Date hiked: 07/01/16
Head Count (how many other hikers I saw): 0 groups
With another storm riddled day settling in over the San Juans, north it is. But yet again, a charcoal wall of clouds hangs low over Monument Mesa as I pull into the lot at Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction.
Against my better judgement, I marched ahead, starting off along the Liberty Cap Trail. In just a short half mile, the first intersection crops up. The right fork will bring you on a more direct path towards the Liberty Cap and the Ute Canyon trails, while the left leads to the steep, circuitous Corkscrew Loop. I took the left.
This trail was blazed in 1908, and is one of John Otto’s first. It leads through the rocky outcrops of the Precambrian bedrock found in this area, some sections little more than a narrow shelf carved right into the hard cliffside. The trail grows steep, but the payoff is in inspiring views of Grand Junction and the Book Cliffs. After nearly a mile of climbing, the trail whips back around to the west, flattens out, then joins up with the Ute Canyon Trail.
Much of what’s left now is easy going. At the mouth of Ute Canyon, the landscape opens up, but with each step, the walls close in until they envelop the trail. Junipers and pinyons grow wild in the native grasses, cottonwoods and willows popping up near the dry streambed.
A word of warning I wish I had going into this: the Ute Canyon Trail is unimproved, and the undergrowth has really taken over. You’ll be slogging through a lot of itchy weeds and grass, which unfortunately seem to attract the bees. Because of this, the trail also grows faint and hard to follow at times.
For two miles, the entire route stretches out ahead of you until the canyon makes a sharp U-turn. Where the dirt dead ends at the canyon wall, the route grows trickier, climbing over 500 feet in just a half mile to reach the western trailhead at Rim Rock Drive.
As languid storm clouds roll into town, I make it out of Ute Canyon just in time for a sprinkle. Then stupidly, I decided to push my luck, hoping for another decent half hour of hiking to make it up to Liberty Cap. For a more detailed account of this trail, check out my Liberty Cap Trail entry.
Nearing the end, the clouds really opened up. This trail becomes an ice rink when it’s wet.
N/A. For some reason, my GPS didn’t log this trip.
(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 Ute Canyon 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.