Jouflas Horse Trail

Round Trip Distance: 8.3 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 4430 - 5057 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 5 hrs.
Trailhead: Jouflas
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic geology, overlooks, pictographs

The Jouflas Horse Trail is located in the Rabbit Valley area of the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area west of Grand Junction, Colorado. The trail gets its name from the Jouflas family who were prominent sheep ranchers in the area. This is one of the few trails in the Rabbit Valley area that is open to only hikers and horseback riders. Beginning off of the Rabbit Creek Road the trail makes a loop that takes it by pink and white sandstone cliffs to the rim of Ruby Canyon overlooking the 'black rocks rapids' of the Colorado River. From there it travels west along the rim to McDonald Creek Canyon, following it for about 1 mile before dropping into the upper area of the canyon where it passes a rock shelter and some pictographs before getting to the McDonald Creek Canyon trailhead where the route follows the Rabbit Valley Road back to close the loop.

The Rabbit Valley area has lots of roads that can become confusing to anyone unfamiliar with them. The easiest route to the trailhead involves taking the Rabbit Valley exit on I-70 and heading south. Begin measuring at the end of the pavement where there is a cattleguard. Follow the gravel road past the staging area. Take the right fork at 0.2 miles and the left fork at 0.5 miles. Follow the road through the wash that is sandy in places to the trailhead on your left at 1.2 miles. When the weather is dry this route doesn't require a high clearance vehicle.

There is room for several vehicles to park in the wash just before the cattleguard. The trail begins by crossing the cattleguard and following the south side of the fence line heading left or to the east.

After hiking almost a quarter mile there is another gate and sign for the Jouflas Horse Trail. This gate is for horseback riders that parked in the equestrian staging area and followed the trail from there. At this point follow the faint trail to the right that begins climbing the hillside heading south.

Within about another tenth of a mile the trail forks again. Take the left fork at this point and at the next fork stay to the left also. A few brown mylar trail markers would come in real handy in this area seeing how all of the alternate routes also have cairns.

At 1.8 miles the trail wraps around the point of sandstone cliffs that you can see in this picture. We were carrying the Grand Junction/Fruita edition of the National Geographic Trails Illustrated series. The cliff point is an obvious feature that makes it easy to orient yourself on the map. At this point the trail has gained over 450 feet of elevation but due to numerous washes that it drops into and climbs back out of the total elevation gain is considerably more. The overall elevation gain for this hike is 1,550 feet.

After traversing around the sandstone bluffs the trail comes to the rim above the river where it has no other option but to turn to the right.

At 2.5 miles you find yourself looking down at the Colorado River passing through Ruby Canyon. Further upstream the mouth of Mee Canyon is visible and looking downstream you can see Moore Bottom and the Black Rock rapids.

The hiking gets easier at this point as the trail begins a gradual descent while it loops back toward McDonald Creek Canyon.

The spires at the mouth of Moore Canyon can be seen across the river.

Looking downstream toward Utah the mouths of Knowles Canyon, on the other side of the river, and McDonald Creek Canyon, on this side of the river, are hidden from view even though they are relatively close by.

At about 4.7 miles the trail drops down some slickrock and enters a wash where it begins following the east side of McDonald Creek Canyon heading back toward the north. Keep an eye out for the cairns that mark the point where the trail climbs out of the wash on the right and begins following the bench area above the canyon.

This picture is looking down into McDonald Creek Canyon where its trail can easily be seen.

At about 5.8 miles the trail leaves the bench and drops down into the upper section of the canyon.

The trail enters the canyon right at the gnarly looking spillover that hikers heading down the canyon have to hike around. A very scenic little grotto lies below the spillover.

Keep an eye out for the pictographs on the east side of the wash about 10-15 feet up on the side of the cliff beneath an overhang when you reach the upper end of the canyon.

At 6.7 miles the Jouflas Horse Trail meets back up with the Rabbit Valley Road at the McDonald Creek Canyon trailhead. The Castle Rocks Campground is directly across the road by the nipple looking mass of rock.

It is 1.5 miles of road hiking back to where we started. There are areas where you can follow short sections of trail beside the road but the easiest option for tired legs is to just hike on the road.

We noticed footprints from 2-3 other hikers and tracks from a horse or two so the Jouflas Horse Trail is getting some use but for the most part it is a hidden gem. A person may want to carry a little extra water on this hike and if the temperature is over 90 F you may want to carry a lot extra. A topo map and/or a GPS with the route loaded in it would also be advisable for the easiest route finding. The trail has plenty of cairns to mark the route but like we said, so do the side trails. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.