Engelmann Peak is another reasonably easy Class 2, Front Range summit accessible to most passenger vehicles. While it's possible for stronger parties to include Engelmann on a longer day with Parnassus and Bard, our suggested route is much less frequented and offers a quick and simple, single summit day.
From I-70, whether east or westbound, take the exit (232) for US 40 that goes over Berthoud Pass to Winter Park. Follow the highway to Empire, then to the small town of Berthoud Falls. From the center of Empire, it's about 11.9 miles to the turnoff on the left (south side of highway) that comes just before the first switchback that begins the climb on US 40 to Berthoud Pass. The road you're turning onto is CR 202 that goes to the Henderson Mine. Follow this paved road west for .6 mile and make a left turn onto FR146, also known as the Wood's Creek Road. On Google Earth this road is identified as FR 203. The road becomes graded gravel and will climb steeply in places to the trailhead. We measured the driving distance as 3.2 miles from the Henderson Mine Road. The Wood's Creek Road will take you by several evaporation ponds and two reservoirs. The upper one is called "Urad Reservoir." About half way up this road, the condition will deteriorate some and you'll encounter more potholes and cobble that slows driving, hence the recommendation for a higher clearance vehicle. For those accessing our suggested route for Engelmann Peak via Ruby Creek, park at these coordinates just a little north of where Ruby Creek crosses the road: N 39° 45' 13.58" W 105° 49' 29.75". For the Hassell Lake trail, parking can be found in the vicinity of the crossing of Woods Creek and primitive camping is available as well.
Primitive camping is available in the vicinity of the trailhead with several sites to choose from. The worst night we have ever experienced in the mountains was at this location. After climbing Hassell in the later afternoon, we returned to our vehicle and decided to spend a Friday night here. As the evening wore on, more and more vehicles poured into the trailhead area. All the possible campsites were quickly taken and others had to drive back down the road. Two different parties proceeded to engage in boistrous partying that continued on through most of the night. With no regard for other campers, they played loud music, shot off guns and talked and yelled loudly. One group continued doing this until 2:00 AM, the other until 4:00 AM. We needed to get up by 5:30 AM. We got all of an hour and a half of sleep that night and left swearing that we would never again camp at-large on the Front Range ever again. Moral of this story - camp here at your own risk.
There is a fee-type National Forest campground called "Mizpah" on the south side of US 40 just east of Berthoud Falls. This campground has 10 sites suitable for tent or RV, vault toilets and water by pump. The Arapaho National Forest website indicates the campground is currently closed because of culvert damage and associated road damage. You should check with the forest service before trying to utilize this spot. If you can camp here, you may at least get a better night's sleep.
Note: In writing up this route we have found difficulty in finding map data that seems to correspond to how our written account describes our climb. The FS Topo map from 2016 appears to show the road that turns off to the left that we describe taking. However the coordinates for that appear to match up with a narrow avalanche gully that comes down off the north ridge of Engelmann just north of the summit. While the USGS map shows this very narrow gully, the FS Topo map does not. To further confuse things, we are reasonably certain that we came out a little south of the Engelmann summit, which again does not seem to jive with the road route to the left as shown on the FS Topo map. That would tend to bring you out on the ridge north of the summit. Thus - use these directions and our route on the map cautiously. What would probably be the most reliable thing to do is to head up the main Ruby Creek trail/road, take the first road turning off to the left that you see and find the old cabin. From there, most any thought-out route will get you up to Englemann.
To begin this route, park as indicated in the trailhead directions at a location just north of where Ruby Creek crosses the road that heads back to the Hassell Lake trailhead. An older road takes out from there that heads SSE, contouring uphill through heavy forest. For the first mile the road is a little rocky but fairly easy walking. There's a towering waterfall that will come into view on a side fork of Ruby Creek. In less than a mile, you will come to a fork in the road. The fork that continues straight ahead will continue up Ruby Creek to the south, then turn west to switchback several times up the east flank of the NE ridge of Woods Peak. The left fork is what we chose to follow mainly because it appeared to head in the general direction of Englemann. We came to what appeared to be irrigation hoses that were being used to water the top of an old mound of tailings. Strange. We continued to follow the old road around the tailings and northward toward what appeared to be a private cabin area. There did not appear to be any occupants present, but it was clear that the cabin was recently inhabited. We avoided the property and headed up through thinning forest to gain a minor, west ridge of Engelmann.
Hike up the ever steepening ridge and eventually emerge out of the woods at a pleasant timberline area (where we spotted a lone, bull elk). Continue on up the ridge, leaving the trees behind and hike up steeper tundra. There is nothing difficult to report about the hike other than the steepness and having to work without trail through the forest. The minor ridge will bring you to the summit plateau. Hike over to the summit on flower-strewn tundra. It took us 2:05 to cover the 3,100 feet of elevation to the top.
At the top, looking south there stretches a vast area of tundra leading over to Robeson and Bard and to the southwest, there's a great view of Hassell. Return by your ascent route. We managed to find our way back to the vicinity of the old cabin, picked up the old roadbed that took us back to the main road by Ruby Creek and then on out. Round-trip time was about 4 hours for us. We did find some nice Jacob's Ladder to photograph and in mid-July, many wildflowers were coming into bloom, however, this overall route did not offer as nice an assortment as Hassell Peak.