The trail head is about 8800 feet elevation and our turn around point on top of Castle Rock was 10,400 feet. This was a six mile round trip hike.
To access the Elbert Creek trail head take 550 North from Durango about 20 miles and park next to the corral immediately South of the Needles Country Store. Go through two gates adjacent to the corral and you are on the trail.
|Lots of Columbine during the first quarter mile.|
I love how they look like little crowns!
The first couple of miles of this trail was uphill but not nearly as steep as the Goulding Trail had been.
|Hiking up a hillside covered with aspen and lush green undergrowth.|
About halfway up we caught a glimpse of our destination: Castle Rock.
|We're headed for the top of Castle Rock...looming way above us.|
About two miles into the hike we came upon a forest service cabin at the tip of a meadow.
About a quarter mile past the cabin there is a trail intersection where we turned right and headed up hill. At this point the trail got very steep and we heard a couple of thunder claps! We'd noticed the clouds building up but they seemed further North, but still you have to be cautious about thunder storms when hiking in the mountains. As we were debating if we should continue five hikers passed us coming down the trail and told us we had about a mile to go. We decided to press on...those clouds weren't right overhead after all.
|Looking back down at the cabin, as the view into the Animus Valley started to open up beyond the saddle.|
After about a half mile very steep climb through rather dense forest the trail opened up to a pretty meadow. Of course the whole time we're hiking we're constantly scanning for bear and other wildlife, nothing sighted though.
A little more climbing brought us to the precipice of Castle Rock and views into the Animus Valley and to distant 14,000 foot peaks of the Rockies.
|Looking South: Hwy 550 and Electra Lake.|
|We had hiked up the valley on the left to gain the back side of CastleRock.|
|Looking North West the pointy peaks are the Needle Mountains, three are over 14,000 feet.|
|Close up of the Needle Mountains.|
|Living on the edge...as rain shrouds the Needles.|
The clouds continued to build up so it was time to get down off the mountain. Back at the truck I remembered to take a photo of Castle Rock:
There was some huffing and puffing going on during this hike due to the high elevation but it was well worth the effort!