Round Trip Distance: 7 miles
Elevation: 5056 - 5592 feet
Cellphone: 2-5 bars
Usage: Hiking - Biking - Equestrian - Dogs
Time: 2 hrs. 30 mins.
Facilities: Vault toilet
Trailhead: North Fruita Desert
Attractions: Scenic views, deer, coyotes, camping
View Chutes and Ladders in a larger map
The Chutes and Ladders trail is located in the North Fruita Desert Area, at the end of 18 Road, about 8 miles northwest of Grand Junction. The area is popularly referred to as simply '18 Road'. Working with various groups in the area the BLM has set aside various sections of the land for ATV use and mountain biking. The trail area at the end of 18 road is open exclusively to hiking, mountain biking and some equestrian. There is a campground with vault toilets and about 35 camping spots equipped with picnic tables and fire pits. The camping is currently free of charge but there has been talk in the past of introducing a fee of $10/night.
I have noticed that a lot of people that hike the Chutes trail park at the upper end of 18 road by the campground and hike the first mile or so of the trail and then return back the way they came. For this hike I parked at the North Fruita Desert trailhead and made use of the Prime Cut trail to take me to the beginning of the Chutes trail and the Edge Loop trail to get me back to the trailhead. By combining the 3 trails it formed a nice 7 mile loop to hike.
I began by crossing 18 Road and descending the hill to the stock pond for the beginning of the loop.
The Prime Cut trail follows a gully that parallels 18 Road towards the Book Cliffs. It is a fun hike as the trail meanders up the wash. The juniper trees become thicker the closer you get to the cliffs. I came upon 2 small herds of deer that appeared to have been visiting the various stock ponds judging from their tracks.
The Prime Cut trail extends just over 2 miles before coming to the junction at the base of the cliffs where the Chutes trail begins. The Prime Cut trail continues to the right toward 18 Road and the Chutes trail heads off to the right.
The Chutes trail is pretty steep at first but after climbing a couple of short ridges I was quickly at the highest point of the hike.
The views are pretty grand looking out over the valley. To the east you can see along the front of the Little Book Cliffs with the Grand Mesa in the background. To the south you can see the peaks of Uncompahgre, Wetterhorn and Mt. Sneffels in the Wind River mountain range that are all over 14,000 feet in elevation. Beyond the canyons of the Colorado National Monument and the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness area you can see the crowns of the La Sal mountains.
The Chutes trail works its way across 4 different washes as it heads eastward. Each wash gets a little easier and a little shallower than the previous one. Right around 3 miles the trail runs into a double track that leads south in the wrong direction. Watch for some rocks across the road that hint for you not to go that way. The Chutes trail keeps heading east at this point. You might notice tracks heading down the double track but the double track isn't the same as the Chutes trail and I'm not sure if it ever reconnects with it.
After crossing the last wash the Chutes trail breaks out into the open heading south. Its kind of like crossing the Serengeti from here. You might spot a coyote in this area. They are usually yipping up a pretty good chorus in the early morning and evening hours.
Right about 4.1 miles from the trailhead you come to a 4-way junction where the Chutes, Vegetarian and Edge Loop trails all meet. I turned right at the first post that shows the Edge Loop to the left and continued less than 50 yards to the next post where I went to the left to follow the Chutes and Ladders connector trail. That is what it is named on the map but the post shows it to be more of the Edge trail. The Vegetarian trail is the right fork.
The next trail junction can be hard to find when there aren't any tracks to follow. If you measure 1 mile from the last junction with the Vegetarian trail you will be at the corner of a large fenced off area. You need to turn right and follow the Edge Loop trail to get back to the trailhead. The trail starts out following the fence line and continues west through 2 large valleys before you reach the finish.
On this trip I started hiking after work and as you can see the sun had gone down before I finished. The temperature was only in the 50's F when I began hiking but I still managed to go through 40 ounces of water. In the summer months I would probably go through at least 4 times that much. There isn't any water except maybe the stock ponds and I wouldn't even try to filter that stuff. You can pretty much hike in this area year round. Each season of the year seems to have its own special attraction. The Chutes and Ladders trail might be the prettiest of all the 18 Road trails. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.