Whitewater Basin

Round Trip Distance: 6.6 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 5925 - 7768 feet
Cellphone: 1-4 bars
Time: 4 hrs.
Trailhead: Lower Cabin Trail
Fee: none
Attractions: Forest hike, deer, elk, turkeys

The Whitewater Basin trail is located in the Grand Mesa National Forest near Grand Junction, Colorado. The trail stretches for 3.75 miles between the lower trailhead at the west forest boundary along Whitewater Creek where the elevation is 6,800 feet and continues to the upper trailhead that is located along the Lands End Road at an elevation of about 9,000 feet. That's the way the Forest Service website tells the story but that isn't quite what the reality of the trail is. The fact is if you begin at the upper trailhead you won't make it more than about 50 feet past the first trail marker before you are so entangled in the oakbrush and uncertain of how to proceed that the only sensible thing to do is retreat. As you will see from reading further the same problem occurs when trying to reach the upper trailhead from the bottom.

This post begins by starting from a point along the Whitewater Creek trail. The directions for starting the hike on the Whitewater Creek trail are slightly different from starting at the Forest Service trailhead. Travel south out of Grand Junction on Highway 50 for about 12 miles and turn east on the Lands End Road. Follow the Lands End Road for about 8.3 miles to a dirt road on the left. This road has been upgraded somewhat due to oil and gas activity in the area. A large culvert has been installed so you no longer have to drive through the stream. Follow the dirt road staying to the left as it leaves the highway. The road to the Forest Service trailhead is a right turn at 0.8 miles. You will need a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle to go that way. For this post we continued straight until we had driven about 2.5 miles from the turnoff from the Lands End Road. This road is named the Whitewater Creek Road on the maps although there aren't any signs that say as much. Just before you get to the 2.5 mile point you will see an intersection where you can make a right turn on another dirt road. There are several brown mylar trail markers that point our the route for the Whitewater Creek trail. If you drive down the road a short distance you will see where the markers follow an older trail on the right that leads up toward the mesa. Park here and begin hiking.

The part of the trail that is on BLM land is well marked with the brown mylar trail markers.

Most of the trail actually looks like an old road. Eventually the trail begins crossing a branch of Whitewater Creek which is usually dry. This section of the trail no longer looks much like a road but it is pretty well marked with cairns. Be sure you can see where the cairns are leading you before hiking too far. You should be able to almost see from cairn to cairn or at least see back to the last cairn that you passed by the time the next cairn comes into view.

The BLM trail joins the road to the Forest Service trailhead after about a mile and a half. The Forest Service boundary is just under 2 miles from where we started and right at an elevation of 9800 feet.

After passing through the boundary fence the route still looks like a road for a little further and is easy to follow.

Eventually the road crosses the creek and comes near to the Brandon Ditch where it switches back to the right and then to the left. The road quickly peters out and becomes more of a steep shallow wash.

A little further and the only signs of the remaining trail are marked with a few red ribbons that also peter out. Be careful hiking past this point without a GPS because it is easy to get lost and turned around in all the brush.

The oakbrush becomes thicker and thicker as you continue to practically fight your way up the basin.

Eventually all signs of the trail totally disappear. We tried a half dozen promising looking game trails that all disappeared after following them only short distances. It would have been nice to make it at least another mile up the basin but we were hiking by the GPS at this point and without a designated trail it was becoming a waste of time. We had been looking forward to this hike for several years and it was very disappointing to find the trail in this condition.

All of the water from the creek is diverted into Brandon Ditch.

The BLM section of trail was in good condition and easy to follow compared to the Forest Service section. Good proof that this trail followed an older Indian trail comes from this tiny arrowhead that we spotted along the way. This almost perfect arrowhead is barely over an inch long. It is said that when the settlers moved into the Kannah Creek area they were constantly turning up Indian artifacts when clearing their fields. For that reason we were keeping our eyes peeled for anything interesting.

This website gets search engine hits from people looking for information on the Whitewater Basin trail so even though most of it is practically non-existent we will post our findings here. If there would have been more red ribbons on the trees we would have fought our way further up the basin. Maybe at some point the trail can be rebuilt and made suitable for hiking. It would be a great addition to the other trails in the area. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.