Coal Creek Basin

Round Trip Distance: 9.3 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 6146 - 9106 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 6 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: City Intake
Fee: none
Attractions: Forest hike, solitude

The Coal Creek Basin trail is located within the Kannah Creek drainage area of the Grand Mesa. The trail stretches from near the City Intake trailhead on the Kannah Creek Road southeast of Whitewater, up the side of the Grand Mesa for about 4.7 miles, to the Coal Creek trail. It is possible to continue to the top of the mesa on the 1 mile long Switchback trail. Doing so would add another 2 miles to the round trip distance and another 1000 feet of elevation gain.

Rather than parking at the City Intake trailhead it is easy to continue around the horseshoe bend in the Kannah Creek Road and park at the pullout just past the Coal Creek Basin trailhead. There is a green Powder River gate in the fence that you can pass through.

The first 3/4 mile of the Coal Creek Basin trail follows an old road that leads up to the Kannah Creek Highline Ditch. This portion of the ditch road has been replaced by another access road that intersects the trail a little further up the hill.

The Coal Creek Basin trail departs from the ditch road after about 3/4 of a mile and crosses the irrigation ditch. If you miss the turn you will end up following the road to where the ditch comes out of Kannah Creek. That is a nice little hike if you ever decide to check it out but it isn't the Coal Creek Basin trail.

After crossing the ditch the trail begins climbing through the juniper and pinyon trees towards the steep cliffs of the Grand Mesa.

A fire called the Coal Creek fire burned through the basin in the summer of 2008. At the time of the fire the ground was fairly moist so the charred remains of many of the trees and oak brush are still standing.

The grass has grown thicker in the burned area and that seems to have made a better habitat for the wild game. If you look close at the picture you might be able to see a cow elk that was with several others along with their calves.

After hiking about 1.5 miles past the irrigation ditch, or 2.5 miles overall, the trail crosses Coal Creek. This is a great spot to have a picnic or at least stop for a rest. If you need to filter some drinking water this is the best spot to do it. The trail is close to the creek in a few other places but it is almost impossible to get through the brush to get to the water except here at the bridge. There are several tall ponderosa pines that made it through the fire pretty much unscathed. I also need to say, many kudos to whoever built this delightful bridge.

The trail continues climbing at a steady pace for the remaining 2 miles or so. The sides of the mountain are covered with grass and wildflowers. The trail is a little rocky in places and rutted out by the many elk hooves that have left their impression in the soil when the trail was muddy. Other than that it was very pleasant.

The trail comes to an end on a little nob where it meets the Coal Creek trail. The Coal Creek trail runs from the Wild Rose trailhead on the Lands End Road, around the side of the mesa, to Carson Lake. If you are wanting to continue on the Switchback trail to the top of the mesa take a left onto the Coal Creek trail and you will find the other trail after a short distance.

Once you turn around and look back down the mountain you can get a real appreciation for just how high you have climbed. The trailhead looks so far away but it only took about 3 hours to get to this point.

There were elk once again about a quarter mile from where they were on the trip up. I rested at the bridge on the way down for about a half hour and refilled my camelback from some spare bottles that I was carrying in my pack.

I'm not sure who the original trail builders were but as you can see from the picture a lot of work was put into the construction.

Here is a picture of a blue grouse that posed for a picture beside the trail. These birds usually fly up the nearest tree when anyone approaches. Probably the only game bird in the area bigger than these grouse would be a wild turkey. There seem to be pretty good numbers of blue gross in the Kannah Creek drainage.

Anytime you plan on hiking up the side of the Grand Mesa you can look forward to getting a good workout. This trail is part of the Grand Mesa 100 trail race. That has to be about one of the toughest races in the world. I went through 140 ounces of water and 60 ounces of Gatorade on this hike. If you are looking for more of a family hike but something that still has a little bit of a challenge you might enjoy just hiking to the bridge and back. If you have always wanted to hike up to the top of the mesa from the very bottom then this might be the easiest route to take. It would also be a good outing to have someone drop you off at the Switchback trail on the Lands End Road and hike the whole thing going downhill. Anyway you do it f you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.