Lower Coal Creek Trail

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 8 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 8314 - 9325 feet
Cellphone: 0-2 bars
Usage: Hiking - Biking - Equestrian - Dogs
Time: 6 hrs. 30 mins.
Facilities: Vault toilet
Trailhead: Wild Rose Picnic Area
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic sub alpine hike, wildlife, wildflowers
 

View Coal Creek in a larger map

The Coal Creek trail begins at the Wild Rose Picnic Area, just off of the Lands End Road, on the west side of the Grand Mesa, and wraps around the cliffs of the mesa into the Kannah Creek Basin. The upper end of the trail is 9 miles away on top of the mesa at Carson Lake. This hike covers the portion of the trail from the Wild Rose trailhead to the junction of the Coal Creek trail and the Coal Creek Basin trail.


When you drive up the Lands End Road the pavement ends at the Grand Mesa National Forest boundary. The Wild Rose Picnic Area is about 6 more miles up the dirt road. The trailhead for the Coal Creek trail is just across the first branch of North Kannah Creek as you are walking through the picnic area. The Coal Creek trail crosses quite a few little creeks along the way and the flow of these creeks is controlled in part by how much water they are releasing from the reservoirs on top of the mesa.


The first mile of the Coal Creek trail is pretty easy hiking as it climbs at a very gradual pace.


The second branch of North Kannah Creek was probably flowing as much as all the other creeks combined. A couple of the rocks were a little wobbly but not too bad. A pair of walking sticks come in pretty handy when crossing these creeks. Maybe one of these days I will take mine out of the garage and hook them onto my pack.


One really nice aspect of this hike is that it begins far enough up the side of the mesa that you are already above the pinon and juniper trees. Within the first half mile or so the trail is already passing through groves of aspens.


There is a marker at the 2 mile point that has the distance carved into it. The marker was laying on the ground when I found it but I recruited a few more rocks and propped it back up. The crest of the hill that you can see about a quarter mile ahead is the high point of the lower section of the Coal Creek trail.


From the crest of the hill the trail gives back about 300 feet of elevation gain. At this point the trail has crossed into the Kannah Creek Basin and is following along a bench below the cliffs of the mesa. The hiking is pretty easy from this point on. The brush gets pretty thick where it is encroaching upon the trail in places. Between that and the thistles and wild roses a pair of long pants is a must. Pants and a long sleeve shirt are probably the best attire for most hikes on the Grand Mesa. Dressed like that all you have to do is spray a little mosquito repellent on your neck and face and the backs of your hands and you can walk right through a swarm and come out unscathed.


I laid up under this spruce tree and waited for a heavy rain storm to pass. I had my raincoat but since there wasn't any lightening with the storm I still took advantage of the shelter.


Coal Creek runs a lot of water early in the summer and can be a little difficult to cross. It wasn't too bad on this day.


Once I got to Coal Creek the piles of bear scat seemed to be appearing every 20 feet or so. It was getting thick enough that I actually took my bear spray out of the holster, gave it a test fire, and put it in one of the cargo pockets of my pants where I could get to it faster.


After about 4 miles into the hike you come to the Switchback trail which leads up onto the top of the mesa and about 4-5 hundred feet past that is the junction of the Coal Creek Basin trail. This is the point where I turned around. The trail continues on around the mountain to Carson Lake passing the Farmers trail and the Deep Creek trail along the way.


There were a lot of bear tracks in the soft bentonite. This picture shows the print of a baby along side of an adult. Some of the tracks sank in far enough that you could see their claws. The claws on a bear are far enough up on their toes that they don't normally make an impression. Their tracks are a lot spookier looking when you can see a full set of claws. Note: I take a few extra precautions to avoid appearing too much like a bears next meal.

1. No cologne or perfume.
2. No shaving cream on day of hike.
3. Shower the day before so no fresh soap smell.
4. Never us strong smelling soaps like Irish Spring. (major bear attractor)
5. Be careful with food and even empty candy bar wrappers.
6. Carry bear spray. It's more effective than a gun. (so I hear)


The bears had been going through tearing up the rotting logs grubbing for bugs. I was surprised at how far they had moved some of the larger trees to get at them.


There are all kinds of mushrooms growing on the Grand Mesa and some of them are deadly poisonous. This one is probably a Russula which isn't poisonous but it doesn't taste very good either. The easiest mushroom for me to identify is the King Bolete. It makes good mushroom soup and is also good sauteed in butter. To be extra careful be sure to cook them and only eat a very small amount until you see if you have an adverse reaction to them.


All of the picnic sites at Wild Rose are pretty much hidden away in the trees providing a little bit of privacy. There are a few primitive fire rings but if you really want to have a cook out you should probably bring your own grill. With all of the trees and the running water near by the atmosphere is very peaceful.


This section of the Coal Creek trail probably gets as much traffic from horseback riders as it does from hikers. The more traffic the better for keeping the bushes at bay. The trail is open to bicycling but the brush is probably too thick for it to be enjoyable. I went through 140 ounces of water and 20 ounces of Gatorade. There was enough flowing water that I could have only carried a couple of bottles and used my filter to refill them. This is a great place to have a picnic, go on a short hike, and play in the creek. It should be enjoyable by people of any age. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.