West Bench Nordic

Rating:  Round Trip Distance: 8-16k or 5-10 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
XC Skill level:
Elevation: 9760 - 9897 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 3 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Jumbo Reservoir
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic ungroomed trails, moose, elk

The West Bench trail is located in the Mesa Lakes area on the Grand Mesa. The trail is a favorite destination not only for snowshoeing and cross country skiing but it is equally popular with hikers in the warmer months. The trail begins at the Jumbo Reservoir trailhead and stretches westward under the north rim of the mesa as far as the number 2 lift of the Powderhorn Ski area. For this outing I stopped at about the east edge of the Powderhorn property just short of Lift 1. If you continue all the way to Lift 2 you will have logged a little more than 10 miles round trip.

After trekking through the campground on the west side of Jumbo Reservoir you come to the first signs for the West Bench trail where the bridge crosses the spillway of Sunset Lake. From here the trail crosses the dam to the west side of the lake.

After crossing the dam the trail drops down through the trees. There is a forest service sign denoting the distances to the Powderhorn lifts. On a real snowy year you might only see the blue pole sticking out of the snow. The sign indicates it is 3 miles to lift 1 and 5 miles to lift 2. From this point on you will also begin to see the blue diamonds on the trees marking the Nordic trail.

The trail follows a road as it passes by several privately owned cabins. Just past the last cabin the trail descends a hill and enters into the wilderness of the West Bench. The elevation of the West Bench varies by only 137 feet from its lowest to highest point. That small variance is very deceiving as the West Bench trail is continually undulating up and down small hills from one end to the other. You might find the workout to be a little more than you had imagined. That's no problem though since you don't have to complete a loop to get back to the start and can turn around when you feel it is best.

If you are snowshoeing you will want to avoid walking on the ski tracks if there are any present and make your own trail off to either side. There are a few sections where the trail gets narrow enough that your tracks and the ski tracks may be almost touching. You do what you can and hopefully everyone will be good natured about it.

The stands of aspen and spruce trees provide a lot of shelter from the wind. The swath cut through the trees makes the West Bench trail one of the easiest trails to follow on the Grand Mesa. There is one spot where the trail forks giving you two routes to choose from. The right fork is the easiest one to follow in the winter and the left fork is the best way to go any other time. The snow covers a lot of rocks and downed trees that prove to be big obstacles on a summer hike. The trails meet up again after about a quarter mile.

The trail passes through one large open area where you loose all the protection of the trees. Any tracks made by previous trekkers are often blown over. There are a couple of blue poles that make it easy enough to cross the open spot when the visibility is good. If you come here in the summer you will find a natural garden of wildflowers covering the clearing.

On some relatively straight sections of trail the trees form long inviting corridors.

There is enough water passing through the lakes that the streams are usually ice free.

I'm not sure but if you can't read the sign do you still have to stop. A little more snow and nobody will know the sign is there anyway.

My legs were pretty tired by the time that I finished. They had been getting a big workout all week so it was a little difficult to judge just how hard the trail actually was. When I made it back to the dam at Sunset Lake the wind was blowing hard enough to knock me sideways. The camera lens apparently got enough snow on it to blur up a few of the pictures towards the end.

Don't get too alarmed if the parking area has a lot of vehicles. Most people don't venture too far down the West Bench trail. Most people are probably there for the Mesa Lakes and Water Dog trails.  Also, be sure to come back and check out the West Bench trail in the summer. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.