Carson Hole

Round Trip Distance: 1.6 miles (Carson Hole)
Round Trip Distance: 6.5 miles (Smith Point)
Difficulty: Moderate - Strenuous
Elevation: 7383 - 8100 feet
Cellphone: 0-1 bars
Time: 3 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Carson Hole
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic canyon of ponderosa pines, wildlife, wildflowers

The Carson Hole trail is located in the Uncompahgre National Forest about 35 miles south of Grand Junction, Colorado. The Carson Hole trail descends for 8/10 of a mile into the La Fair Creek drainage to the Smith Point trail. The Smith Point trail follows along the banks of Big Dominguez Creek. At the junction of the Carson Hole and Smith Point trails you can follow the Smith Point trail downstream towards Dominguez Canyon, as shown in this post, or upstream towards Smith Point. Hiking upstream requires you to cross the creek which on this day, the first day of summer, was running at least several feet deep and about 15 feet across.

You can get your own directions to the trailhead by using the Google map but here is a brief description anyway. Travel south out of Grand Junction on US Highway 50. Take the Gateway turnoff onto Highway 141 just past Whitewater and follow it for about 15 miles to the Divide Road turnoff on the left. Follow Divide Road for just over 6 miles to the north boundary of the Uncompahgre National Forest. Measure 3.6 miles more to an unmarked turnoff on the left. The road to the trailhead will look like the picture above. The road loops through the Carson Hole picnic area. The trailhead is on the right as you enter the trees. Note: Right before you get to the Carson Hole turnoff on Divide Road there is a fork in the road with a brown forest service sign off to the left. Be sure to stay to the left at this point and stay on Divide Road. The turnoff to the Carson Hole trailhead is just a little further on the left.

The Carson Hole trail descends for over 400 feet from the trailhead to the Smith Point trail. That means the hike is all uphill to get back to your vehicle but the trail has a moderate slope to it and it is less than a mile each way so it's not all that bad. You will probably notice deer and elk tracks on the trail so keep your eyes peeled and you might just see something.

The trail starts out following a long descent around the upper portion of the mountain and then begins a series of switchbacks to get down the rest of the way into the canyon. There are some very nice views of the canyon with its lush vegetation and high towering cliffs along the way.

The last quarter mile to the Smith Point trail levels off and almost seems flat compared to the first part of the hike.

At the Smith Point trail you can turn around and hike back out or you can choose to follow along the Big Dominguez Creek. The trail continues to gradually loose elevation but it is pleasant to hike and there are plenty of wildflowers along with the peaceful sound of the creek to entice you to go further.

Some stretches of the trail channel water that is headed to the creek. It is still easy enough to keep your feet dry by either straddling the trail or walking off to the side.

The Smith Point trail arrives at Rocky Pitch Gulch after about 2 1/2 miles making it about 3 1/4 miles from the trailhead. If you wanted to keep hiking you can take a left and end up at the road heading to the Dominguez Campground or take the right fork and if you know where you are going you could loop around to the Dominguez Trail and back to the Smith Point trail and Carson Hole junction where you started.

There are plenty of signs of wildlife on the Smith Point trail including rabbits, squirrels, elk, deer and bear. The picture above is of some bear scat. I saw one pile that was probably the biggest pile of bear scat that I have seen anywhere. I kept my bear spray ready even though I didn't see any fresh tracks on the trail.

Places along the Smith Point trail were getting a lot of elk traffic. There were also tracks from a doe and fawn where the fawns tracks were not much bigger than the end of my thumb.

Besides all of the ponderosa pines there are also a large variety of other trees including spruce, cottonwood, juniper and pinyon. The cliffs stand out in colorful contrast to the greens of the trees and oak brush.

The Carson Hole and Smith Point trails offer a lot of beauty and solitude. Most of the visitors to the Uncompahgre Plateau are there for off road ATV activities. The area sees a lot of hunters in the fall. There were mountain bike tracks on the Smith Point trail that looked like they had been made within the last week but in the 3 1/2 hours that I spent hiking the area I didn't see another soul. If you would like to see the Carson Hole area for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.