Suncliff Canyon

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 5284 - 5790 feet
Cellphone: 0-2 bars
Time: 2 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Crocodile Rock
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic canyon, dinosaur tracks




The Suncliff Canyon trail is located in the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area and Wilderness near Delta, Colorado. The trail begins at a point along the South River Road and follows a shallow canyon for about 2 miles to its end. The trail is listed as a fun family hike on the Gunnison Gorge brochure. The brochure is a good reference for the area although it doesn't scale very well when printed off the internet. Some of the trailheads have already printed brochures that are great if you can get your hands on one.


Google Maps should do a pretty good job providing directions to the trailhead with its 'Get Directions' function. Basically you drive east from Delta, Colorado on Highway 92 and turn right on H75 Road. Measure about 4.5 miles from the intersection of H75 Road and 2200 Road following H75 Road to where the South River Road splits off on the right. Take the middle fork and follow the river road to the trailhead that sits tucked away on the right side of the road a short distance before the point where the river road drops down the steep hill.


At present the trailhead is not marked with a sign but the graveled parking area with its buried pipes acting as wheel stops is official looking enough that it looks like the trailhead for something. The small parking area sets back 20 yards or so from the road which makes it easy to miss.


The trail follows the wash which is also an old jeep trail for the first few tenths of a mile. Eventually the road climbs out of the wash and heads for higher ground. At this point be sure to go to the left and stay in the wash to continue up the canyon.


For most of the hike the trail is a mix of sand and shale that is just coarse enough to keep you from sinking too much yet loose enough that it does add a little to the effort.


As you hike up the canyon you might keep your eye out for dinosaur tracks. There are rocks with casts of tracks a little past the quarter mile point. There are even prints further up the canyon. Some of the rocks with tracks are rolled onto their sides so check there also. NOTE: Be sure to be careful to not do anything to damage them. They are very fragile.


Plants grow in the desert where they can. This one particular spot was like a bouquet with yucca, phlox and rockcress all sprouted up through a thick growth of sage.


The canyon has several forks. Which fork to take is usually obvious. At one of the forks the trail has to climb out of the canyon to get around a waterfall. Look for a small cairn on the right side of the trail that marks the route.


Suncliff is near the head of the canyon where there is one last fork. It is possible to climb all the way up to the rim where you could probably connect up with G50 Road and find your way back to the trailhead that way. The easiest way back is probably to go back the way you came though.


While hiking up the canyon an interesting object can be seen up near the rim at one spot. We were pretty sure that it was constructed from some of the long slabs of rock that look like railroad ties but we were curious how they were tied together. On the trip back we picked an angle that made climbing the hillside pretty easy to get a better look. It turns out that the perpendicular slab is buried in the ground and the other two are simply leaning against it with nothing but friction and gravity to keep them together. The perpendicular slab has several stress cracks so eventually it will probably break and all fall down.


Nature has made a work of art out of the sandstone at the waterfall.


This is what it looks like from the bottom. It was a bit of a scramble getting up to this spot but there is a neat alcove that is partially obscured by boulders and vegetation.


Here you can see the small parking area at the trailhead that is partially hidden the view from the road. If you continue down the river road you will find 4 more similar trails, the Cool Rock Canyon, Crocodile Rock, Birthday Canyon and the West River trails. Of all of them the Suncliff Canyon is probably the easiest to hike. The entire length of the trail has a steady climb in elevation but it is gradual enough that most of it goes unnoticed. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.