Otto's Wall

One-way Distance: 3 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
MTB Skill level:
Elevation: 9,006 - 9,865 feet
Cellphone: 0-2 bars
Time: 2 hrs. (hiking)
Trailhead: Shirttail Point
Fee: none
Attractions: Epic plunge

Otto's Wall is the 3 mile section of the 33.8 mile long Palisade Plunge trail, near Grand Junction, Colorado, that runs from Shirttail Point to where the trail crosses the Lands End Road. From the edge of the Grand Mesa the trail plunges down a tightly packed set of switchbacks where it loses 600 feet of elevation before traveling a single mile. Prior to 1920 John Otto blasted the route into the sheer face of the basalt rim of the mesa over which he dry laid the upper portion of the trail. The original trail, that was named the Wild Rose Trail, fell out of use when a rockfall took out several of the switchbacks.

We added the Shirttail Point Trailhead to Google Maps so by the time this post is published entering that into your driving app should result in turn-by-turn directions. Other than that all you need to do is find your way up the Grand Mesa, on Scenic Byway Highway 90, and turn onto the Lands End Road. The trailhead will be on the left after 11 miles which is shortly before reaching the Lands End Observatory.

The trail starts out through a pleasant grove of aspens where at the edge of the mesa it comes to a kiosk that relates much of the extant information about Otto's Wall. More photos and other tidbits can be found in the book 'Images of America Colorado National Monument' by Alan J. Kania.

After passing the kiosk the plunge begins with the first set of switchbacks.

The trail seemingly corkscrews its way into the basin below as it starts its rapid descent.

Different types of pipe placed into holes that were drilled into the bedrock to shore up the trail can still be seen as the trail levels off along Otto's Wall.

After the brief repreve along Otto's Wall another series of switchbacks continues the plunge.

Near the bottom of the second set of switchbacks the trail touches upon a treeless knoll and almost bumps into the Coal Creek trail that runs between Carson Lake and the Wild Rose Picnic Area.

By the time the trail reaches the 1 mile point it has completed the second set of switchbacks and turns northward through pleasant stands of aspens. The trail varies between easy and intermediate depending upon the terrain that is crosscut by a number of hills and valleys that is has to work through.

A sunny meadowy area comes up at both branches of the North Fork of Kannah Creek.

A little before reaching the Lands End Road the trail deals with a number of rough patches of basalt.

At the 14.7 mile marker of the overall Palisade Plunge the trail crosses the Lands End Road. As it is would have been hard to take the 350 photos that we took any other way we were hiking for this section of the trail and this is where we turned around and climbed back up to the mesa.

For your entertainment, here is a look at the elevation profile. Otto's Wall is the flat spot at 9700 feet.

On the trip back up the trail we were met by a bobcat coming toward us right before the upper set of switchbacks. It bailed over the side and disappeared in the bushes in a matter of seconds. All together we were on the trail for just under 4 hours during which time we saw 2 mountain bikers and 6 other people on foot. Three of those on foot were bear hunters. We saw one of the shuttles from Palisade drop a large group off at Shirttail Point on a different day. If you would like to try this section of the Palisade Plunge for yourself all you have to do is grab your bike or 'Take a hike'.