Round Trip Distance: 16.7 miles
Elevation: 4740-5330 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Usage: Hiking -Dogs - Equestrian - Camping
Time: 7 hrs.
Attractions: Geology, bighorn sheep, wildflowers
View Lower Dominguez Canyon in a larger map
The Lower Dominguez Canyon is a good place to hike and enjoy a little more peace and solitude than hiking in the Upper Dominguez Canyon. When you get to the parking area you will discover that there is a trailhead on each end of the parking lot. The trailhead on the north end of the parking area is for the river rats and the trailhead on the south end is for hikers.
I departed from the trailhead through the green Powder River gate and began hiking on the Bridgeport road next to the railroad tracks. The temperature was in the low 30's so I was wearing a lower layer of Under Armour Cold Gear. The sun had been up for about 15 minutes but it wasn't shining into the canyon yet.
After hiking a little over 3 tenths of a mile the road crossed the railroad tracks. A little over a mile from the trailhead I crossed the metal bridge that spans the Gunnison River. I noticed that the bridge had a little spring to it once I was about halfway across. That must make it pretty exhilarating for horse back riders. I suppose they have to dismount and lead their horse because of the low clearance but the bridge must move pretty good from the weight and motion of the horse.
Once I was across the bridge I followed the trail to the left and headed up the river. There are quite a few primitive camping sites along the river. They get used a lot by both backpackers and river rats. You need to bring your own porta-potty and I'm pretty sure there are no fires so if you want to cook you will need to bring a stove.
Just around the 1.7 mile mark the trail turned away from the river and headed into the canyon along the Big Dominguez creek. Take a look at the gate post on the left side. The post is an old wagon wheel axle. It looks like that gate has been there for quite awhile.
The trail to Lower Dominguez Canyon isn't marked. Neither of the trails are marked as far as that goes. At this point the trail is also the access road for a private land owner that lives a little ways up Lower Dominguez. The Lower Dominguez Canyon is straight ahead at this point and the Upper or Big Dominguez Canyon is off to the right. I could have left the road a quarter mile or so sooner and followed a trail that parallels the creek and meets up with the road where the road first crosses the creek.
The road crossed the creek about the 2.4 mile point of the hike. I hiked along the road as it traveled through the trees and then along the cliff on the east side of the canyon. Around 3 miles the road crossed the creek again. The creek was flowing enough water that I had to look for spots where I could cross and keep my feet dry. The water is crystal clear but I wouldn't drink it without filtering it. Giardia sucks bro!
Around 3.5 miles I came to the fence boundary for the private property. At this point the trail left the road and crossed to the east side of the creek. There were a lot of bighorn sheep tracks at this point and they all went around the fence and onto the private land. I spoke with some folks I met later on that said they had seen two herds of bighorn when they came in the day before.
I followed the trail for another 2 miles and came to the point where the canyon makes almost a 90 degree turn to the west. There are a lot of big game trails that crisscross with the main trail all the way up the canyon to this point and beyond. It's easy to get side tracked on the other trails. From this point on the best trail to take is along the north canyon wall. The other trails go through a lot of brush and willows and get hard to negotiate.
I came upon some cool looking hoodoo's a little further up the trail. I had trouble getting good pictures the way the sun was shining but this one wasn't too bad.
Every so often I would come across places where people were camping. There aren't any designated camping spots but primitive camping is permitted from here on up the canyon. Remember, the good camper will find a place away from the main trail to set up camp. There are plenty of good spots to choose from.
From this point the trail began looking a lot more like the trail in the Upper Dominguez Canyon. The stream was now passing through Precambrian granite gneiss. The trail varied from the black Precambrian to red Chinle.
I had a little trouble deciding at what point to turn around and head back. I wanted to get a better look at what lay ahead. I made my way past Poison Canyon and Wildhorse Draw until I was at Middle Canyon. I was showing a distance of 8.13 miles on my GPS and an elevation of 5330 feet. It was only 11 am but I didn't bring enough water to go much further and I didn't have my filter with me. I think to go any further I would have to turn the hike into a backpacking trip. From looking at BLM maps I know that the trail does eventually climb up and out of the canyon to the Black Point Trailhead and campground. I calculated that it would be roughly 11.5 more miles of hiking to reach that point.
I found a nice rock to set my stuff on and changed out of the Under Armour cold gear that I had been wearing. After that I started the trek back down the canyon. At the mouth of Poison Canyon I came across two couples on horseback that had stopped to have lunch. We had a nice visit while getting acquainted. I didn't mention it to them but I had enjoyed the way their horses had been conditioning the trail. There hadn't been a lot of traffic on the trail and it would have been a lot harder to follow in places if they hadn't left the tracks that they did.
The hike out was real enjoyable. At the 10.4 mile point of the hike I was rounding the bend in the canyon and heading north toward the private land. I reached the private land at 11 miles and passed by the other end and rejoined the road at 12.5 miles.
Do you know what sticks to you as good as a cocklebur but hurts a lot more? Yup! Actually it wasn't all that bad. I thought it looked cool so I had to take a picture.
I reached the confluence of the Big and Little Dominguez creeks at 13.4 miles and made a little detour here and walked up Big D about a quarter mile to see if there were any bighorn where we had seen them the week before. I didn't see any bighorn but there was a pretty constant stream of people coming and going. It was strange seeing so many people after spending the day in Lower Dominguez in mostly solitude.
I headed on down the trail and at 15 miles I was back at the Gunnison River. I stopped and watered a few cottonwood trees with one of the buckets they provide. There were some trees on the north end of the camping area that looked like they hadn't been getting much attention.
I was across the bridge and on the other side of the river at 15.6 miles. Sure was nice that they put that bridge there. I followed the road back to the trailhead and was showing 16.7 miles on the GPS. If it wasn't for the distance I would rate this hike as easy instead of moderate. I wasn't showing any bars on my cell phone whenever I checked it but I did get a text message in Middle Canyon and one around the confluence and I even received a call while I was walking out along the river. Rock on Verizon. This was a pretty nice hike and I saw a lot of country. If you want to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.