Round Trip Distance: 11.3 miles
Elevation: 5184 - 7600 feet
Cellphone: 0-4 bars
Usage: Hiking - Equestrian - Dogs
Biking (Cottonwood Creek)
Time: 5 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Rapid Creek
Main attractions: Abundant wildlife
View Rapid Creek in a larger map
The Rapid Creek Trail is on the northwest side of the Grand Mesa just outside of Palisade, Colorado. The trail climbs over 2400 feet as it follows along Rapid Creek to Cabin Reservoir. For this hike I incorporated the Cottonwood Creek Road, as a return route, to form an 11 mile loop. The Rapid Creek and Cottonwood Creek roads are controlled by the Town of Palisade for access to their water storage reservoirs. The upper section of the Rapid Creek road is only open to horseback and foot traffic.
When you look up from the trailhead you can see a prominent little hill that is a little over 7700 feet above sea level. Rapid Creek is on the left side of the mountain and Cottonwood Creek is on the right. You can hike up either way but if you are going to do the whole loop the Cottonwood Creek side is shorter but steeper. I saw horse and foot tracks going up both drainages but they all turned around before reaching the top of either one.
The first 3/4 mile of the trail is along a gravel road that passes through a stretch of private property. One of the property owners waved at me all friendly like so that was pretty cool.
The road the trail begins on runs up the left side of the Rapid Creek drainage and eventually stops at a dead end. There is a trail that begins .83 tenths of a mile from the trailhead on the right side of the road that passes through a red gate. The trail cuts straight across to Cottonwood Creek.
Rather than following the trail over to Cottonwood Creek I turned left where it crossed the Rapid Creek road and began heading up Rapid Creek.
Both drainages had a lot of turkey tracks and I could hear them gobbling a few times. Turkeys are the hardest darn things to sneak up on. They must have bionic hearing or something. I was able to get within about 50 feet of about 5 or 6 of them and snap a few pictures before they trotted off.
Here is a shot of some turkey tracks on the right side of some elk tracks.
The road was pretty busy. Here's a bear track. This critter had been eating so many current berries that it had the scours. You could follow it's splats of scat all the way down Cottonwood Creek and over to one of the orchards at the mouth of Rapid Creek.
The road levels off at a clearing about 3.75 miles into the hike. You can actually get on 47 4/10 road from here and make your way over to the town of Mesa. If you like hiking through big lava boulders you can climb all the way up the north side of the mesa.
Just past the cabin you can see the next mile or so of the trail stretching out in the distance. The direction changes towards the southwest and the trail heads over to Cottonwood Creek.
I turned right at Cabin Reservoir and walked along the fence to the west side of the reservoir. Once there I got on the pipeline trail and followed it down to the Cottonwood Creek road. It would have been a lot easier if I had kept following the trail around the reservoir and got on the road from there.
There is a red gate at the head of Cottonwood Canyon that you don't want to go through. All the red arrows are from a race that came up Cottonwood Canyon and headed off through the gate. It had taken me 3 hours and 15 minutes to make it this far. That was with lots of stops to take pictures.
The road down Cottonwood Creek was pretty sweet. It sure was nice to be going downhill for a change. I had a good cellphone signal all day except for a short distance in about the middle of the canyon along Cottonwood Creek.
You have to watch for the connecting trail at the bottom of Cottonwood Creek that leads back over to the road the trailhead is on. If you continue down the Cottonwood Creek road you end up on private property and have to do a lot of back tracking. There aren't any trail markers but the trail itself is pretty well worn. If you miss it you will eventually come to a little solar station and the junction of the Rapid Creek road. You can walk back up the Rapid Creek road and get back on the trail from there.
I saw quite a few animals while I was hiking today. This squirrel was only about 5 feet away. I also got a good shot of a little buck and a rabbit. I saw more rabbits today than I have seen all year on all of my hikes.
I've been wanting to hike this loop for years and today I finally got around to it. I've hiked up to the head of Cottonwood Creek before by climbing over the ridge from the Ute Petroglyph Trail. That is one heck of a climb.
I went through 100 ounces of water and 80 ounces of Gatorade on this hike along with a bagel and an energy bar. You can do a lot shorter hikes than the whole loop at Rapid Creek and you might see some wildlife while you're at it. I saw deer and rabbits within the first mile. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.