Coal Creek

One-way Distance: 9.1 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 8285 - 9924 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 6 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Carson Lake/Wild Rose
Fee: none
Attractions: Forest hike, solitude, elk

The Coal Creek trail begins at Carson Lake, on the Grand Mesa, at its upper end and follows somewhat of a bench along the north side of the Kannah Creek Basin for about 9 miles to the lower trailhead at the Wild Rose Picnic Area just off the Lands End Road. The trails in the Kannah Creek Basin have been used to gain access to the top of the Grand Mesa for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years. Ute Indians that once lived in the lower valleys along Kannah Creek would migrate up to the top of the mesa in the summer months to hunt and gather flowers and herbs for food and medicines.

The forest service built a new parking area at Carson Lake in 2010 equipped with a nice new restroom. There are several primitive camp sites along the road as you drive into the lake if you are interested in camping. The Coal Creek trail begins just across the road from the parking area. The Kannah Creek trail also begins at Carson Lake and you can find its trailhead by hiking across the dam to the south side of the creek.

The first mile of the Coal Creek trail is very easy to follow and is a very enjoyable hike. There are some mosquitoes but after spraying a little Off on my neck and hands and smearing some on my face I was able to finish the entire hike without a single bite.

The Coal Creek trail crosses Reservoir Creek just before the intersection of the Deep Creek trail at about the 1 mile point. The Deep Creek trail goes up to the top of the mesa and comes out at the Raber Cow Camp on the Lands End Road. This is a good place to turn around if all you were looking for was an easy short hike. The trail gets harder to follow and a little rougher from this point on.

I ended up in the middle of some elk just past the Deep Creek trail. The first cow elk was only about 20 feet away and just dropping over the side of the hill as I approached. It seem unaware of my presence. Several more elk were in the trees about 100 feet in front of me. The stayed where they were for a couple of minutes before the became spooked.

The Farmers trail is only about a quarter mile past the Deep Creek junction. Every time that I hike this section I end up getting off the main trail and end up having to scramble down a slippery little hill to get back on it. Judging from tracks that I see from other hikers it is a common problem.

The Coal Creek trail crosses Deep Creek, Skunk Creek and Gill Creek over the next couple of miles. If you would rather filter some of your water instead of carrying it all you should be able to find plenty of sources. There are cattle grazing on top of the mesa so I would strongly suggest that you don't drink the water without filtering it first. All of these streams end up at the City Intake where some of the water enters the Grand Junction water supply.

Large sections of the Coal Creek trail between Deep Creek and the lower trailhead are overgrown with various types of bushes and other plants. This pretty much makes long sleeve shirts and pants a must. I also makes route finding a little difficult in places. A good GPS with the route loaded can make it easier to stay on the trail but that alone isn't fool proof. The trail is very old and distinct if you can see through the growth. There are a number of side trails made by wildlife and hunters that can lead you astray. The main trail almost always shows signs of periodic maintenance where someone from the forest service has cut away fallen trees with a chainsaw.

I got off the main trail after crossing Gill Creek and ended up on a lower trail that was much harder to hike from there until I reached the Coal Creek Basin trail. After you cross Gill Creek there is a really nice trail that heads down the hill to the left. The trail that you want to stay on is more obscure and follows around the hillside to the right. You can go either way but the left trail is a lot more work.

The junction of the Coal Creek Basin trail is at about the 5.1 mile point. This trail leads down to the Kannah Creek Road at the City Intake trailhead.

Another tenth of a mile or so along the Coal Creek trail is the Switchback trail that leads back up to the top of the mesa to the Lands End Road.

The next few miles of the Coal Creek trail are a lot easier to hike. There is a lot less over growth and the trail remains mostly flat. You could run into a bear anywhere on the Coal Creek trail but the odds increase significantly in this area.

There is an old cabin hidden away in the trees just off the trail at about the 6.5 mile point. I have an old book that mentions some guys operating a still at this location.

The trail crosses the point of the ridge at about 7 miles. Up until this point there has been zero cell phone reception other than a weak signal around the Coal Creek Basin trail. Here my Verizon phone came alive with  4-5 bars. That was enough to let my rescue ride know when I would be getting to the lower trailhead. The trail has to pickup about 300 feet of elevation to get over the hump at this point. Other than for this section of the trail it has been all downhill.

I met a family on horseback that were headed in to do some camping. The horses help a lot with keeping the trail from totally disappearing.

I have been across this bridge that sit flat on the ground 4 or 5 times and I have never seen any water running under it. Maybe it was built before the water district began controlling the flow of the streams coming off of the mesa. Most of the lower section of the Coal Creek trail appears to have been made wide enough at one time to allow a wagon to pass up it. This bridge doesn't look quite that wide.

There are quite a few tasty king bolete mushrooms along the Coal Creek trail. There are also other mushrooms that you will want to stay clear of.

The king boletes average about 5-6 inches in diameter, they are brown, and the underside looks porous like a sponge rather than covered with gills. Mushrooms can be wormy similar to regular garden vegetables like radishes so it's always good to check them before you pack them home. Of course, if you are going to fry cook them then maybe you don't care.

The Coal Creek trail would be pretty tough to hike as a round trip in one day. If there wasn't so much brush to fight your way through it wouldn't be quite as bad but I was pretty beat by the time I reached the Wild Rose trailhead and I was glad that surfer girl was there to give me a ride back up to Carson Lake. The Coal Creek trail covers a lot of pretty country and even though it is in close proximity to town it feels like a true wilderness experience. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.