Want to adopt this trail? Become an Ambassador!

Two Elk Trail

Two Elk trail traverses Vail's Back Bowls between East Vail and Minturn, offering unrivaled views of the Gore and Sawatch mountain ranges. It is popular route for equestrian users, hikers, and mountain bikers.

photo: photo by Owen Lin

Length: 11.80 miles
Loop Trail? No
Type: Backcountry, Equestrian Trail, Mountain Bike Trail
Agency: USDA Forest Service
Entry Fee? No
Parking Fee? No

Allowed Uses:

Bicycling (off pavement)
Dogs - Off leash
Dogs - On leash
Equestrian - Riding
Equestrian - Pack trips
Equestrian - Other stock
Pedestrian - Walking/Hiking/Running

See more details.

Become an NRT Ambassador

Join a cadre of volunteers to help improve the data on this trail.


Location: Near Vail and Minturn, Colorado on the Eagle/Holy Cross Ranger District
State(s): Colorado
Counties: Eagle
Longitude: -106.40111
Latitude: 39.566

Driving Directions

EAST TRAILHEAD: Travel east on I-70 to exit 180 for East Vail. Turn right and travel 2.3 miles east on Bighorn Road, passing under the interstate. Just before Gore Creek Campground, park on the left at the Gore Creek trailhead parking lot. Walk up the old Vail Pass paved road 1.8 miles, today's recreation path, to the Two Elk trailhead on the right.

WEST TRAILHEAD: Travel west on I-70 to exit 171 for Minturn, Leadville, and Hwy 24. Turn right and travel south 2.7 miles and into Minturn to Cemetery Bridge. Turn left, cross the bridge and tracks, then proceed south past the cemetery. Go right at the first fork and follow this somewhat rough dirt road about 1.8 miles and park at the Two Elk trailhead at the end.


Panoramic views of Gore and Sawatch Ranges, and Vail Ski bowls. Alpine forest, aspens/cottonwoods, brushy slopes. Highest elevation is 11,020 ft at Two Elk Pass.

From the east trailhead, follow the Old Vail Pass road, now the Vail Pass Recreation Trail, 1.8 miles to the junction with the true Two Elk Trailhead on the right. The trail drops from the recreation path to a bridge crossing the Black Gore Creek, then passes under I-70 into the tight Timber Creek canyon which is a cool shady forest alongside the creek. A nice shorter destination, popular with kids, is at mile 2.6 where the trail makes a sharp right across a third bridge before starting the steepest climb. The majority of the trail's altitude gain happens in this next 1.5 miles to the Two Elk Pass summit. Here you can take in views of the Gore Range, Sawatch Range, and Vail's Back Bowls before descending slowly through meadows and the valley between Vail's Back Bowls and Blue Sky Basin Bowls and finally emerging from the last section of cool aspen-pine forest to the west trailhead.

Officially, the east trailhead of the Two Elk National Recreation Trail is at its junction with the Old Vail Pass trail, but the mileages on these descriptions include the 1.8 miles of the Old Vail Pass trail you must hike to get to the trailhead. A designated National Recreation Trail, Two Elk trail can be hiked in either direction, although the Trail Highlights section, above, details the more popular east to west route. Two cars are needed to hike the 11.8 mile length of the trail without retracing your route and doubling the mileage. A shorter option is to the bridge at 2.6 miles, also described above, to make a 5.2 mile round-trip. Or, a hike to the Two Elk Pass summit would be a 8.2 mile round-trip from the east.

The portion of the trail within Vail Ski Area is closed from May 6 to June 30 for elk calving.

Additional Details

Width: 24 inches.
Primary Surface: Soil
Secondary Surface: None
Elevation Low Point: 8,045
Elevation High Point: 11,020
Elevation Gain (cumulative): Not Available

Year Designated:

Supporting Webpages and Documents

Document: USFS Trail Overview
Document: USFS Trail Overview MTB
Website: USFS Trail Details

Contact Information

For more information and current conditions, contact the trail manager (listed below). For questions, suggestions, and corrections to information listed on the website, contact American Trails.

Trail Management:
Wilderness and Trails Manager
White River National Forest
Holy Cross Ranger District
24747 US Hwy 24
Minturn, CO 81645
(970) 827-5715



No additional photos are available.


No reviews are available. Be the first to leave one!


Suggest an Edit

Do you see a problem with this trail data? Contact us below: