Round Trip Distance: 8.8 miles
Elevation: 4965 - 5945 feet
Cellphone: 2-5 bars
Usage: Hiking - Biking - Equestrian - Dogs - ATV
Time: 3 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Third Flats
Attractions: Solitude, scenic views and geology, multiple use trail
View Third Flats Art Cooks View in a larger map
The Art Cook's View trail is located in the Third Flats section of the BLM Bangs Canyon Management Area. The Third Flats Area doesn't have an official parking area. There are signs near the entrance that direct people to the Bangs Canyon Staging Area to park. The area around the kiosk is all posted 'No Parking'. With that said, most people who use the area either park on the hill on the west side of Little Park Road or if they have a high clearance vehicle they drive past the trailhead kiosk and park in one of the spots a little further in. Art Cook's View is a couple of miles in from Little Park Road so about half of the hiking distance would be eliminated by driving in if you have a 4-wheel drive that is up to the task.
The trailhead kiosk has a nice map of the Third Flats trails. You can also download a map from the BLM to printout and take with you.
The shortest route to Art Cook's View would be to hike straight down the Third Flats Road to its intersection with the Billings Canyon Road. The upper trailhead for the Art Cook's View trail is just a few hundred feet south of that intersection. This post takes a slightly longer route by going to the right at the intersection just under 1 mile from the parking area on Little Park Road that leads past the upper end of the Billings Canyon Jeep trail.
Follow the road for another quarter mile where it makes a sharp left hand turn at the end of the Canyon View trail.
The road connects to the Billings Canyon Road within another half mile where you make another left hand turn. A right turn at this point would lead you around to the trailhead at the Bangs Canyon Staging Area.
Follow the Billings Canyon Road for about 1 mile. It drops down a steep hill into a branch of Billings Canyon at about the 2.73 mile point of the hike. This is the lower end of the Billings Canyon Jeep trail. Continue following the road up the hill on the other side of the canyon and you will come to the trailhead for the upper end of the Art Cook's View trail.
The Art Cook's View trail follows around the north rim of Billings Canyon offering views of pretty much everything to the east and the canyon of course. Parts of the trail are pretty rocky but the trail is easy to follow. All of the trails in the Third Flats Area are used enough that route finding is never a problem. It is still good to have a map though until you are completely aware of how they all interconnect.
I came across a couple of whipsnakes when I hiked the trail. The first one was only 3 or 4 feet long and it slithered up a Utah juniper before I could take its picture. The one in this picture was well over 6 feet long and like most bigger snakes it just stayed there and posed for the camera. Whipsnakes are harmless and non-venomous but that doesn't mean it wouldn't hurt if you decided to play with it and it clamped down on your hand. I have had a lizard clamp down on the end of my finger and while they don't break the skin they are hard to remove. Whipsnakes have about 6 rows of backward facing teeth that give them a good grip on their prey. With that said, I have never had one even open its mouth at me.
Toward the end of the trail it drops down below the rim and bends more to the north as it heads back over to the Third Flats Road. There are several nice places through this area to pull up a rock and take a break.
Moqui balls, or Shaman Stones, are abundant in a few places along with some nice specimens of chert.
The trail doesn't go all of the way down to the Gunnison River but there are some nice views of it. Most of the land along this part of the river is private property. It becomes public again once you head further south toward Bangs Canyon.
The Art Cook's View trail comes to an end just under 5 miles into the hike where it connects with the lower end of the Third Flats Road. Turn left to get back to the parking area. If you look to your right, down the hill, from this point you can see the lower trailhead of the Butterknife trail.
It is all uphill along the Third Flats Road except for a couple of minor drops. The total elevation gain for this hike is just over 1000 feet when you add in the climb out of Billings Canyon a few other spots. Pretty much all of the usage on this trail is from mountain bike and ATV users and they don't hit it all that often. There's a pretty good chance that, like me, your footprints will be the only ones you see on the trail. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.