Mount Ellen

  • Mount Ellen
  • 3512 m
  • Primary factor 1787 m
  • Location: North 38:06.541, West 110:48.812 (GPS at the summit)
  • Utah, USA
  • Difficulty: YDS class 2 (just barely!)
  • Climbed: July 22, 2008


How to get there: This is indeed a mountain where the driving to the trailhead is a main challenge both in terms of distance and navigation. The small village of Hanksville will serve as our point of reference. Hanksville is located at the intersection between Hwy. 24 (connecting from Interstate I-70 to the National Park Capitol Reef) and Hwy. 95 (connecting south to Glen Canyon National Recreational Area). Hwy. 24 heads south from I-70 a few miles west of Green River.
The Henry Mountains (where Mount Ellen is the highest point) can be accessed from the east and from the west. The west access is the best if you are arriving from Capitol Reef National Park, for all other directions the east access is better. The following description will detail driving directions from Hanksville via the east access, then crossing west towards Capitol Reef. Thus, this description can be used for the two possible ways to drive. The reader should have no problems with reversing the description below if s/he is arriving from the west side.
Starting from Hanksville, locate the intersection between Hwy. 24 and Hwy. 95 and set your odometer to zero at this point. Drive south on Hwy. 95 (the signs say 95-east). Look carefully to your right as you approach mile 20.3. There is a sign here saying "Scenic Byway". As you exit Hwy. 95 here and drive down a small hill, there will be more signs, one saying "Bull Creek Pass" which is our trailhead destination. The road is a good quality dirt road, most regular cars can make this if they have an experienced driver and the conditions are good, in particular, the roads should be dry.
At mile 24.1, turn right, there are signs here. At mile 24.7, continue on the "main road" the same way as the signs point. Similarly at mile 30.0, follow the main road. Finally, you arrive at mile 33.6. Here you want to make a hairpin type turn to the right. Most vehicles will need to make this turn by shifting forward and reverse a couple of times. There are signs here saying Wickiup Pass and Hanksville in the direction you should drive. At mile 36.8, you arrive at Wickiup Pass, make a left here (there is a sign for Bull Creek Pass). At mile 39.5, you arrive at the east-west divide of the Henry Mountains - Bull Creek Pass. There is parking here on your right. This is the trailhead for Mount Ellen, location N38:05.150, W110:48.145, elevation about 3200 meter.
In order to complete the access description, we now continue from Bull Creek Pass going west. If you arrive from the west, just reverse this description and you should be fine.
At mile 41.7, there is a road coming form the right, keep going straight. At mile 42.0, one should also go straight, here a smaller road goes right (to a campground?), while a larger road goes left. At mile 42.6, a small road enters from the right (ignore it). At mile 42.9, there is a small road going left (ignore it). At mile 44.1, there is a cabin (with a side road) on your right. At mile 44.6, you pass McMillan Springs Campground (on your right). At mile 47.1, there is a road connecting from your left (ignore it), at this point a sign for Bull Ceek Pass, saying 8 miles points in the direction we are coming from. At mile 50.3, one should keepgoing straight, a side road goes left, having a sign saying "King Ranch 2 miles". At mile 51.7, there is a small, signed road going right, ignore it. At mile 54.3, a road enters from the left side, it has a sign saying "Tarantula" and "The Horn", do not go that way. At mile 63.4, you arrive at Sandy Ranch, there is a road going left that should be ignored.
However, a short distance BEFORE arriving at Sandy Ranch (as we are driving from Bull Creek Pass), one must cross Sandy Creek. When we drove across, this creek was dry. However, the entire riverbed was indeed just very sandy (no rocks to be seen). This may mean that a crossing could be muddy and possibly cause difficulties (danger of getting stuck?) if there is (substantial?) water in the creek. In this respect, the access from the east side to Bull Creek Pass may be easier/safer. The problem that has been reported with the east approach concerns snow. Appearently, the snow may remain (and block access) on the east side longer than what one would experience on the west side. There is a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office in Hanksville that may provide updated information on the road conditions.
Returning to our description, at mile 66.9, the dirt road ends and a paved road continues to Hwy. 24. At this point, there is also a dirt road that continues towards Hanksville and connects with Hwy. 24 a bit closer (10 miles?) to Hanksville. The paved road may still be preferable for some drivers. At mile 76.9, you finally reach Hwy. 24. This intersection is located immediately outside the boundary of Capitol Reef National Park (ie. Hwy. 24 enters the park immediately after this intersection.) The intersection is marked "Notom Road, route 1670" (that is the name of the road that we now are leaving.)
The reader will notice that the distance from Hanksville to the trailhead via the east route is 39.5 miles, with about 20 miles of dirt road. The dirt road on the west side is 27 miles, and the total distance from Hanksville is closer to 70 miles. At the time when we drove the entire distance, the quality of the dirt road was not different and I would have driven my ordinary passenger car across without any difficulties. The Sandy Creek crossing may be an additional factor to consider on the west side. Clearly, a high clearance 4WD vehicle is to be preferred when crossing the Henry Mountains.
Route description: From the trailhead, a clearly visible trail passes through the fence and heads north along the ridge. There is a trail register at the fence. This trail climbs gradually towards Mount Ellen, but sort of ends at a point marked with a big cairn, just before ascending the final section of the ridge. The terrain is a bit more rocky for a short section until you reach the first of three fairly distinct humps along the summit ridge. The highest point is located at the last (third) of these humps. There is a summit register placed in a standard US mailbox at this location. The terrain along the ridge (between the humps) is less rocky and even has a faint trail at least some part of the way. This route is (YDS) class 1 almost the entire way, but due to the short stretch of rocks (with no trail) a class 2 rating has been assigned.
I did this hike with my wife Heidi and my son Pål Jørgen. The main adventure was the drive across the Henry Mountains from the east (Hwy. 95) and all the way to Capitol Reef National Park on the west side. We saw deer, then bigger elk, quite a good number of them. The highlight of the drive was coming directly across a large herd of wild buffalo. These buffalo have been here since 1941 when a number of animals were moved from Yellowstone National Park. We spotted quite a few "baby buffalo", so the animals seem to be doing fine in this wilderness area.
The hike to Mount Ellen is rather short and trivial, but nice as a family tour. We left the car around 0730 and arrived at Mount Ellen in less than one hour. We spent about one hour at the summit with snacks and water. The view is impressive and the colors and variations of the landscape to the west (Capitol Reef) is just "unreal" (at least for a Norwegian). We were back at the car around 1000, resuming our nice drive towards Capitol Reef. As we arrived in the National Park, dark clouds had assembled and a brief period of rain, thunder and lightning just underscored how weather do change and why an early start (like ours) is highly recommended for trips like this one.