Ute Canyon Trail

Round Trip Distance: 8.6-13 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 5539 - 6465 feet
Cellphone: 2-5 bars
Time: 4 hrs.
Trailhead: Ute Canyon
Fee: $20/vehicle, $10/individual
Attractions: Scenic canyon, arches

The Ute Canyon trail is located in the Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction, Colorado. Beginning off of Rimrock Drive the trail descends 400 feet in elevation down a mostly improved route of well placed stone steps that are augmented by a few steps that have been chiseled right out of the rock. As the trail reaches the canyon below the trail forks with one route that heads up the canyon to the left where after 1.3 miles it ends at a large spillover. The right fork leads down to the main branch of Ute Canyon where a good primitive trail can be followed to the mouth of the canyon where it meets up with the Corkscrew Trail. Along the way hikers are treated to a couple of natural arches and the scenic redrock cliffs that the Colorado National Monument is famous for.

The Ute Canyon trailhead is located on Rimrock Drive near MM 13.6. The mile marker numbers begin with '0' at the Fruita Entrance and go up from there making the trailhead slightly closer to the East Entrance. Ute Canyon can also be accessed from the Wildwood trailhead via either the Corkscrew or Liberty Cap trails.

The dramatic descent into the canyon is made possible by a number of well constructed steps that transition the trail past the various ledges that make up the steep sloping canyon wall.

Aided further by numerous switchbacks that reduce the effort hikers are treated to incredible scenery as they are swallowed by the canyon itself. For its entire journey into the canyon the trail remains comfortably wide with little or no exposure. Some loose rocks and minor scree can be expected.

By the half mile point the trail has reached the bottom of its main descent where it follows the right fork to continue down the canyon.

This part of the canyon retains enough moisture for a good growth of cottonwoods, willows and grasses to flourish. It is common to find pools of water in places that interestingly enough may have attracted the attention of the Utes but don't seem to do the same for all that much wildlife. We have seen bear tracks and scat in the area as well as an occasional bighorn sheep. There are also portions of the old Ute Canal that are visible along this part of the trail.

As the trail comes near the main branch of the canyon it does some climbing to avoid a scenic chasm of rugged precambrian granite. The trail is more primitive in nature with loose rocks and some minor scree as it crawls over the sloughing shoulder below the prominent point of the cliff.

A little past the 1 mile point the trail is headed down the wash of the main channel of the canyon where the vegetation is still finding enough moisture to thrive in an otherwise arid environment.

In sharp contrast, by the time the trail has reached the halfway point most of the available moisture has been soaked up and the cottonwoods and grass give way to sagebrush and greasewood. Even though the vegetation is changing the scenic nature of the canyon remains appealing much like a handsome person whose looks remain pleasant no matter how they are adorned.

The greenery changes even further at the mouth of the canyon where a desert garden that includes a few cliff roses provides yet another enjoyable scene.

For this post we turned around where the Ute Canyon and Corkscrew trails  come together. From here it is 2 miles to the Wildwood trailhead via the Corkscrew trail.

While hiking down the canyon there is a small 'propped' natural arch that tends to draw the attention of hikers. As far as we know it is unnamed.

Ute Canyon Arch on the other hand is named and is only noticeable while hiking up the canyon.

The climb back out of the canyon isn't too bad by local standards with only 400 feet of elevation gain and a half mile in which to accomplish it. It is all relevant to your fitness level and how much energy you have left in your tank. The Ute Canyon trail is the main reason that we started gjhikes.com. We originally read about the trail in a guide book after which we hiked it and found out that their distance was off by 4 miles. They probably wrote it without the aid of a GPS and at the time there weren't any trail signs with distances on them like there are today. We decided that people should have access to better information and that they shouldn't have to pay or sign up to get it so we created gjhikes.com. With the millions of views that the site has had and the many kind emails, not to mention all the fun we have had doing the hikes, we should probably thank the author of that book for getting it all started. For those looking for a very worthwhile hike in the Colorado National Monument Ute Canyon is a nice one to have on your list. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.