OverviewBig Elk mountain is found just west of the Palisades Reservoir and is visible from the highway as you drive it. A rather dominant peak for the west side, it isn't visited very often by peakbaggers. Hunters often reach the summit during the hunting season. Peakbagging is not all that popular for those who use this mountainous area and only those who are motivated by prominence or range lists will consider making the effort. With 2726' of prominence, Big Elk comes in at #37 on the top 100 Idaho prominence peak list.
A rough road, suitable for ATV's and those who want to test their vehicles can make a 5 mile drive that puts them within two miles of the summit but most sensible drivers may want to park off the main road and hike from that point. The road is rocky and rough so don't say I didn't warn you. It is no place to take a low clearance vehicle. The road is narrow and steep in places and sometimes I felt like I was driving up a stream bed.
Getting ThereFrom Idaho Falls, take highway 26 about 50 miles from the junction of highways 26 and 20 on the east side of Idaho Falls. Passing through Swan Valley, watch for the road that goes across the top of the Palisades Reservoir Dam and take the road that becomes FS 058 and go left at where the road splits and head south on it as it heads for Bear Creek (mentioned to be 6 miles on the sign). Stay on this road and go past Bear Creek for another 2 miles, watching for the signed turnoff for the Elk Mountain road.
From this turnoff to the end of the road, it is 5 very rough and rugged miles, where you will gain over 2100 feet in those 5 miles. I know one person who chose to walk it from the turnoff and was happy with his choice.
I drove it in my 2005 Tacoma and while it made it fine, there were places I was glad not to meet another vehicle. The only traffic I saw on the road were two ATV's who were leaving the "trailhead" when we returned.
If you are coming from the south via Alpine, the turnoff at the top of the dam is about 18 miles. Then follow the same directions. You will note after crossing the dam, that the Calamity Campground is down a road to the left. You will continue up the washboarded road to the FS 058 junction.
Red TapeThe peak is on National Forest land and I am not aware of any red tape.
Targhee National Forest
1405 Hollipark Dr.
Idaho Falls, Idaho 83403
RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES
46 Hwy. 20
Ashton, Idaho 83420
CampingSeveral campgrounds are available in the area and the one I stayed in for a couple nights was the Calamity Campground. Oriented to boaters and the RV/trailer set, there is a nice section for tent campers in the "C" section. Some of the campsites are first come first serve and some are able to be reserved. The camp hosts were friendly and helpful.
The northern most campground of the Palisades Reservoir is named Calamity and can be reached by crossing the dam. With multiple loops hugging the steep sides of a ravine, camp sites with extra wide parking aprons for boat trailers, Calamity might be the most popular campground on the Reservoir. Views from most of the camp sites are delightful but best from Loop C, the steepest and highest loop in the campground. A huge boat ramp and parking area add to this campground's popularity.
For information on getting a reservation at Calamity, check this link.
There are other campgrounds nearby but I refer you to the National forest site for more information at this link.
Dispersed camping is available and I saw many places where people had camped off of the FS 058 road.
RouteLeaving the end of the road, head up the ATV track that is no longer being used since it is now deteriorated at the beginning. Follow this track as it switchbacks up to a saddle that has brown trail marker and take the right fork. Stay on this trail as it winds around the south side and when you feel right about it, leave the trail and strike out for the summit through some moderate knee high brush. Upon reaching the ridge, follow it to the summit area that is marked with a small cairn containing a glass register bottle. No benchmarks were found but on a clear day, the views are bound to be nice. I was up there on a day when forest fires elsewhere had made the atmosphere more like Los Angeles with that smoggy look that dulls and blurs the surrounding area.
NotesVictor Zhou and I started off by climbing up South Putnam peak the day before.
Big Elk was our second peak of the trip and we had considered going after Black Butte in Montana as well. After doing Big Elk, I was in the area so I stayed the night at the Calamity campground in loop C while Victor had the long drive back to Salt Lake City. I made a hike up Red Ridge the next day since it was close to the campground and then nabbed Black Mountain on my way home on tuesday the 14th. The air conditions of this usually pristine area was awful, almost like being in Los Angeles thanks to the air pollution caused by all the Idaho fires. Still, I felt good about picking up 4 peaks in 4 days and look forward to getting back to this area for several more peaks that are on the Wyoming side of the Palisades - Alpine area.
Pictures....With the smoky conditions we encountered, I am hopeful that one or more of you that have good pictures of this mountain will be willing to share them for the sake of this page. I took a lot of pictures but most are of smoky skies and are dull in appearence. The few pics I did put up don't really do this fine mountain justice. The picture taken from the Palisades Reservoir belongs to Victor Zhou and I am hoping he will share more of his pictures (many he posted on facebook). He has several that are far superior to my offering.
NearbyFor Red Ridge, see the summitpost page I have posted for it. Easy to find by clicking on nearby peaks.
For Black Mountain, click here for information from my visit.