Lower Palisade Plunge

Round Trip Distance: 7.5 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
MTB Skill level:
Elevation: 4,716 - 6,200 feet
Cellphone: 0-4 bars
Time: 5 hrs.
Trailhead: Palisade Rim
Fee: none
Attractions: new singletrack

This post covers a lower stretch of the Palisade Plunge trail in the area of the Palisade Rim. The Palisade Plunge begins at the Mesa Top trailhead on the Grand Mesa where the elevation is in the neighborhood of 10,700 feet. From there it travels westward across the mesa for almost 12 miles before dropping over the rim. Once below the rim it continues for a few more miles before crossing the Lands End Road where the elevation is 9,031 feet. The trail continues to descend across the west face of the Grand Mesa until it drops over the Little Book Cliffs and makes its final plunge down to the Palisade Rim trailhead next to the Colorado River where the pavement can be followed the rest of the way to downtown Palisade.

The section of the trail between the Lands End Road at mile 14.7 and somewhere around mile 27 will be closed between December 1 and April 30 each year leaving the section on top of the mesa open for snow bikes and Nordic use. The lower 3 miles or so that this post covers will be accessible all year round. Like all trails it should be avoided when the conditions are too muddy. To get started in the uphill direction pass through the fence and cross the canal where the Palisade Rim trail starts out after crossing the highway.

After crossing the canal the trail travels up a very scenic side canyon. You'll want to avoid this part of the trail if there are chances of flashfloods and opt to follow the lower loop of the Palisade Rim up to at least the first connector.

We have hiked up this canyon for years and before they built the Palisade Plunge there was all kind of scrambling required to get around the large boulders that choked the wash. Now there are nice ramps around the boulders that make easy work of it.

The trail reaches a 5 or 6 foot dry fall that is easily climbed on the right side where the honeycombs provide extra footing. At the top of the dry fall the new Palisade Plunge route turns sharply to the right and switchbacks up and past the next dry falls that are much higher.

Once the trail gets up on the slope above the wash it passes the first short connector that runs over to the lower loop of the Palisade Rim trail.

After getting past all the dry falls the trail returns to the wash. A fork comes up where the 2nd connector branches off on the right. The Palisade Plunge is coming down the narrow chute on the left at this point. Anyone going in the uphill direction should probably avoid going up the chute but rather follow the connector to the right a short distance and go up the old 4wd road instead until you reconnect with the Palisade Plunge at mile marker 30.3.

After traveling up the narrow wash a ways the trail climbs out and comes to a kiosk where it crosses an old jeep road. The kiosk has MP 30.3 in the upper right hand corner and a nice map that makes it easy to get oriented.

From the kiosk the trail follows the road for a few hundred feet before branching off on its own and heading up the mountain. As the trail takes off on the singletrack there is a nice view of Mount Lincoln, on the right, and Mount Garfield, further away on the left.

The trail takes an interesting route as it makes the best out of the different contours and features that the  mountain has to offer.

Right around the 3.3 mile point from the bottom the trail reaches the first ridge and begins traveling along the west side at the base of the cliffs. There is a nice natural bench along the cliffs where you can sit and take in the views of the valley below.

For this post we turned around at the 3.6 mile point at the bottom of a long ramp. The official map makes it look like the winter closure will begin somewhere in this area.

Going in the downhill direction as the trail is intended it looks more like this. There are a few places where the cross slope is steeper that the trail gets narrower as it seemingly clings to the side of the mountain. There are also places where the adobe gives way to sandy shale that tends to sluff over the path. The lower down the mountain you get the wider and less exposed the trail becomes.

The bottom part of the trail that travels through the scenic side canyon is already being heavily used by both hikers and mountain bikers that are combining it with the Palisade Rim trail for an alternate route. We've been hiking up to the rim near where we turned around for this post for quite a few years before the Palisade Plunge trail came along. It's certainly a lot different now that there is an official trail to follow. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is grab your bike or 'Take a hike'.

NOTE: After watching mountain bikers attempt to ride the Palisade Plunge in the uphill direction during the winter closure we would suggest an alternate route by going up the lower Palisade Rim trail to the second connector, then take the connector to the old 4wd road and follow that up to MM 30.3. From there you can ride up the first part of the Palisade Plunge that isn't excessively steep until you feel like turning around. We wouldn't suggest riding the trail in the uphill direction at any other time than the winter closure when the trail is dry enough to do so without causing damage.