Hunter Canyon

Round Trip Distance: 6 miles (1st gas well)
Round Trip Distance: 10.5 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Skill level:
Elevation: 5400 - 7152 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 2 hrs. 45 mins.
Trailhead: Hy Grade Mine
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic canyon, solitude, wildlife, wildflowers

Hunter Canyon is located in the Little Book Cliffs area north of Grand Junction. To access the Hunter Canyon area drive north on 21 road between Fruita and Grand Junction. The pavement ends at the gas plant but the dirt road is usually easily accessible with a 2-wheel drive vehicle. There isn't an official trailhead but a good place to start is at an old HY Grade coal mine in the mouth of the canyon which is about 2 miles past the gas plant.

The trail begins by continuing up the road that leads into the canyon along Little Salt Wash. After a short distance the road is passable by only the hardiest of 4-wheel drive vehicles and ATV's.

Little Salt Wash usually has a little water trickling down it all year round. During periods of runoff the water is probably suitable for animals to drink but in the summer when it is just trickling it is pretty much all brine water.

In places you can see the salt crystals collecting and the smell of brine is very noticeable.

As you continue into the canyon the walls begin to close in and the feeling of adventure begins to climb. The wash snakes around the corners as they get tighter and tighter. This probably lasts for about a half mile or so before the canyon once again begins opening up. You would have trouble getting away from a flash flood in some parts of these narrows but usually there are spots where you can get up out of the way.

After the trail finishes snaking through the tight spots the canyon opens up a little more and the trail becomes a drive-able road again. Any vehicle traffic other than an ATV would be coming in up the canyon from the north. There is what is called a 'Dry hole marker' at an old well site on the east side of the road. Anytime an oil or gas well is drilled and then abandoned they erect one of these markers. It's interesting to know, though, that just because there is a dry hole marker it doesn't mean that they didn't find any oil or gas. They could have found quite a lot but it wasn't enough to justify connecting it up to the pipeline which may have been miles and miles away at the time or they may have run into problems while they were drilling the well, like twisting off their pipe, and didn't want to go to any further expense.

There is an actual 'producing' gas well just a little further up the canyon at about the 3 mile point into the hike. This is a good place to turn around if you want to make a shorter hike out of the trip. Up to this point the elevation change of 400 feet has been very gradual. From this point on the road begins climbing at a rapid pace until it comes out on top.

The road climbs up a series of switchbacks and over the next couple of miles the elevation jumps another 1300 feet. The steepest grade lasts for about a half mile before easing up a bit. There is an intersection in the road about 1 mile past the gas well where you need to be sure and go to the left and on the way back you will want to be sure on not miss it as well. As the road gets within the last half mile of reaching Ross Ridge there are several more gas wells off to the right and there is another road that cuts back up the hill in an easterly direction. That road eventually dead ends at another gas well.

I turned around when the road reached Ross Ridge. There is a four-way intersection at this point. If you go right (north) you will end up at a gas plant which you can see on top of the hill. If you continue straight ahead the road leads down into Coal Gulch and comes out in the North Fruita Desert around 16 Road. The road to the left will take you close to the edge of the rim of the Little Book Cliffs where you can get on a single track trail that is part of the Edge Loop and eventually end up around the 18 Road area of the North Fruita Desert.

There were fresh signs of a bear in the area. I have also seen a picture of one of the biggest mountain lions I have ever seen that a hunter bagged in Hunter Canyon. They say it killed 2 or 3 of his dogs before he killed it.

Among the many wildflowers in Hunter Canyon there were several large patches of wild onions.

It's always fun to find new ways to get to the top of a mountain and Hunter Canyon isn't too bad a route to get to the top of the Little Book Cliffs. The canyon can be hiked year round but the tight section of the canyon gets pretty plugged with ice so that is as far as I have ever gone in the winter. Hunter Canyon is popular with ATV's and at times you can be entertained watching 4-wheel drives trying to crawl over some of the rocks. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.