Whitewater Creek/Mark's Trail

Round Trip Distance: 9.1 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 4982 - 5730 feet
Cellphone: 2-4 bars
Time: 5 hrs. 45 mins.
Trailhead: Mark's Trail
Fee: none
Attractions: Wildlife, easy access

The Whitewater Creek trail is located just east of Whitewater, Colorado. The trail follows the creek that drains the Whitewater Basin on the western flanks of the Grand Mesa. Sections of the trail have probably been around for thousands of years being originally created by Native Americans in the area. At some point a sign was placed at the trailhead that refers to the trail as 'Marks Trail'. All maps in our possession, as well as the Mesa County interactive map, still label it as the Whitewater Creek trail. Marks Trail appears to be some sort of honorary name.

To get to the trailhead from Whitewater head east on the paved Reeder Mesa Road for 2.2 miles and turn left onto the graveled Whitewater Creek Road. Follow it for 2.6 miles to the pullout on the right side of the road.

The first part of the trail is easy to follow as it heads around the hills toward the creek.

There are numerous wooden posts with a faint WWC stamp to mark the route. The posts are very important to take note of as you progress to be able to stay on the correct trail. Wherever there are side trails heading toward the creek stop and look for the next post. Most all of those side trails were made by cattle and big game that were probably going to the water to drink.

About 3/4 of a mile into the hike there is an old walk-over that can be bypassed simply by walking through the open fence.

Another walk-over and a gate come up at the 1 mile mark.

Continue hiking from post to post as you head up the north side of the creek. When the trail is ready to cross the creek the posts will lead the way under a magnificent cottonwood tree that has a few large branches that drop down to the ground as though they were stairs.

As the trail descends toward the creek stay to the right and follow it downstream for 20-30 feet where there is a relatively easy place to cross on the rocks. The trail at this point gets overgrown with grass and is hard to distinguish until you have crossed the creek.

After climbing out of the creeks drainage the trail passes through 2 gates that are close together.

The next mile or so of the trail follows a double track road. An occasional brown trail marker will offer reassurance that you are still following the official route.

At about 2.7 miles the trail crosses an irrigation ditch and this is where you must decide how much you want to continue. The official trail follows the road across the creek and comes out once again on the Whitewater Creek Road. From there it follows the road for several hundred yards or so and then departs again on the right. The problem is that the land, which is owned by the City of Grand Junction's Water District, is marked as private property and is leased to a family to ranch. The first time we went this way we were met by the family at the road and we told them the trail markers had led us to that point. After that we turned around and hiked back to the trailhead. The next time we hiked the trail we followed the general route shown by the dashed lines to avoid the private land and reconnect with the official trail in the distance. Although this is a shorter route it requires scrambling through several deep washes which is obviously why the official trail goes the way that it does.

After scrambling through the washes we got back on the official trail. You may notice that the pictures at this point are no longer green. That is because it was March when we hiked this portion of the trail. We rehiked the lower section in June to show what the area around the creek looks like when it is green.

As we continued up the drainage in March we were in the company of several dozen elk. These herds spend their summers higher up on the oak brush covered slopes of the Grand Mesa. During the winter they will range from Reeder Mesa north to as far away as the Palisade Rim area and even at times to the hillsides above Cameo.

As the trail passes through another gate one more marker provides reassurance that this is the official route.

The trail comes to a knob hill where it is no longer obvious which way to go. A fork in the trail, to the left, appears to lead back to the Whitewater Creek Road, which at this point has passed the ranch house where the family leasing the land lives. The other branch of the trail turns sharply to the right.

We followed the trail to the right paying attention to red surveyors tape that was tied to tree branches seemingly to mark the route. Eventually the tape ran out and so did the trail. We felt that we were almost to a dirt road that cuts through the area and connects to the Lands End Road but there was no sense in fighting our way through the brush at this point since there wasn't a trail. Sometime in the future we will see if we can drive in on that dirt road and follow the trail from that direction.

Back near the trailhead we hiked up one of the hills to check out the rocks that we could see from below that had been deliberately stacked for some purpose or another. We were left to wonder who may have stacked the rocks and what their exact intentions may have been.

The Whitewater Creek trail is open to mountain biking but at this time we wouldn't recommend it. With all the gates, fording the creek, and the short distance the general trail conditions wouldn't make for an enjoyable ride. We have seen families hiking the first part of the trail on several occasions. The Whitewater Creek trail should be okay to hike year round anytime the ground isn't muddy. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.