Colorado's West Elk Wilderness

There's elbow room to spare in this lofty hiker's haven.

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If you want solitude, the West Elk Wilderness delivers all the alone time you’ll need. Rarely do backpackers cross paths on the 200 miles of trail that penetrate one of Colorado’s larger wilderness areas. The 500-foot spires called “The Castles” are the signature landmark for the West Elks. With craggy summits, broad ridges, long valleys, and an intertwined trail network, the options for exploring seem endless.

RECOMMENDED HIKE: A scenic 23-mile loop leaves from Beckwith Pass trailhead and heads to Sheep Lake via Cliff Creek Trail. Return via Castle Pass and Lowline trails. The route is a moderate 2,000-foot climb that can be enjoyed over three days.

WHERE: Located 200 miles (5 hours) west of Denver. From Crested Butte, drive west on County Road 12 to Lost Lake Slough and the Beckwith Pass trailhead.

MAPS: Trails Illustrated’s Kebler Pass/Paonia (#133) and Black Mesa/Curecanti Pass (#134) maps detail the area ($8.99 each; 800-962-1643).

CONTACT: Gunnison National Forest, Paonia District, N. Rio Grande Ave., Paonia, CO 81428; (970) 527-4131.