Round Trip Distance: 16 miles
Elevation: 4979-6108 feet
Cellphone: 0-4 bars
Usage: Hiking - Equestrian
(biking and seasonal OHV in Coal Canyon)
Time: 7 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Coal Canyon
Attractions: Wild horses, solitude
View Hoodoo Canyon in a larger map
Hoodoo Canyon lies behind the Mt. Garfield area of the Little Book Cliffs. The entire trail is within the Wild Horse Range and Little Book Cliffs Wilderness Study Area. Only foot and horse travel are allowed on the Hoodoo Canyon trail. Motorized vehicles and mountain bikes are only allowed on the Coal Canyon road. To access the Coal Canyon trailhead take the Cameo exit off Interstate 70, east of Palisade, and travel up the dirt road past the power plant for approximately 2 miles. The road is usually easily traveled with 2-wheel drive vehicles.
We parked at the Coal Canyon trailhead and proceeded up Coal Canyon on foot after passing through the locked gates. This gate is only open for vehicle travel in the summer months. We had hiked for less than a mile when we came upon the first small herd of wild horses. We saw various herds, some at a long distance, about every mile or two of the hike.
The road made for some pretty easy hiking. The elevation gained steadily the further we hiked up the canyon. The picture above is a good example of the signs that mark the various trails. The signs were plentiful except on the upper section of Hoodoo Canyon towards its junction with the Spring Creek trail. A problem arises from the many horse tracks that criss-cross the trail. The horses travel and graze pretty much wherever they please and not very many people hike this trail. The further you hike the less used the trail is and the harder it is to know for sure if you are on the right path.
We followed the road to a gas well were it became increasingly steeper. The road continued to wind its way up the hill where we found several trail markers within a tenth of a mile of each other. At about 3.9 miles into our journey we came to the beginning of the Hoodoo Canyon trail and bid farewell to the road. According to our BLM map the Hoodoo Canyon trail would continue for 4.5 miles where it would meet up with the Spring Creek trail or you could continue to hike on what would then be the Ute Trail.
The Hoodoo Canyon trail was immensely more enjoyable hiking than the Coal Canyon trail even though the road was easier to travel on. We saw more wild horses and even some bighorn tracks. At one point we came upon some very small bighorn scat that was surely made by a spring lamb. We also saw some fairly fresh deer scat. The deer and bighorn scat are easy to distinguish. The deer scat is smooth and round and the bighorn scat has flat spots which give it a more irregular shape.
We turned around at Spring Creek and made our way back to Coal Canyon. It would have been a little shorter to take the Spring Creek trail down to Main Canyon and back to the trailhead but there is still enough snow and mud on the south facing slopes to make the hiking pretty tough. I'll return at some later date and hike up Spring Creek.
Coal Canyon appears to have been suitably named. There were lots of places where coal seams were exposed. It's amazing to think that we were walking through an ancient swamp.
We were the only vehicle at the trailhead when we left. During our absence several more vehicles had arrived along with a couple of horse trailers. We had been out for over 7 hours so a lot of people may have come and gone in that time. I went through 100 ounces of water and 60 ounces of Powerade. If I would have had another Powerade I would have drank it. This hike could be shortened by about 6 or 7 miles if you wait until the gate is opened and drive as far as the gas well. Currently, the gate is open from May 1st to December 1st. If you hike the loop by going down the Spring Creek trail it is supposedly only 14 miles. This is a good place to see lots of horses and for us it was total solitude. The hoodoos were pretty unimpressive except the 3 in the photo I posted. If you want to see them for yourself all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.