Big Elk Creek Trail #097
ElevationAscent: 2,184' 666 m
Descent: -380' -116 m
High: 7,479' 2,280 m
Low: 5,675' 1,730 m
GradeAvg Grade: 4% (2°)
Max Grade: 35% (19°)
Current trail conditions
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“One of the best lesser known trails in all of SE Idaho!”— Jeff Fullmer
Turing off the highway onto the dirt road to the trailhead, you'll drive along a small inlet lake to the Palisades Reservoir that is filled by Big Elk Creek. There is a dock at the inlet lake for swimming, kayaking, canoeing, or even motor boating with access to a boat launch. As you continue to drive on the dirt road, you'll drive through a Forest Service Campground. This makes for a great area to camp before or after your hike. There are reservation and non-reservation campsites for RV’s or tents. $12 is the overnight rate (2017) for a single vehicle and pad site. There is a camp host on site as well with water and maintained outhouse facilities. There is also a public outhouse at the trailhead.
This trail starts off steep for a short 50-yard section and then levels out and meanders up and down, but the climbing is minimal. Early in the year before summer, there is potential for multiple creek crossings. One can stay dry during mid/late summer months. This trail is frequented by horses, so the trail has protruding rocks in some spots. Bikers avoid this narrow trail as you can hike it faster than biking it because of the sometimes rocky terrain.
Around 3 miles, you'll pass the Dry Canyon Trail turnoff to the east (right) that is marked with a sign. The Dry Canyon Trail crosses the creek, and this makes for a great turnaround point for small children and also a great little swimming hole. In early summer, the water will be above your waist at this crossing.
What makes the Big Elk Creek Trail so amazing is the lush undergrowth and large flowing creek. There are spots where the canyon is narrow and other spots where the canyon opens up and provides expansive views of lush hillsides covered in wildflowers. This trail is a hidden gem in Idaho and one that has made “top 10 little-known trails in Idaho that you should hike” type of lists. This trail branches off at 6 miles and there is posted signage showing the trail changes to the Siddoway Trail and the Big Elk Trail continues across the creek to the east as it travels up the Big Elk North Fork Trail. This is another large creek crossing, similar to the Dry Canyon crossing, with deep water similar to a small river crossing in the early summer months. My main advice? Bring a camera!
Land Manager: USFS - Caribou & Targhee National Forests Office