Dominguez Canyon - Upper

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 18 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 5512 - 7066 feet
Elevation gain: 3,174 feet
Cellphone: 0-2 bars
Time: 9 hrs.
Trailhead: Dominguez Campground
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic canyon wilderness




Dominguez Canyon is located in the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Area near Grand Junction, Colorado. Dominguez Creek runs through the canyon draining a large portion of the Uncompahgre Plateau. The perennial flow of the creek coupled with abundant wild game both in the canyon and on the Uncompahgre Plateau has made the area an attractive home for some of the lands ancient inhabitants for thousands of years on at least a seasonal basis. Traces of their former presence has been left in the way of rock shelters and petroglyph sites. The distance between the Bridgeport trailhead and the Dominguez Campground is about 15 miles. This post covers the upper portion of the trail beginning at the Dominguez Campground extending for about 9.5 miles to an abandoned copper mine, and then back to the campground. The lower part of the canyon is covered in an earlier Dominguez Canyon post.


To get to the Dominguez Campground drive west on Highway 141 from Whitewater for 13.6 miles. Turn left onto Divide Road and follow it for 5.7 miles where there is a sign pointing to the campground. Turn left at this point and drive the remaining 5 miles to the campground. The Dominguez Road leading to the campground is generally passable by 2-wheel drive passenger vehicles in good weather. Dominguez Campground is located along the creek down in Dominguez Canyon. The last bit of the road where it drops from the plateau into the canyon is well graveled and very steep. We had no trouble getting up and down it in our 2-wheel drive pickup.


The trail immediately enters the Wilderness Area upon departing from the trailhead. As it starts out the trial is wide and easy to follow. Bear and elk tracks were seen along the trail on this outing.


At times the trail comes into close proximity of Big Dominguez Creek where lush vegetation grows along the banks. Beavers have built numerous dams along the flatter areas making a wetland for ducks and blue heron cranes.


Even though the general elevation hiking into the canyon is along a downhill grade there are plenty of uphill areas where the trail climbs in and out of washes that drain the various side canyons. The base of the canyon is composed of a dark colored precambrian granite that is very rugged in places with jagged rocks and deep crevices. For the most part the trail has to stay above the precambrian and travel along the base of the towering cliffs of wingate sandstone in the chinle formation to find a suitable route for hiking. Each of these formations provides its own colors to the trail from the black to purple precambrian to the dark reddish brown chinle to the iron reddish wingate. Throw in a colluvial mix of other sands that the wind deposits into the canyon and add a multitude of green hues from the vegetation and you have a color scheme that is sure to delight any visitors.


A glance at the trails elevation profile shows the various uphill sections as the trail descends into the canyon. Even in the downhill only direction the upper portion of Dominguez Canyon has 820 feet of elevation gain.


There are a few places where close attention to the cairnes is necessary. One such place is at the 3 mile point in a wash where a game trail into a side canyon causes a little confusion.


In other areas the lack of soil depth makes the trail all but disappear.


A healthy growth of trees and several bends in the canyon block distant views for the most part. In this picture the canyon can be sloping off in the distance towards the Grand Mesa.


A rock shelter can be found near the 5.6 mile point. Remember that it is illegal to dig or disturb archeological sites in anyway. Please help us protect sites such as this for generations to come by reporting anyone that is vandalizing or mistreating them including camping in them or using them for shelter.


Around the 7 mile point from the Dominguez Campground the trail and the creek are at the same level. Pools of water provide a place to cool off on a warm day and to refill water bottles. Don't drink the water without filtering it first. It might look clean, and it is relatively speaking, but it is loaded with bacteria. Besides all the wild animals that use the water the upper portions of Dominguez Creek flow right though several cow pastures and watering holes.


A little further down the trail on the south side there is a large blowout that has formed a natural bridge. In this case it might technically be called a tunnel since it appears to be longer than it is high.


At the 9.1 mile point the trail from Cactus Park meets the Dominguez Canyon trail. The Cactus Park branch comes down from the rim on a precarious path of loose rocks. The other end of the trail is at the end of a spur road that branches off from the Cactus Park section of the Tabeguache trail.


For this post we turned around at the abandoned copper mine. From here it is another 7 miles down to the Bridgeport trailhead. We had met a group of four backpackers that had left a vehicle at Bridgeport and then driven up to the Dominguez Campground and were in the process of hiking down the canyon. Speaking of copper, we had also found some copper ore further up the canyon that was right on the trail. It was nothing to get excited about but it was still fun to notice. We left it there for someone else to find.


Most of the hikers that access the Dominguez Canyon trail from the campground only hike in a few miles before turning around. The hike that we did was very strenuous and was more than most people would want to attempt. We met a couple that began backpacking at the campground and hiked up to the Divide Road and around to Little Dominguez Canyon and then they came back up Big Dominguez. Their backpacking adventure involved over 50 miles and took them 3 days to complete.


The Dominguez Campground has sites with tables and firepits that are suitable for tents. Dominguez Creek runs through the middle of the campground. There is a restroom on the south side of the creek and another one at the trailhead on the north side of the creek. Those that are pulling trailers will want to pull off at one of the many primitive campsites on top of the mountain along the road coming in. As far as hiking in the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Area goes it is an experience that is well worth the effort. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.