Carson Lake

Round Trip Distance: 3.9 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 9878 - 10,323 feet
Cellphone: 0-2 bars
Time: 2 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Matchet Cow Camp
Fee: none
Attractions: Forest hike, wildflowers

The Carson Lake trail is located at the head of the Kannah Creek Basin in the Grand Mesa National Forest near Grand Junction, Colorado. The lake is part of the Grand Junction municipal water supply. The City of Grand Junction built a dam around 1946 where Kannah Creek ran out of the lake to increase its storage capacity. At the time the lake was called the Hogchute. All of the reservoirs on the west end of the Grand Mesa were built by local farmers and cattlemen using their own money and labor. Many were completed before there were any roads up to the mesa. All of the cement, sand and other materials they needed had to be packed up the difficult trails from the valley below. Of all those reservoirs Carson Lake and the Flowing Park enlargement at the head of Sheep Creek were the only ones built by the City of Grand Junction.

The Carson Lake trail runs between Carson Lake and the Matchet Cow Camp at the end of Forest Road 109.1b. While you can begin at either end of the trail this post begins at the cow camp trailhead.

The trail isn't worn a great deal between the trailhead and the trees but there are enough trail markers to lead the way. If you are unsure which way to go then look for the next marker. If you can't find a marker then you may need to backtrack a little until you can. If all of the markers are standing up then it is easy to see from one to another.

The trail is much more obvious once it enters the trees. A relatively new pole fence that was put up to keep the cows from going down the mesa has been constructed across the trail. All you have to do is slide one of the poles out of the way so you can step through the fence and then slide it back into place.

The trail gets real rough and rocky after passing through the fence.

After dropping a good bit of elevation the trail levels out somewhat and becomes much smoother and pleasant to hike.

The pink polka dot plastic tied to the small aspen tree is a leftover from the Grand Mesa 100 race that passes through this part of the mesa.

When we hiked the Carson Lake trail for this post we really wanted to see what it would be like to hike all of the way around the lake. It was at this point, right before getting to the dam, that we rejoined the main trail. While it was possible to hike around the lake there were a few difficult spots that not everyone may be up for that we will point out later in this post.

As you cross the dam look to the west where Kannah Creek makes its initial plunge into the basin and you will see the area known as the Hogchute. At one time there was a cabin by the same name that the cowboys had built just under the rim. The cabin was a main gathering point for the cowboys moving their herds up to the mesa.

After crossing the dam the trail leads up to the parking area and the Carson Lake campground. There is a fairly new vault toilet at the parking area. If you choose to hike around the lake then you will want to pick up the trail along the north shore just before recrossing the dam.

The trail is easy to follow until you get to the where it crosses the creek at the east end of the lake.

After crossing the creek there isn't an obvious trail to follow until you get around to the trees along the south side of the lake. Portions of the area are choked with willows. The best way around is to either keep a high line around the willows or keep a low line along the shore. We chose the higher route but there was really nothing about it too recommend it over the other.

The trail along the south side of the lake shows a bit more traffic but there are a few places that take a little work to get past. The best path to follow is the one that stays closest to the water.

Summers are short at this altitude. It seems that no sooner than the leaves get green and the snow melts that they are turning to gold and the snow is flying once again.

After rejoining the main trail it is just retracing the previous route back up the mountain. The Carson Lake trail by itself is only about 1 mile long. The trek around the lake added almost 2 more miles to the hike for a round trip distance of almost 4 miles. Of course, the extra ground covered means more opportunities for seeing wildlife and more solitude on the route less traveled. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.