Round Trip Distance: 6.5 miles (combined)
Difficulty: Easy - Very Strenuous
Elevation: 4840-5760 feet
Cellphone: 3-4 bars
Usage: Hiking - Rock Climbing - No dogs
Time: 4 hrs.
Trailhead: Park along South Camp Rd. between E. Dakota Dr. and Rimrock Rd.
View Red Canyon in a larger map
There isn't an official trailhead to provide access to Red Canyon and Columbus Canyon. That is probably because there aren't any official trails in either canyon. As far as that goes, once you hike past Gypsy Towers there aren't any other trails at all. The trail is easy and kid friendly through the wash and for the first quarter mile past the NPS boundary. The hike in the lower part of the canyon is very fun and extremely beautiful. It makes for a very nice 2.5 mile round trip hike that everyone should enjoy. At least the section of the hike that is part of the Colorado National Monument. The wash leading into the mouth of the canyon, pressed upon by the surrounding homes, offers little in the way of esthetic's. The closer you get to the monument the more pleasant the hike through the wash becomes.
The wash can be accessed from South Camp Road between East Dakota Drive and Rimrock Road. The structure in the picture above is actually viewable from the satellite view of the Google Map.
It is one mile up the wash from South Camp Road to the Colorado National Monument boundary. The trail through the wash is a little hard to follow at first but the further you go the better it gets. It is hard to find any kind of trail at all when you first leave the road.
I hiked through the very pleasing lower canyon to the conjunction of the Red Canyon and Columbus Canyon. At this point I was about 1.35 miles from the South Camp Road. There were trails going up both canyons and a distinct trail that ran up the steep slope toward Gypsy Towers. From experience I have discovered that whenever I hike up any Precambrian ravine that before long I will come face to face with a towering granite wall. I opted to follow the trail heading up to Gypsy Towers and get above the obstacles that I was so sure I would run into otherwise. After gaining a few hundred feet in elevation I could see the spot in Columbus Canyon below me on the left side of the trail that would have blocked any access up that canyon.
I kept climbing the frozen talus and scree slope toward Gypsy Towers until it started leveling off around 5600 feet. I had gained almost 800 feet of elevation in the last half mile. The frozen ground actually made the climb easier as the rocks were more inclined to stay in place than slip beneath my feet. I had come on the hike today to explore Red Canyon but standing there below Gypsy Towers and gazing up Columbus Canyon I felt its beckoning call. I have always wanted to stand below Cold Shivers Point and look up from the bottom while others looked down from above.
After some easy hiking across the rounded sandy area above the Precambrian ravine toward the upper end of Columbus Canyon I picked out a line down the red Chinle slopes to get back into the bottom of the drainage. From here I could easily navigate the forest of boulders and cottonwoods in the wash the rest of the way to the head of the Canyon.
I came occasionally would find various pieces of vehicles sticking out of the ground such as a driveline and door handle. At one point I found what appeared to be a remnant of some type of equipment that looked like it could date back to the time when Rimrock Road was being constructed. It was crushed beneath a large boulder which gave me the impression that it's final resting place in the bottom of the canyon came about by some construction accident.
I enjoyed the solitude of exploring the upper end of the canyon even though I could here the occasional vehicle pass by on Rimrock Road hundreds of feet above. I found a couple of frisbees that had been hurled into the canyon from Cold Shivers Point. I picked them up and packed them out but this old Coors beer can I left on the rock where someone had placed it. The can predated the pull-tab and had been opened using a good old fashioned can opener.
I hiked back out of Columbus Canyon and climbed back up to the point below Gypsy Towers. I've read of rock climbers that climb the towers on occasion so I took several pictures of them from different angles.
I decided to hike around the towers and into Red Canyon for about a mile or so to see what it would take to get to the head of that canyon. I found a place where I could angle down to the bottom that was mostly above the Precambrian. From there it looked like a fairly easy hike for several miles to the head of the canyon. I didn't have enough daylight left to make the trip today but I will keep it on my list for another time. The side of the canyon that I was on was trapped in the perpetual shade of winter and made for pretty chilly hiking.
I headed back out of the canyon the same way that I entered. When I was almost down the steep slope below the tower I remembered that I hadn't actually seen any spot in the Precambrian ravine in Red Canyon that would stop someone from hiking up the canyon that way. I found a trail that dropped into the ravine and followed it up the canyon. Within a half mile a came to the impassible crux. To go beyond this point would require either rock climbing skills and equipment or an extraordinary effort to climb the precipice on the north side.
Satisfied with my findings I hiked back out of the canyon. It was very nice to once again be back in the warmth of the afternoon sun. The hike back through the wash to South Camp Road was like a walk in the park. Even though the temperatures for most of the hike barely hovered above freezing I managed to drink 100 ounces of water and 20 ounces of Gatorade. I don't always carry much more than 60 ounces this time of year but I wasn't sure what I was getting into so I loaded up with 140 ounces for this trip.
I hardily recommend hiking the lower area of these canyons and for the more hardy you might want to check out the area around Gypsy Towers. For the extreme adventurer you can make your way to the head of one of the canyons. Either way all you have to do is 'Take a hike!'