Stagecoach Trail

Round Trip Distance: 5.2 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Skill level:
Elevation: 8824 - 9260 feet
Cellphone: 2-5 bars
Time: 2 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Palisade Rim
Fee: none
Attractions: Section of historic stage line, wildlife

The Stagecoach trail is part of the actual route that was used by the stage line running between Grand Junction and the Grand Valley. Remnants of the trail can be seen in various places on the west side of the Colorado River as you travel through DeBeque Canyon. At one time there was a stage house just past where Interstate 70 passes through the tunnel in DeBeque Canyon.

Access to the trail has become increasingly more difficult over the years. When the interstate was built through this area in the early 1970's a pullout was left that provided parking for a dozen or more cars. In recent years, as the interstate became more congested, the highway department blocked the turnout and posted no parking signs. The closest legal parking is now at the Palisade Rim/Boat Launch trailhead across the river. We added a map that shows an alternate route that comes in from the direction of the Main Canyon trailhead. When time permits we will create a new post for that route.

I found a well worn trail that skirted the barrier on the west side and rejoined the road that passed under the interstate. Immediately passed the first column of the interstate bridge the trail passes up and over the railroad tracks. From here it continues west along the interstate where it shortly begins climbing up towards the original Stagecoach trail.

One can only imagine what it must have been like to travel this section of the trail in a stagecoach. I picture myself out pushing. The elevation gain will test your legs but there are plenty of places to stop and take a rest along the way.

The trail breaks through the ridge and levels out as it departs from the original stagecoach route and follows a normally dry wash that meanders through Juniper and Pinyon trees as it rises towards the rim of the cliffs above Palisade.

After hiking about 1.3 miles from the start the trail reaches an area we have always referred to as 'Mud Flats'. Like other areas along the Bookcliffs rain water collects in these spots and if sufficient will unload with a spout of mud that pours out of the cliffs below and runs downhill to the interstate. Looking down towards the interstate you can see many places where the highway department fights the battle of the mud by building dikes to hold it before it can get to the highway.

Rounding the corner from the mud flats is a cliff area where the trail is undercut by various caverns. As I hiked through here the smell of fumes from coal that is burning beneath the surface was very strong. I've hiked through here in the winter months and the smoke is easily visible as it escapes through the surface of the ground.

At the 2 mile point there is a trail that branches off to the left heading towards the rim. A good deal of people take this cutoff which is a more direct route to the flagpole.  They actually used to turn off a little sooner than this over a rocky area. This little branch of the trail is a section that I built quite some time ago. After traveling this way for several years I noticed one day that someone had erected a cairn to mark the spot. For this trip I'm going to continue on the main trail to a point that is 2.42 mile from the beginning. Here I will leave the main trail that drops off to the west and head up a ridge to the south to the rim of the cliffs above the Palisade exit of the interstate.

Once I reached the ridge I followed it back to the east towards the flagpole. It has taken me one hour to reach the flagpole and my GPS was showing 2.9 miles. The elevation here is 5816 feet and it is all downhill going back.

I headed back going east down an area of white sandstone. I continued hiking downward for about half a mile until I once again joined up with the main trail. At this point I was 3.5 miles into the hike.

When I arrived back at the mud flats area I decided to take a different route back by skirting around the rocks along the rim towards a hidden canyon area.  This adds a little more variety to the hike and I am still following an easy to find trail.

Anyone care for some Mormon Tea?

After hiking down and around some more white sandstone I reached the hidden valley area. Once here the trail traverses back around the mountain to the north and rejoins the main trail heading back down to the interstate.

I was back to the start after hiking 5.2 miles round trip. I've hiked this trail and explored the area hundreds of times in the past. I used to bring a boy scout troop up here for a winter camp every year. This is an area that you can spread out in and hike the various canyons and hills. At times you can see deer, wild horses, eagles, bobcats, coyotes, black bears, lizards and an occasional snake. I've watched bears come up out of the orchards, cross the interstate, and head up the hill.
It's too bad they have made it so difficult to access the trail. I went through 80 ounces of water and one protein bar. If you would like to hike where the stagecoach once went and see the great views of the valley from the Bookcliffs then you will need to 'Take a hike'.