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Big Elk Creek Trail #097

 4.8 (4)

One of the best lesser known trails in all of SE Idaho!

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7,479' 2,280 m


5,675' 1,730 m


2,184' 666 m


380' 116 m



Avg Grade (2°)


Max Grade (19°)

Dogs Unknown

Features Fall Colors · River/Creek · Spring · Swimming · Wildflowers · Wildlife

Bears can be found in the area, especially early in the year before the trail becomes populated.

Runner Notes

This is 100% runnable but watch your footing as overgrowth can sometimes hide protruding rocks.


Flowing into the Palisades Reservoir is a large creek known as Big Elk Creek. Along the creek runs this easy to follow singletrack trail. With minimal elevation gain, this makes for a great trail for small children or for beginner runners.

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 run. 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 run 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 run” 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!

Flora & Fauna

Moose, elk, deer, bear, wildflowers, pine trees, quaky aspen, and various birds.


Shared By:

Jeff Fullmer

Trail Ratings

  4.8 from 4 votes


  4.8 from 4 votes
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8 Views Last Month
3,390 Since Jul 13, 2017



Typical terrain and scenery for the trail
Jul 13, 2017 near Irwin, Not set (ID )
Heading onto the Cabin Cr. trail off of the Big Elk Cr. trail are fields of flowers in early summer.
Jul 19, 2017 near Irwin, Not set (ID )
A moose found towards the end of this trail.
Jul 13, 2017 near Irwin, Not set (ID )
Dawn or dusk, mid day or night... there is no wrong time to run this trail!
Jul 13, 2017 near Irwin, Not set (ID )
Looking back in the direction of the trailhead.
Jul 13, 2017 near Irwin, Not set (ID )
Plenty of wildflowers early in the summer.
Jul 13, 2017 near Irwin, Not set (ID )



Current Trail Conditions

Add Your Check-In


Jul 28, 2018
Allan Schoenberg
Nov 20, 2017
Chris Carney
Great trail. We made a late season run to the 6.5 mile mark in preparation for next year's Palisades Ultra Trail Series. Creeks were cold and snow… 13.1mi