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West Elk Wilderness

West Elk Wilderness Area

Government information and links are at the bottom of this page.

Located in Gunnison National Forest

Neighboring towns: Gunnison, Crested Butte, Maher, Crawford, Hotchkiss, Paonia, Bowie, Somerset, Marble

The West Elk Mountains comprise a large remote wilderness west of Gunnison. The volcanic ridges and long valleys of this area offer countless opportunities for extended expeditions. As an added benefit, West Elk receives relatively few visitors outside of hunting season, probably because the area lacks fourteeners or numerous alpine lakes which typically attract recreational users. Secluded trips are readily attainable in West Elk, Colorado's fifth largest wilderness.

Aspen blanket the steep-sided valleys, and hikers visiting in late September are rewarded with golden fall colors, clear blue skies, brisk temperatures, and the unmistakable sound of bull elk bugling. Elk and deer herds numbering in the thousands also attract crowds of hunters in late fall. An extensive network of trails along ridgelines and valley floors creates a multitude of loop trips, allowing for multi-day or week-long excursions.

In the 1964 Wilderness Act, Congress designated West Elk as one of the state's original five wilderness areas. Colorado's 1980 Wilderness Act expanded it by more than 120,000 acres to its current size.

About two hundred miles of trails, following creeks and ridge tops, offer opportunities for extended loop hikes through the West Elk, the fifth largest Wilderness in Colorado. Most of the trails provide excellent pathways for horse traffic.

Size: 176,172 acres

Elevation: 7,500 to over 13,000 feet

Miles of trails: 160

Year designated: 1964, 1980

Hunting areas: 53, 54

For more information contact:

Gunnison & Uncompahgre National Forests, 2250 Highway 50, Delta, CO 81416  (970)874-6600 Forest Headquarters
This e-mail will be distributed to the correct Ranger District.
Grand Valley Ranger District, PO Box 330, 218 High Street, Collbran, CO 81624  (970)487-3534
Gunnison Ranger District, 216 N. Colorado, Gunnison, CO 81230  (970)641-0471
Ouray Ranger District, 2505 S. Townsend, Montrose, CO 81401  (970)240-5400
Paonia Ranger District, PO box 1030, North Rio Grande Ave., Paonia, CO 81428  (970)527-4131
Gunnison Ranger District, PO Box 89, Lake City, CO 81235  (970)641-0471 or (970)944-2500
Grand Valley Ranger District, 2777 Crossroads Blvd., Grand Junction, CO 81506  (970)242-8211
Norwood Ranger District, PO Box 388, 1760 Grand Ave., Norwood, CO 81423  (970)327-42261

Wilderness sunset

NOTE: coloradowilderness.com gratefully appreciates the eloquent descriptions of our wilderness areas provided by Mark Pearson, author of "The Complete Guide to Colorado's Wilderness Areas", Westcliffe Publishers, Englewood, CO. The book also contains many beautiful pictures by renowned photographer and Colorado resident John Fielder.


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