Date hiked: 07/30/16
Mileage: 10.1 miles; 3.5 hrs
Head Count (how many other hikers I saw): 2 groups
As one of the world’s largest mesas, Grand Mesa is recognized more for it’s long, flat traverses rather than its leg-busting summit climbs. But the Crag Crest Trail offers a striking exception.
Located at the epicenter of The Mesa, Crag Crest is another designated national recreation trail, much like Ouray’s Bear Creek Trail, aiming to foster public health. And drawing thousands of visitors each year, the trail is thriving in success.
Beginning at either the eastern approach from Eggleston Lake off of Lakeshore Drive (where I started), or the western approach off of Highway 65 (Grand Mesa Scenic Byway), it’s best to get the hard part out of the way to find safety in the canopy below the ridge before the usual afternoon thunderstorms roll in.
Taking the loop counterclockwise from the Eggleston trailhead, the trail starts out at its low point of 10,167 feet just east of the Crag Crest Campground. Heading eastward towards upper Eggleston Lake little more than one-third of a mile away, the western shores unfold and the trail continues up an easy meadow sporting shore to shore views.
With 300 feet of elevation gain, the trail hits its second lake, Bulfinch Reservoir number 1, before the first real push towards the crest.
Over the next 8/10ths of a mile, two switchbacks haul you 1,000 feet up packed dirt and stable scree-covered slopes to the eastern inlet of the crest. Along the crest itself, the exertion tapers off, as the trail only gains about another 100 feet over the next mile.
From its vantage point along the crest of the exposed knife-edge ridge, even a hazy day can bring views that stretch to the mountains of Grand Junction sixty miles to the northwest, and a bird’s-eye view to dozens of the 300 lakes and reservoirs scattered like volcanic potholes across Grand Mesa.
From its high point of 11,189 feet, the trail gradually loses steam. At mile four, the route levels out at the base of the crest near Wolverine Lake, and soon after, trail #712 splits off towards Cottonwood Lakes. Heading straight, another fork comes with access to the western trailhead. Taking the left, the lower half of the the Crag Crest Loop unfolds behind a series of lakes and meadows in the forested flatlands.
(From Highway 92): From Highway 92, turn north onto Highway 65. After 26.8 miles, turn right onto Baron Lake Drive, then in 2.5 miles turn left onto Lake Shore Drive. The parking lot for Crag Crest is on the right side of the road, 1 mile further.
30.3 miles, 46 minutes