Elevation: 4560-5135 feet
Cellphone: 3-5 bars
Usage: Hiking - No bikes - No OHV
Time: 3 hrs. 25 min.
Trailhead: Kodels Canyon
View Kodels Canyon in a larger map
Kodels Canyon is the first major canyon west of the West Entrance to the Colorado National Monument. It is named after an old prospector hermit that once had a cabin in the mouth of the canyon. He dug the mine mentioned in this post and worked the claim for probably at least 30 years until around 1930. The first time I hiked Kodels Canyon I wasn't expecting a whole lot out of it. Boy, was I mistaken.
To access the trail there is a turn off along highway 340 across from Dinosaur Hill. There isn't a trailhead sign but there are a couple of signs on the fence that indicate there is a trail there and once you begin hiking there are trail markers at each of the forks. These trails can all be accessed from the Devils Canyon trailhead if you would rather park in a nicer area with a toilet.
We began this hike on a Friday afternoon thinking that it wouldn't take very long to hike a mile and a half up the canyon and turn around and hike out. Judging from the bar ditch parking area it didn't look very exciting. We passed through the fence and started up a small hill and came to the first trail marker at the top. We took the K1 branch that headed toward the canyon. A short distance further we came to the junction with the K3 trail but we stayed on the K1. A little further and we came to another K3 trail junction where it makes its loop back to the trail we were on.
At this point the trail started becoming more interesting as it wound through the junipers and down a hill. We continued following the K1 signs until we came to the junction of the K1 and K7 trails. Here we switched to the K7 trail that was heading straight towards the canyon. The K1 trail heads off to the west at this point where it joins up with the Devils Canyon trails.
After following the K7 trail for a while we came to a BLM sign that said no horses beyond this point. We had hiked 1 mile so far. This is also where all of the trail markers ended. The trail from this point was very distinct and didn't require any trail finding but there were a couple of forks that left us wondering.
We followed the trail to the left from the BLM sign as it curved around the hill and dropped into the wash. There were a few puddles of water from the rain we had a couple of days before but the trail itself was solid and dry. We continued hiking up the wash until we arrived at the Colorado National Monument fence 1.4 miles from the trailhead. We could see where people had been going under the fence but that seemed a little strange to us. The National Park Service is usually a little more hospitable than that so we walked up out of the wash to the right and found a gate where we were able to pass through.
The trail went up a hill a short distance and then made a fork. Ahead of us was an awesome jagged looking wall of the Precambrian era granite that seemed to block all access to the upper canyon. It was at this point that the book we had indicated we would have to turn around. That would have been a big mistake.
Since there weren't any trail markers we weren't sure which way to go. We knew we wanted to get a closer look at that big black wall of granite gneiss so we took the fork to the left that headed straight for it. In the side of the cliff we found the gated off entrance to Kodels gold mine. The gate was probably put there to keep people out and to allow bats easy access. That makes for a nice little bat habitat. Since there isn't any gold in these parts Kodel naturally was unsuccessful in his prospecting.
After inspecting the mine entrance I turned my attention back to the cliff. I could see a narrow slot where the water would cascade down during a storm. This looked like an awesome place for a little rock climbing so I did just that. Once I climbed to the top of the notch and could see the contrasting red Wingate sandstone canyon walls of the upper canyon I climbed back down and crossed back over to the mine entrance. I was satisfied that the notch provided access to the upper canyon but the climb wasn't for novices so I couldn't recommend it to any but the experienced rock climber. We decided to go back to the fork and see if there wasn't a better route to the upper canyon.
The other branch of the trail looked too well worn to reach an apparent dead end. But it seemed to head up the hill a ways and then just disappear. After following the trail up the hill, which was rather steep at this point, we eventually found our way easily up and over the granite wall and could see the upper reaches of Kodels Canyon.
We could tell from the topo map that the trail would probably have to come to a dead end at some point. The walls all around looked too steep for a trail. We followed the trail all the way up the canyon and it did eventually peter out on a mound of red dirt that was crowned with a few sandstone boulders. The setting was as serene as you could hope for and provided a perfect meditative atmosphere for the end of another long work week.
We rested for a while, taking in the sun and surroundings before making the trek back down the canyon. We spent quite a bit of time trying to get pictures of a hawk and a few ravens that were soring amongst the canyon walls as we worked our way down the trail. The shadows of the canyon walls preceded us until we reached the open area at the mouth of the canyon and broke out into the warm sunshine.
We had a nice hike back to the trailhead. We both agreed it was another great place to hike. It appeared the upper canyon area was a trail less frequently traveled and probably known by very few people.
I only went through 40 ounces of water on this hike and one protein bar. The days are getting a lot cooler and I find I'm needing a little less water.. The temperature in the valley was around 65 degrees. This is a very awesome place to hike and has a few things to offer that the other trails in the area lack. It definitely has a character all its own. If you would like to see the mine and the great black wall of granite and the upper area of Kodels Canyon for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.