Crag Crest Nordic

Round Trip Distance: 2 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
XC Skill level:
Elevation: 10,419 - 10,697 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 2 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Pullout along Highway 65
Fee: none
Attractions: Solitude, Scenic winter landscape

The Crag Crest trail is located in the Grand Mesa National Forest near Grand Junction and Cedaredge, Colorado. With the trails close proximity to Highway 65, which is maintained year round, the Crag Crest trail is a suitable location for both snowshoeing and cross country skiing. Portions of the trail are very steep which makes for a challenging outing for anyone interested in conquering the crest.

There are 3 different trailheads that are available for accessing Crag Crest in the summer months. This post approaches the trail from the west but since the main trailhead across the road from Grand Mesa Lodge at Island Lake is snowed in this time of year we begin instead from a pullout a little further east that is situated along Highway 65. Another alternative to access the west side of the trail would be to begin at the Grand Mesa Visitor Center and follow the Arch Slough trail to the Crag Crest Cutoff trail.

By the time the Crag Crest trail from the west trailhead reaches the point above the pullout along Highway 65 it is already almost exactly 100 feet higher in elevation than the road. If there are no tracks to follow then make your own trail up the side of the hill to just under the first point. This is the spot where the Crag Crest trail normally cuts across the hillside during the summer. The trail levels off for the most part while heading east toward the first trail junction.

Even with over 5 feet of snow on the ground you can still make out the depression of the Crag Crest trail. A recent storm dumped over 2 feet of fresh powder on the trail. It is hard to tell if anyone had been up here before that time other than back on the hillside where someone had been skiing.

There aren't any blue diamonds on the trees to mark the trail for winter activity and the only other trail markers are the ones you will find at the trail junctions. I actually got off the main trail and missed the first trail junction but by having my GPS and having been up here several times in the past I knew right where I was heading anyway. After skirting around the left side of the hillside I once again rejoined the main trail as you can see by the depression that reappeared marking the route.

The climbing begins once again at the west end of Wolverine Lake. The depression in the snow has disappeared for the most part along the steep terrain but it can still be made out up ahead where the trail reenters the trees.

Looking beyond Wolverine Lake you can see a section of the long ridge of Crag Crest forming the distant skyline.

The trail continues climbing at about the same angle for about a quarter mile with the side of the mountain getting increasingly steeper as you go. Eventually the trail seems to stop but it is here that it makes its first switchback.

It's a shame to turnaround so close to the the ridge but the snow at this point had a hard crust that had formed on it. The last hundred yards or so probably would have been easier with ice cleats than with snowshoes. Breaking a good trail up the slope was taking an extraordinary amount of energy but anything less would have made the return trip pretty touchy. Lose your footing up here and you probably won't stop until you reach the lake. Anyway, for this post I turned around at the point where the trail passes under the rocky outcrop. Whoever comes up next will have a much easier time of it with most of the trail broke to this point.

I wear a pair of 36" Tubbs that lay down a pretty good trail for others to follow. I have had the snowshoes for about 20 years now and besides lots of snowshoeing on the Grand Mesa they have been to the top of about a dozen 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado.

I stayed on the main trail on the return trip. Another foot or so of snow and the trail signs at the junction will be all covered up.

A good alternative to snowshoeing all the way up to the ridge would be to take a right at the first junction and explore some of the connector trail before turning around. Anyone serious about snowshoeing the entire 11 mile loop will probably want to tie their winter camping gear on a sled and make a backpacking trip out of it. If you have never done any winter camping on the mesa where you are away from your vehicle I would recommend that you try that before getting too remote. Even on this simple outing I am carrying a fire starter and a few other survival items. A good GPS with extra batteries is also highly recommended anytime you are getting off of the groomed trails. I also carry a SPOT satellite communicator just in case I do need a rescue or come across someone else that does. Besides all of that the Crag Crest trail is a good place to get away from the big crowds around Skyway and the County Line Nordic areas. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.