Date hiked: 07/17/16
Mileage: 13.5 mi; 5 hr
Head Count (how many other hikers I saw): 2 groups
The first mile of the trail brings you up from the Grand Valley onto a Precambrian bench which sits over Junction like a stocky granite shelf. Continuing straight at the intersection with Ute Canyon, the route levels out a quick minute before its final .8 mile stretch to Liberty Cap. Climbing a lofty 1,200 feet in just this short spurt, most of the elevation gain happens here.
Liberty Cap doesn’t come fully into view until the final, moderately exposed switchback, where it then surges into sight. The landform is actually a 160 million year old lithified sand dune slowly being sculpted into shape by the forces of Mother Nature. But, with a peculiar resemblance to the magic mushroom of the same name, the name could be psychedelically influenced. It is Colorado after all.
From here, a backcountry trail rambles west across the gently sloping Monument Mesa on the rim of Ute Canyon, gaining only five-hundred feet over a span of six miles. The route was at one time a jeep trail, though now it’s in the process of revegitation. A full, improved, loop along the southern edge of the mesa was proposed in the 1970s, but the controversy in turn closed it to all motorized traffic. Remnants of the trail’s past life comes in the form of the odd hitching post every so often and deep ruts in the mud.
Trapped in a bottleneck straddling both the Ute and Monument Canyons, the southern view first opens up to a beautiful vista of Ute Canyon, then at about 3.25 miles, the trail brushes past wide views of Monument Canyon, where Kissing Couple and Independence Monument are just out of view. Here, a faint cairn-marked trail branches off towards Otto’s Bathtub.
The remainder of the route is uneventful, until the trail starts creeping up on the western trailhead. Radio towers atop Black Ridge slip onto the horizon, and in a matter of less than a mile, the sounds of traffic on Rimrock Road signal the end of road.
With the sunset came a much needed reprieve from the heat. On a hot summer’s day, the piñon and juniper painted caprock offers little cover against the sun. I burned through my Camelback like there was no tomorrow, and by the end of it, I was still longing for another couple liters.
(From Grand Junction): From I-70/Highway 6/Highway 50, take the Redlands Parkway South exit. Follow Redlands Parkway for about 3 miles and turn left onto Wildwood Drive. Soon after, curve right to stay on Wildwood Drive, and in .4 miles, turn right into the Liberty Cap Trailhead.
3.6 miles; 7 min
Fees: If you start the Liberty Cap Trail from the western trailhead on Rimrock Drive, you must pay $10/car to enter Colorado National Monument. The eastern trailhead off of Wildwood Drive is free.