The trail can be a bit loose, dusty, and rocky in sections. Unlike other trails in the area, this one is not as frequently used so you may be on your own - come prepared.
Upper Elk Loop is a more remote trail that packs plenty of challenges into a relatively short loop. The trail can be accessed from either Upper Elk Road (891.2)
or the Upper Elk Loop Connector
both located on the south side of Leland Creek Road (FS 159).
Starting from Upper Elk Road (891.2)
, the trail begins with an immediate, half-mile climb to the junction of the lollipop loop. You can choose to go either left or right. Either way, you are in for a grueling climb, so it just depends on if you want to get it over with sooner or later. If you don't want to defer the climb, take a right and continue the long haul up.
The trail will continue to climb for the next 1.5 miles with some switchbacks thrown in to alleviate the steeper portions. The grade is never that steep, but the difficulty lies in the elevation you are gaining - you'll top out near 10,700 ft at the top of the loop.
Now you can enjoy the fruits of your labor, as the trail from mile two to mile five is a steady and long downhill. There are a couple sections that can be loose and rocky, so watch your footing, but otherwise the downhill is a nice reprieve. Around mile five, you'll come to the junction with Upper Elk Loop Connector
. If you are done climbing for the day, take this to bail out to Leland Creek Road. If you haven't had your fill of uphill, continue on.
The last mile is a climb back to the initial junction, and there are a couple steep sections just to remind you that your legs and lungs are already tired. Once you come to the trail junction, just retrace your steps back to Upper Elk Road (891.2)
to finish out the loop.