Old Spanish Trail

Round Trip Distance: 10.2 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Skill level:
Elevation: 4627 - 4876 feet
Cellphone: 2-5 bars
Time: 3 hrs. 45 mins.
Trailhead: Old Spanish Trail (Orchard Mesa)
Fee: none
Attractions: Historic trail

In 1776 a Spanish Franciscan missionary and explorer, Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante, and his superior, Francisco Dominguez, set out from Santa Fe to find a northern route to Monterey, California. While nearing present day Montrose, Colorado they were discovered by some friendly Utes. They were able to enlist the aid of a Ute to guide them to a village near the shores of Utah Lake. The two padres never actually came through Grand Junction but at a later time the Northern Branch of the Old Spanish Trail did. The route that Dominguez and Escalante took ran between the modern day towns of Delta and Paonia, across the Grand Mesa near the present day Overland Reservoir, across the Grand (Colorado) River and then through the Debeque area to Rangely, Colorado. They never did make it to Monterey but turned back towards Santa Fe while traveling through southern Utah.

The upper portion of the Old Spanish Trail travels through private land. To accommodate parking the trailhead is located about half a mile from the trail. If you turn south from highway 50 onto 28 1/2 road you will see the first sign pointing you towards the parking area. Stay on 28 1/2 road as it jogs to the left and then once again to the right. From the parking area it is pretty easy to follow the signs for the Old Spanish Trail through the neighborhood.

There are 8 different groups listed on the sign. This must be the most sponsored trail in the valley.

Follow the gravel path that angles towards the southwest and runs between some houses and a tree farm. When you reach Valley View Drive follow it to Sunlight Drive. Sunlight Drive will lead you to the beginning of the trail.

The next section of trail is bordered by a coral pole fence.

At the 1.1 mile mark you reach the high point of the trail at 4880 feet. Nothing but barren open adobe clay lays before you.

At 2.8 miles you come to the junction with the Gunnison Bluffs trail. Take the left fork to reach the lower trailhead.

On this route the lower trailhead is 5 miles from the upper trailhead. A good alternative route back to the upper trailhead can be taken by continuing on past the parking area on the Gunnison Bluffs trail.

The trail loops around to the west and parallels the Gunnison river for several miles before rejoining the Old Spanish Trail about 8 miles from where you began. It is 2.8 miles from here to the trailhead on Orchard Mesa. The Old Spanish trail gets a lot of use from hikers, mountain bikers, joggers, equestrians and people that want to take their dog to a place where it can run loose and get some exercise. During the winter months deer, coyotes and eagles can be observed in the Gunnison Bluffs area. Even though Fathers Dominguez and Escalante never traveled this route there are several rock shelters with miniature corn cobs nearby that indicate that Indians dating back to the Archaic period once lived and hunted here. There is also a wall that may have been part of a Spanish defensive position or perhaps a pueblo. It would take an archaeologist to find the answer. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.