One-way Distance: 11.5 miles
MTB Skill level:
Elevation: 4666 - 6494 feet
Cellphone: 0-5 bars
Time: 2 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Highway 141
Attractions: Mostly uphill ride
Tabeguache (TAB-a-watch) is a 150 mile long trail that has one end in Grand Junction, Colorado and the other end in Montrose. This post covers the section of the trail that runs between Highway 141 south to Cactus Park. A dominant feature of the area are a group of highly visible radio towers that serve as a landmark. The entire length of this section of the trail follows old jeep routes, some of which are little to moderately used, and is open to all forms of OHV travel as well as hiking and mountain biking.
The Highway 141 to Cactus Park section picks up across the highway from where the Bangs Canyon section leaves off. There is ample parking for passenger cars and vehicles pulling trailers to off load their toys.
The trail follows a short section of pavement as it begins switchbacking up the hill from the highway. At the top of the first hill the trail enters the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area.
The pavement ends at the second switchback and the trail continues on a mostly unmaintained route that shows up on most maps as 31 4/10 Road.
This area has dozens of interconnecting roads that can make route finding difficult in places. On average there is a brown Tabeguache marker every mile or so. Some of the side roads are alternate routes that travel around a hill or obstacle and eventually reconnect back to the main route. Others lead off toward the Gunnison River and other places. While they are all fun to explore they can make staying on the Tabeguache trail very challenging in places.
This section of the Tabeguache trail has a total elevation gain of 1,904 feet with an average grade of 4%. The first 8 miles of the trail is one long continual uphill climb. The grade is gentle enough that the climb doesn't really require any rest breaks. There are a couple of overlooks where the trail is close to the rim above East Creek that are well worth stopping at to take in the view.
One of the spots to watch out for is a fork that comes up at the 2.86 mile point. It wouldn't be any big deal except that some trigger happy ne'erdowell blasted the trail marker making it hard to determine which way it is pointing. On top of that the route going straight ahead looks well traveled. It might be that the two routes reconnect later on but the official Tabeguache route goes to the right at this point.
For the most part the road is relatively smooth for an old jeep road but there are a few rocky areas. No big rock ledges though.
Near the 6 mile point the trail passes by some radio towers. We didn't see any cell phone antennas but we did notice that we were showing 4 bars on our Verizon phone.
There is about a 3/4 mile stretch of well maintained gravel road that leads to the radio towers. The point where the Tabeguache trail leaves the maintained road is a little confusing. There is a trail marker that points to the left but there is more than one road on the left to choose from. The correct one is the one that is probably most perpendicular to the gravel road.
Once you make the turn you can look up the hill and see a row of telephone poles. There are a few more unmarked side roads that come up. The ones that look like they are headed off toward the Gunnison River should be avoided. The main route continues to parallel the rim above East Creek even though it isn't right on the rim.
The trail does rejoin the rim just under the 8 mile point. From here you can look down and see the Cactus Park Road and some good views of this section of Unaweep Canyon.
Near the 8 mile point the trail turns away from the rim and works its way around the east side of a mountain. There are a few more side roads that lead to who knows where. Fortunately there seems to be enough trail markers pointing out the correct route.
At the 10.5. mile point the trail climbs over a ridge. This is the steepest hill that there is for this part of the Tabeguache trail and the difficulty is compounded by a lot of loose rocks. On the nice side it is a little less than a quarter mile to the top.
From the crest of the hill the trail makes a scenic drop down into Cactus Park.
A gate comes up at the 11.24 mile point. A short distance past the gate there is another fork. Stay to the left and follow the road that continues straight ahead even though the other might look a little better. If you imagine a straight line from the gate towards the mountain in the middle of this picture you will pretty much be assured to reach the Cactus Park Road at the right spot.