Cottonwood Canyon

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 6.6 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 5308 - 6607 feet
Cellphone: 0-1 bars
Time: 4 hrs.
Trailhead: Monument Rocks
Fee: none
Attractions: Wild horse area




The Cottonwood trail is located in the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Management Area in the Little Book Cliffs near Grand Junction, Colorado. The trail begins at the Monument Rocks trailhead where it makes a long descent into Cottonwood Canyon until it comes to an end at its confluence with Main Canyon. The trail is sometimes combined with Main Canyon, Spring Creek, Crazy Ed, Hoodoo and Coal Canyon to create long loops for backpacking and horseback riding.


Getting to the Monument Rocks trailhead is an adventure all by itself. Begin in the town of DeBeque at the intersection of 4th and Minter. Follow the signs for Winter Flats and the Wild Horse Area heading south on Minter Avenue. The route turns west on 2nd Street, south on 44 Road and west again on V 2/10, aka Deer Park, aka Winter Flats Road. Continue following the gravel road for about 19 miles and turn left toward the Wild Horse Area Indian Park Entrance. After about 5 more miles the road reaches Indian Park where it continues to the right for another 7.5 miles to Monument Rocks. A high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle is recommended for this isolated backcountry route and it should only be attempted under dry conditions.


The trail begins on the east side of the metal corrals where for the first half mile it follows an old jeep road.


At the half mile point the trail leaves the road and becomes a singletrack that is open only to hiking and horseback riding.


From the turnoff the trail heads through the trees and just before the 3/4 mile point it descends a white sandstone bowl of slickrock into a branch of the canyon.


The head of the canyon is semi lush with thick oak brush, a few small cottonwoods and a stand of aspens. Near the 0.8 mile point it passes a spring that provides the only source of readily accessible water in the canyon.


The next section of the trail works its way through a tangle of willows and oak brush to get to the east side of the canyon where it remains for the remainder of the the hike.


To avoid the many spillovers in the floor of the canyon the trail travels along elevated benches gradually descending from one to the next


Various types of trail markers designate the official route. Keep in mind though that wild horses and big game animals also use the trail and at times they braid the main trail with alternate routes as they graze their way up and down the canyon.


There are a couple of sections of trail where the rocks get loose and the angle gets steep. They are no big deal for hikers but backpackers might find them memorable.


As the trail descends the final bench Main Canyon can be seen winding its way downstream with the Grand Mesa appearing on the distant horizon.


At the point where the canyons merge the Main Canyon, Cottonwood Canyon and Round Mountain trails also meet up. For this post this is where we turn around and head back up the trail.


The round trip elevation gain for the Cottonwood Canyon trail is 2,061 feet. If you are only hiking in the downhill direction you will still have almost 400 feet of climbing to do. The uphill only route is about 1,650 feet of climbing. The YCC, Ute and Cottonwood trails all come together at the Monument Rocks trailhead. The last 7 miles of the road leading to Monument Rocks is also a section of the Ute trail. To get to Crazy Ed from here follow the Ute trail (road) for about a half mile. There is a campground along the way where there is another corral and several picnic tables and a fire pit. The Crazy Ed turnoff is marked with brown mylar posts but they don't have the trail name on them.



Wild horses can turn up almost anywhere in the Management Area. If you don't see any on the trail there is still a good chance you can spot them somewhere along the way. Cottonwood Canyon is both rugged and remote. Other than during hunting season the chances are few of seeing another human. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.