie Creek Trailhead


Range: San Juan Mountains
Coordinates: 38.06209, -107.42158
14ers: Uncompahgre Peak, Wetterhorn Peak
Elevation: 11,400'
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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 the lower TH at 9,300'. 4WD to 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.

More Info

Parking: Room for ~15 vehicles at the 4WD parking. More room along the road.
Camping: A few places to pull-off and pitch a tent near the bottom of the 4WD road and a few spots to set up at the upper trailhead.
Restrooms? Yes, at the upper TH
Fees? No
Trailhead added by BillMiddlebrook
Status Updates 
Posted By: L_Macalister
Info: We made it in an Xterra 4x4 with a couple bumps (probably my fault) but no issues. My first time up this road but compared to some pictures I looked at before I went, I’d say they’ve improved the road a bit. Some people have said this one is comparable to South Colony road. For me this was not true, I found SCR to be harder in my vehicle. The toughest parts here were the switchbacks right after both creek crossings. Tight and there are some big ruts and boulders on the inside of the corners. On the upper half there was a lot of mud in some places from some recent snowfall. Saw 6-8 other vehicles and a few sideby’s over the weekend. There was one new Rav4 that I saw come up to the trailhead, heard them scrape a few times in the 100 yards that i could see them. So I’d say unless you don’t care about scraping it’s still higher clearance only to the trailhead.
Posted By: random-dude
Info: No real issues w/a stock (excepting rock rails) 2015 xterra pro4-x - we aired down our tires and went up in 4L and 2nd gear and run 31" KO2 tires. It was honestly easier going up than going down for us. Were not the most experienced 4WD wheelers around so take this w/a grain of salt but it was fine taking it slow and steady. We saw others going much quicker and thats fine also.

I, personally, wouldnt drive anything up/down this road that isnt an actual, real 4wd. I am sure someone in a Subee will and has gotten up there but that wouldnt be a great idea for the transmission or brakes imo.

There were two stock Taco’s TRD-Off Roads, a crewcab F150, a heavy duty Ram 2500, a lifted Tundra, and a Grand Cherokee Trailhawk for non SxS’s that we saw up there today.

We barely slipped at any point going up or down.
Posted By: JasonCrane
Info: We opted to park on CR20 along the side of the road at the base of Nellie Creek Rd (CR23.) It’s 4 miles extra road hike each way to upper TH. Nellie Creek Rd/CR23 has deep ruts, large potholes, rock beds, multiple creek crossings, switchbacks & about everything you can imagine on an unmaintained backcountry road. We did see several high clearance pick-up trucks at the upper TH & at dispersed campsites along the upper 1/3 of the road. We also saw a number of ATVs cruising by without much issue. Ultimately, despite the road hike & extra miles, we were very happy with our decision not to try to drive Nellie Creek Rd. Total RT hike to Uncompahgre summit was 15.7 miles (Garmin Fenix.) CR20 (dirt road) from Lake City is generally in good condition & passable for 2WD as far as we went to Nellie Creek Rd junction. Note - it’s hunting season & we saw a few hunters. Hikers may want to consider wearing orange.
Posted By: soxfan249
Info: A front loader and grader at the trailhead appear to have filled in some of the more difficult portions of this road. The exit from the first creek crossing, several switchbacks after the second creek crossing, and the rut in the trailhead show signs of recent improvement. Bold and skilled Subaru drivers could get to to the trailhead in the road’s current state, but there are enough places to pull over, park, and walk from if your nerves get frayed.
Posted By: nutella262
Info: I had a very different experience than the person who reported on 9/5. The road is slow but very doable in an SUV, especially compared to American Basin (2021) and Rollins Pass. We did it 90min in a 2013 LTD 4runner up and 75min back, including 2 stops to give the breaks a rest, (the low gear on this 4runner is TERRIBLE). Only slightly sticky spot was coming up from the second stream crossing where the wet tires spun a bit coming into the first switchback. In the parking lot, there was another 4runner, a Jeep Cherokee, and a Jeep Wrangler.

BYO TP - bathroom is out.
Posted By: Larjones
Info: "The road description is a bit out of date: "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." is no longer correct in my opinion. The worst part of the road is about three miles up at a couple of switchbacks, and there are a few other places below that need some care. The lower part is not that bad. I personally wouldn’t take an SUV up this but there was one at the trailhead.
Posted By: dr_j
Info: Muddy. I rode up in a Taco, and there were a couple of trouble spots past the creek crossings, made trickier by the mud and lack of traction. Bottomed out once on the way down, had a few rough encounters with rocks, but the road is doable with the proper clearance and driving skills and skid plates.
Posted By: pbergmaier
Info: Just concurring with a previous report about there being two bad spots. Right after the creek crossing there’s a tricky rock you need to clear. The toughest part for me was getting sufficient traction from the rear wheels as they were wet and spun a bit in the soft gravel next to the creek. Took about 3 tries before the front wheels finally pulled me up. If tires were dry, it wouldn’t be as difficult. The other spot, as mentioned before, was on one of the tight switchbacks farther up after the second creek crossing. A couple big rocks in the road and an awkward approach angle on the switchback turn. Riding the left tires up and over the middle rock (and stacking a ramp of smaller rocks underneath) did the trick.

I was driving an unlifted Jeep Grand Cherokee, 9.5" clearance everywhere except the rear diff, which is at a little over 8". I never scraped, although I did have someone spotting me for the two crux sections. That was very helpful, if not absolutely necessary. The rest of the road was pretty normal 4WD stuff IMO.
Posted By: IHikeLikeAGirl
Info: Agree with the previous post. Was up there today in a 4Runner (thank you d_baker!) And was surprised to see 2 subies up there. One Forester and 1 Crosstrek. Would have LOVED to have seen them get through (at least) 2 sections of the road. The TH lot had a deep gash across it from rain fall so, many vehicles had to find spots below
Posted By: EndWillows
Info: Drove this road in the dark on August 7th in an Xterra
Only had to use 4WD in a couple sections due to losing traction, even with new ultra terrain tires
Road is definitely harder than SCL.
Do not attempt without 4WD to be completely safe, but if youre feeling a bit risky, you can attempt with a higher clearance AWD Suv (Crosstrek, Forester, possibly an older Pilot)
Just be prepared to scrape and possibly damage your car, the road has definitely earned its 4 rating.
Posted By: sibetribe
Info: My crew made it up on Friday afternoon in a 4Runner (no lift). There was one other car, also a 4Runner, at the upper TH. This a true 4x4 road. This weekend was rainy, muddy, and bad on traction. I cannot speak for the person with the sedan below, but in my perspective I wouldn’t risk it w/o a high clearance 4wd vehicle. This road has the same difficulty as South Colony, but Id say it is much worse on Nellie. 2 fairly bad spots: after the first creek crossing & a tight switchback with big rocks + a huge dip in b/w. A great tip someone has mentioned on this page: ride the rock, dont cradle it.
Posted By: Ed_Groves
Info: I drove up to the 4wd trailhead on Sunday, July 24th, camped, and hiked Uncompahgre the next day. There was a heavy rain that Sunday evening and the road was muddy on the way back down on the 25th. Other than the usual rocks to dodge and the mud this road is doable for 4wd vehicles with 8.5 to 9 inches of ground clearance. I drove a 2016 SR5 Tacoma access cab with 6 foot bed on mud and snow tires and was fine. Even with the heavy rains the larger creek crossing was running swiftly but was still only a couple of inches deep on the road. This road may give you pause if you are a hiker from out of state. I knew I could make it to the top, but I also knew my vehicle had to get me back home to Kansas City. Take your time and pick your lines carefully and you will be fine.
Posted By: Azheng418
Info: Made it up in a sedan with a single scrape that couldve been avoided with better spotting as I did not scrape on that spot on the way down. Spotted for myself, was a tedious process but I made it up the road in about an hour and a half or so. On the way down I picked up a spotter and had a much easier time. I had all wheel drive and 7.9 inches of ground clearance. Just take it slow and any car with similar or more clearance will make it. You will need AWD or 4WD as a few spots in the road are steep and lack traction. The biggest crux in the road is right after the first creek as it is wet and steep and a tight fit but if you can clear that crux then you shouldnt have many more issues making it up that road. My car is a Volvo S60 Cross Country. Basically just take it really really slow and just about any AWD Cross over or sedan (given good clearance) can make it.
Posted By: Wimyers
Info: I thought the road was pretty average and was well within the abilities of my no-lift Tacoma; no stress and no scrapes. There was even a Subaru Crosstrek at the upper trailhead this morning.
Posted By: globreal
Info: The road is clear of debris. Drove all the way to the end of the 4x4 road to the Nellie Creek TH in a Jeep Grand Cherokee. Lower all wheel drive vehicles like Subaru Outbacks are probably better off staying at the Hensen Creek Road and wouldn’t recommend without a true 4x4. However, I didn’t think this road was a bad as some of the previous reports.
Posted By: charliel45
Info: Made it up in a Tundra with AT Tires. Everything in the previous update is accurate, but I wanted to add that some of the switchbacks are tough with a longer wheelbase, but they are doable with good line selection. And that I was equally as surprised to see the Jeep Patriot at the upper trailhead.
Posted By: EastCoastEscapee
Info: Several creek crossings which aren’t very deep but require careful line choice on the uphill side, including a sharp turn. Definitely wouldn’t recommend without 4WD and high clearance. Made it to the top in an ’05 4Runner Sport with 2" lift and all-season tires. Upper TH had other (unlifted) 4Runners, Tacomas, Wrangler, Isuzu Rodeo, and a surprising Jeep Patriot. Prior report of a fallen tree isn’t valid anymore, someone kindly pulled it aside!
Posted By: goingup
Info: I give this road a 0 out of 10 but it is completely passable to the upper 4WD lot and the bathroom is snow free and fully stocked. Beware, it is a bad bad road, would rather use my 4WD legs.
Posted By: nsaladin
Info: Downed tree not long after the switchback that has the dead end that d_baker reported. Some deep snow lingering on the road that would stop a vehicle after that.
Posted By: d_baker
Info: Drove to about 10,500 up Nellie.
Stream crossing at night and mid-day no problem in 4runner and Tacoma.
Parked at a switchback near an old dead-end road and camped there.
Beyond switchback, there’s a stretch of continuous snow that would probably get a vehicle stuck. Then long patches of dry.
Summer TH bathroom unlocked. With some effort, one could remove enough snow to enter. Unsure if stocked with tp
Posted By: annamigl
Info: Attempted to drive up as far up as we could but turned around and parked still at the lower 2WD TH (9,350ft) due to the remaining snow coverage on the lower portion of the road. Melting fast but still 9-12" of snow on the road in patches from 9,350ft to the first creek crossing at 10,400ft. With the rate of it melting though, I would assume it won’t be long until parking at the 1st creek crossing would be possible. After 10,400 the road has (fairly) continuous snow coverage with only one part to stop and step through. A couple of large rocks and a tree down blocking summer TH access at about 10,600/right before the second creek crossing.
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!
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