“A rare intermediate loop in the Sawtooths with something for everyone.”
— David Goodwin
Other than the rocky descent from the Elk Mountain trailhead, the family will all be able to do this loop.
An excellent mid-length ride for intermediate to experienced riders, this loop is a hoot. The loop is not as long nor does it have quite the elevation of nearby Potato Mountain or Fisher Creek, but it's well-maintained (usually) and the wildlife and wildflowers will be a great warm up for the epic rides in the Stanley Basin.
The trail is great for intermediate riders who want to hone all their skills -- there's a bit of everything, but not too much. Do this first, or at the end of a three-day visit to the area.
Need to Know
The meadow portion may be swampy before the end of June.
Ride this clockwise.
In your car, turn toward Stanley Lake from Highway 21 and before reaching the lake, look for open camping to the right (west). A small sign says "Elk Mountain Loop". Pull in and park just off the black top. This area is 'unimproved' camping (free) so find a place to park on the dirt, get on your bike, and head back on the blacktop toward Stanley Lake. When the road goes to dirt, follow the signs to the right through the trailhead and up the dirt road.
You'll have a couple of miles to grind up Elk Mountain Road on dirt doubletrack. The doubletrack switches back to the north, and you're less than a mile from singletrack. On the left, you'll see the Elk Mountain Trailhead with a sign-in box. Sign in and head up the trail.
Soon, it becomes downhill. The trail is pretty rocky here for about a mile. So, hone those technical skills. None of the rocks are steep or gnarly -- just enough to train your intermediate skills. When you open into Elk Meadow, the Elk Mountain Trail
heads off to the west (left).DON'T take this.
You'll get caught in a swamp. Rather, turn right onto Elk Meadows
You'll skirt the meadow and cross some bridges across sloughs. Be ready for some beautiful, rolling singletrack. Soon, you'll climb past a small pond on your left and up to an ATV trail. Go right up the hill, and it will return to singletrack. And, some fine singletrack it is!
Now you have a choice to make. Roll down some awesome high-speed singletrack through open meadows, or slow down to take in the views! After a bit, you'll come to another T, with signage that points to the Elk Mountain Loop. Turn right on another jeep trail and ride on back to the campground you started from. It's about 11 miles with 1000 feet of elevation.
History & Background
This used to be one of a triad of loops in the area: Elk Mountain, Fisher Creek, Knapp Creek. Now, Knapp Creek is less popular and Potato Mountain rounds out the loop triad.