Main Canyon

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 10.6 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 4937 - 5253 feet
Cellphone: 0-2 bars
Time: 4 hrs.
Trailhead: Coal Canyon
Fee: none
Attractions: Wild horses, bighorn sheep




Main Canyon is located in the BLM's Wild Horse Area of the Little Book Cliffs near Grand Junction, Colorado. Beginning at the Coal Canyon trailhead the Main Canyon trail follows Jerry Creek up the canyon to Round Mountain where the trail splits into the Cottonwood Canyon and Round Mountain trails. We had posted the Main Canyon trail previously but due to early springtime conditions we were unable to hike the entire length of the trail so here it is once again.


The trailhead can be found by taking Exit 46 off of Interstate 70 in DeBeque Canyon and following the road across the river and up the canyon for about 2.4 miles. During dry weather most passenger cars can drive the dirt road without any trouble.


Pass through the gate near the wash and follow the trail to the right. Main Canyon is the canyon that is north of the trailhead. An old road also crosses the ridge into Main Canyon and some horseback riders seem to prefer that route. The road route can add a mile or more to the round trip distance of the hike depending on how far you follow it before heading up the canyon.


The trail leads up and over the ridge to Main Canyon.


Follow the trail as it gradually descends into Main Canyon. That white stuff that looks like snow in the picture is really just alkali.


The trail crosses Jerry Creek numerous times heading up the canyon. The flow of water in Jerry Creek various from up to a foot around spring runoff to barely a trickle in the middle of summer. When thunderstorms are in the area there may be flash floods that are several feet deep in the wide sections of the creek and even deeper in the narrower areas.


As you progress up the canyon you will come to this brown mylar trail marker that you will want to IGNORE. We have hiked this trail on numerous occasions and all this marker does is lead you across the creek where the trail is hard to follow and harder to hike. Continue straight ahead at this point and follow the wider trail that is more direct and definitely easier.


At the next trail marker the right fork looks like the more direct route up the canyon but the easiest way to go is to the left toward the mouth of Spring Creek Canyon.


At the mouth of Spring Creek Canyon there is another fork. This time take the right fork.


The trail marker shows that this is the Main Canyon trail and that it leads to Cottonwood Canyon and Round Mountain.


Wild horses can usually be spotted most anywhere throughout the length of Main Canyon. At times hikers can spot 2 or 3 different small herds. Usually each herd will have one mature stud and several mares. One of these mares happens to have a young colt. These horses can be unpredictable. At times the stud may try to chase you off and at other times one may start following you and try to get close enough that you could pet it. Wild horses often have a nasty habit of biting so it is best to keep your distance and don't try to approach them.


You might notice that the wild horses in the Little Book Cliffs have a large variety of colors from paints, sorrows, bays, and most every other color that you might imagine. Normally the wild horses in specific areas are all close to the same color such as the horses of Mesa Verde or even nearby around Rangely, Colorado. Cowboys used to run huge herds of horses through this area and probably lost track of a few along the way and maybe some of their offspring still survive to this day. We happen to know though that this herd originally got its start from someone named Charlie Knight that would bring horses out here and turn them loose. We have also spoken with someone who rumored that Russ Latham used to come out every so often and rotate out the studs kinda like ranchers might rotate bulls. Neither of those two are around anymore but who knows if something similar isn't still going on to this day.


As the trail continues up Main Canyon there are some sections that follow an old double track. The canyon becomes narrower and picking the best trail to follow gets a little easier.


This is bear scat in case you are wondering who all you are keeping company with. Bears can get a little thick in the fall near the mouth of Main Canyon close to the Colorado River. They get drawn to a fruit orchard there much to the owners chagrin. We have spoken with a licensed trapper that was hired to come in and thin them out at one time.


Just under 5 miles the trail crosses the creek once again and comes to a primitive campsite under a large cottonwood tree. When hikers think of places to go backpacking the Little Book Cliffs might not come to mind but there are enough trails that can be combined together that would be too far to hike in a single day but great for an overnighter. Combining Main Canyon, Cottonwood Canyon and the Hoodoo trail to form a big loop would be one such option.


The Main Canyon trail reaches its end at about 5.4 miles where a person could continue to the left on the Cottonwood Canyon trail or to the right on the Round Mountain trail. For this post we simply turned around and went back the way we came. Most of the people that come this far up Main Canyon are on horseback. They can be real surprised to see hikers.


Just like wild horse, bighorn sheep can roam from one end of the canyon to the other. We did see fresh tracks near the upper end of the canyon but this picture was taken while on a different hike.


Main Canyon can be pretty popular at times. It is an easy place to get to where for a little effort hikers can be rewarded with wild horse and bighorn sheep sightings. Most people don't realize that there are bighorns in the area and can end up walking right by them without knowing it. Out of all the vehicles in the parking lot on this day the hikers and horseback riders were split between Main Canyon, Spring Creek Canyon and Coal Canyon. Only horseback riders had ventured beyond the mouth of Spring Creek Canyon. Besides the wildlife there is some pretty descent scenery here also. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.