Echo Canyon

Round Trip Distance: 3.3 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 4941 - 5127 feet
Cellphone: 1-4 bars
Time: 1 hr. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Devils Kitchen
Fee: $5 individual - $15 vehicle - $40 annual pass
Attractions: Scenic canyon

The Echo Canyon trail is located at the lower end of No Thoroughfare Canyon in the Colorado National Monument near the east entrance. The trail leads into a small box canyon that very well indeed does produce a reverberating echo of sometimes the slightest sound.This seemingly inconsequential canyon hosts a large variety of colorful wildflowers during the spring. The inquisitive explorer may be able to also encounter a rare canyon tree frog or spot a clump of Stream Orchids or Mancos Columbines.

The trail begins by departing from the south end of the Devils Kitchen trailhead parking area near the east entrance to the monument. The parking are at this trailhead fills up quickly but there is plenty of additional space across the road at the picnic area. There are also flush toilets at the picnic area that are open except during the coldest months.

The trail gently descends into No Thoroughfare Canyon. Within about one quarter mile there is a fork in the trail. The right fork leads to the No Thoroughfare Canyon and Devils Kitchen trails. The left fork leads over to Echo Canyon and the Old Gordon trails passing a petroglyph site along the way.

The trail to the left continues to descend until it is in the dry stream bed. At this point it is only about 100 yards from the No Thoroughfare Canyon Petroglyph site. The petroglyph site is unmarked but the easiest way to find it is to cross the stream bed and continue to the Echo Canyon/Old Gordon Trail sign at the base of the slickrock. From this point begin hiking to your right around the base of the cliff for a hundred feet or so where you will find the large flat slab of sandstone covered with rock art.

Continuing on to Echo Canyon the trail climbs the slickrock for about a quarter mile to where the Echo Canyon trail branches off to the left from the Old Gordon Trail. From here the trail descends the slickrock to the mouth of the canyon.

The trail was rerouted in 2011 to avoid some private property that it passed through for many years. When that happened the trail in Echo Canyon received some very beneficial upgrades. A nice set of stairs makes the lower end of the slickrock much more manageable and the trail in a few other spots has had some logs embedded to shore up the trail and mitigate the erosion.

The first stretch of the canyon is choked with willows, horsetails and cottonwood trees. The brush gives shelter to all kinds of little creatures that are all but too happy to stay hidden from view. Even with all the vegetation the trail is distinct and easy to follow.

There are several fun sections where the canyon narrows. For this stretch you can easily walk along the sandstone shelf on the left. There are a couple of places where it is easier to get around boulders that have fallen into the bottom by following short trails that go up and around them.

These colorful seed pods are from a type of milkvetch or Astragalus. They look like little Chinese lanterns. The nearest variety of milkvetch that I can find that matches this photo is the balloonpod milkvetch but it isn't supposed to occur in Colorado.

The trail ends abruptly at the seasonal/intermittent waterfall. If you ever want to look down from the top it can easily be reached from the Ribbon Trail and Andy's Loop. You can also park where Andy's Loop meets the Little Park Road and hike down the hill. When you get to the wash at the bottom you are a short distance from where it spills into Echo Canyon.

There are several areas in Echo Canyon that have a healthy growth of Poison Ivy. There are quite a few plants just to the left of the waterfall. It is a very good place to teach your kids about the plant so they can learn to avoid touching it. Hopefully they won't learn about it the hard way.

A rare treat in Echo Canyon is to see the rare stream orchid Epipactis gigantea. You can check it out in the USDA database. The orchid plant can get over a foot high but the flowers themselves are small enough that if you aren't looking for them they can be easily missed. The flowers aren't along the official trail and they require fighting your way through the brush and wading the small stream to find them clinging to the side of the sandstone cliff.

You might also spot a Canyon Tree frog in or near the stream. While they live in burrows under the ground you can at times find them perched upon a tree limb. They can be heard quite loudly in the evening hours. The frogs deposit thousands of tadpoles in the stream in Echo Canyon but it appears that most of them fall prey to the birds and lizards.

The Mancos Columbines can be a little harder to spot because their colors blend in so well with the sandstone.

Echo Canyon definitely has a lot to offer for a short little hike. The hike is a hidden jewel that is different from any other hike on the Colorado National Monument. For years the Echo Canyon trail was never listed as an official trail on the monument but due to its continual use by local hikers it pretty much became a trail 'de facto'. If you would like to see Echo Canyon for yourself, and maybe stop off and take in the petroglyphs along the way, then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.