Crag Crest Loop

Round Trip Distance: 11.3 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 10,262 - 11,216 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 6 hrs. 45 mins.
Trailhead: Crag Crest
Fee: none
Attractions: National Recreation Trail

The Crag Crest Trail is a designated National Recreation Trail located high atop the Grand Mesa in the Grand Mesa National Forest. With elevations above 11,000 feet Crag Crest is among the highest ground on the Grand Mesa. On a clear day you can see for over 100 miles. The trail can be hiked in a loop by beginning at either the Crag Crest East or Crag Crest West trailheads and incorporating the Lower Loop Trail. Today I began at the west trailhead and hiked the entire 10 mile loop. Here is a link to a previous hike where we simply hiked up to the ridge and then kept going for about a mile and a half before turning back. You should probably allow for at least 6 hours to complete the entire loop. I took a little longer than that but I spent a lot of time visiting and taking pictures. You will undoubtedly want to avoid the area of the ridge if there are any thunderstorms nearby.

The west trailhead is 200 feet higher than the east trailhead and probably provides the easiest access to the crest. You have to make up the difference on the lower trail that connects the two trailheads so no matter where you begin, and in whichever direction you decide to hike, it will all come out about the same.

Almost a half mile from the west trailhead is the junction of the Crest Trail and the Lower Loop. I took the left fork toward the Cottonwood trail and the Crest. The trail has only gained about a hundred feet of elevation at this point and it takes it another half mile to gain another 100 feet.

After a mile the trail begins climbing at a steeper rate and gains 200 feet more of elevation by the time it reaches the junction of the Cottonwood Trail. These changes in elevation are nothing compared to a lot of the hikes around Grand Junction but the altitude does add to the level of exertion. The lake off in the distance is Wolverine Lake.

Over the next half mile the elevation gain slows and the trail begins to level off as you approach the ridge. From here you can look down the north side and see the Cottonwood Reservoirs with the Book Cliff mountains in the distance. To the east you can see as far away as the Elk Range with its 14,000 foot peaks around Aspen, Colorado. To the south you can see for over 100 miles to the 14,000 foot peaks of Mt. Sneffels, and a little further to the right, the Wilson Group, of the San Juan Range. And to the west you can see the La Sal mountains in Utah.

Hiking along the ridge is pretty incredible. At times you might think you are reaching the end but the ridge extends for an amazing 3 miles. The trail skirts some of the points along the ridge but on others it goes right over the top of them.

There are sections of the ridge that are narrow enough they will make you take notice and pay attention to where you are walking. I've never heard of anyone ever falling off of Crag Crest in the 40 or so years I have been in the area.

From the east end of the ridge crest it is a little less than 2 miles to the Lower Trail junction. The trail drops about 750 in elevation over that stretch.

The Lower Trail begins climbing almost immediately as it heads away from the east trailhead. It took me a few minutes to get used to the idea of hiking uphill again. The trail leveled off for the most part after less than half a mile. At this point I still had 3.5 miles of hiking left to get me back to the west trailhead.

For the rest of the hike the trail varied from thick secluded woods to open hillsides, covered with wildflowers, with open views of all the activity around the lakes below. I completed the hike from this point with the pleasurable company of a hiking companion who shared with me some interesting tidbits about hiking in Austria.

When we reached the junction of the Visitor Center Trail I turned left instead of right but came to my senses after about 100 feet. Actually, I looked down at my GPS and noticed that I was heading off in the wrong direction. I had looked at the sign but I didn't really read it. The trail sign that I was expecting was still another 2 tenths of a mile down the trail.

The Crag Crest trail is hiked every year by people from all around the world. The hiking season is short on the Grand Mesa and it is even shorter on the Crag Crest trail with its elevation reaching above 11,000 feet. The trail does get used in the winter by snowshoers and cross country skiers. If you would like to see the Grand Mesa from the Crag Crest Trail for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.