Coal Canyon

Round Trip Distance: 6-21.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate - Strenuous
MTB Skill level:
Elevation: 4995 - 6592 feet
Cellphone: 0-2 bars
Time: 6 hrs.
Trailhead: Coal Canyon
Fee: none
Attractions: Wild horses, bighorn sheep, scenic wash

The Coal Canyon trail is located in the BLM Little Book Cliffs Wilderness Study and Wild Horse and Burro Management Area near Grand Junction, Colorado. Beginning at the Coal Canyon trailhead the follows a road for about 3 miles to where the Hoodoo trail begins. It is possible to extend the adventure another 9 miles or so by following a long wash that runs in the east-west direction behind Mount Garfield.

To get to the Coal Canyon trailhead take Exit 46 off of Interstate 70 in DeBeque Canyon and following the road across the river and up the canyon for about 2.4 miles.

There is a gate that is open seasonally allowing access to motorized travel during that time period.

Wild horses are seen frequently in Coal Canyon. We cam across a herd of 8 or 9 horses before we had gone 1 mile.

Passenger cars can usually make it up the first 3 miles of the canyon to where the Hoodoo trail begins. The route gets considerably rougher beyond this point.

A fork comes up a little past where the Hoodoo trail branched off. Be sure to go to the left at this point and follow the trail through the wash. There is a red diamond that marks the intersection.

This is where the trail gets really interesting as it begins following the wash. With scenic cliffs and overhangs along the way it is very pleasant.

There are 3 or 4 spurs that connect the Coal Canyon and Hoodoo trails. The first couple are very short. The third one is probably the funnest and the longest. The slideshow at the end of this post shows the trail from this point up to the Hoodoo trail and then continues back down in the wash.

There are some faded pictographs that are hard to make out a short distance from the wash on that spur trail.

For the most part the rest of the wash is very smooth. There are places where the trail leaves the wash and then reenters it a short distance later. The base of the wash is mostly a gravelly mix that includes flat pieces of shale. It makes a good surface to travel over because it doesn't bog you down like it would if it was all sand. There are also a few roads that climb out of the wash that lead up the backside of Mount Garfield to places like the Gierhart Mine.

Eventually the wash becomes clogged with boulders and becomes impassable. Just before that point there is a road that leaves the wash and begins a steep climb. The road continues west for about 1 mile or so before coming to an end. In the process it gains about 550 feet of elevation. The only reasons to continue on the road are to get more exercise or simply to satisfy your wanderlust. We were riding mountain bikes on this trip so when we turned around to head back we had about 10 miles of sweet downhill frolicking to look forward to. One of the funnest things you can do on a mountain bike in the Little Book Cliffs has to be running the long wash behind Mount Garfield.

One the trip back we spotted some bighorn sheep that were grazing down low about 2 miles from the trailhead. We watched them as they grazed along the slopes on the east side of the road and then crossed over to the west side. It isn't uncommon to see bighorn through here but much of the time they are so far away that you need binoculars.

The first 3 miles of Coal Canyon isn't all that exciting unless you happen to see some wild horses or bighorn sheep like we did. Beyond that it gets pretty interesting as the trail travels up the wash. We also came across several old rock shelters that we didn't mention and we are confident that we probably would have found more as well as more rock art if we would have spent more time looking. There is a natural arch in a section of white sandstone that you have to do some scrambling to get a look at. All in all Coal Canyon has a lot going for it that is very appealing. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.