More hiking in Colorado National Monument, and the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area 

click to enlarge Liberty Cap rock,Colorado National Monument - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Liberty Cap rock,Colorado National Monument
The Western Slope is home to some of the wildest and most diverse terrain in the state. Desert-like terrain to the north and west of Grand Junction borders lush, green farmland in places like Palisade and Fruita, where some of the states best peaches, apricots, cherries — and wine — are produced. 

The area around Grand Junction — the largest city in the state west of Denver — is a hub for outdoor recreation. And Colorado National Monument and the McInnis National Conservation Area to the west of Grand Junction are two more areas with a lot of outdoor recreation options. On a recent trip there I hiked three trails that were vastly different in features, difficulty and accessibility.

My first hike was on a return trip to Colorado National Monument. One of the monuments backcountry trails, the Liberty Cap Trail, is a 7-mile (one way) trail that can be moderate to easy, or just plain easy depending on which end you start from. The easiest route starts from the trailhead on the Monument's Rim Rock Road, about 9 miles south of the visitors center. From there, the trail is a wide, mostly flat trek through juniper bushes for about 5.5 miles until it reaches the "Liberty Cap" rock formation. The trail offers nice views into the canyon that runs north through the park along the way.
click to enlarge A view from the Liberty Cap Trail, Colorado National Monument - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • A view from the Liberty Cap Trail, Colorado National Monument

Once at Liberty Cap, the trail drops down pretty steeply to the east side of the monument and ends at the east trailhead at the end of a residential street in the town of Redlands — a distance of about 7 miles. For detailed directions for either trailhead see this page on the nps.gov website.

The McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, 123,400 acres managed by the BLM, is home to canyons, petroglyphs, fossils, waterways, arches and classic scenery usually only seen in old westerns, and right next to Colorado National Monument. There is no shortage of recreational opportunities here, whether your preference is mountain biking, ATVs, hiking, fishing or horseback riding. To see the second-largest concentration of natural arches in North America, the Rattlesnake Arches loop trail in Rattlesnake Canyon deserves your attention.

click to enlarge One of the arches in Rattlesnake Canyon, McInnis Canyons Natural Conservation Area - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • One of the arches in Rattlesnake Canyon, McInnis Canyons Natural Conservation Area
The trail itself is a pretty easy 6 mile hike, but getting there requires some work. You either have to drive a 12-mile dirt road to the trailhead — the last 2 miles of which requires 4-wheel-drive — or hike in from the more easily accessible Pollock Bench Trail head. Although more accessible, the Pollock Bench Trail head is 5 miles from where it meets the Arches Loop trail, so your hike from the trailhead and around the loop and back will be about 15 miles round trip.

See this page for more information about McInnis Canyons, and this page about accessing the Rattlesnake Arches Loop Trail via the 4WD road.

click to enlarge The view from the summit of Mt. Garfield. - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • The view from the summit of Mt. Garfield.
If you're looking for a workout hike that rivals the Manitou Incline, you're looking for Mt. Garfield.  Located right across I-70 from the town of Palisade, just east of Grand Junction, the hike up to the broad, flat top of Mt. Garfield is an arduous hike, gaining 2,000' in about 2 miles. The trail is a combination of steep, hard-packed clay, and slippery, broken shale rock. It's a narrow trail that wraps around the side of a hill, where the drop off is well over 1,000'. The final stretch to the top of Mt. Garfield is a short rock scramble, and you're greeted by views of Grand Junction and surrounding towns, the Grand Valley and vast tracts of wide, uninhabited land once you reach the top. As an added bonus, you may see wild horses that are known to be in the area while you're on the trail.  A flag pole at the top and a nearby marker signify that you've completed the hike.

click to enlarge Summit maker on Mt Garfield - BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
  • Summit maker on Mt Garfield
The hike back down isn't much easier, especially the last mile which is very steep. When wet, the hard-packed clay turns into mud with the consistency of grease, making the climb up or down rather treacherous — it'll do a number on your legs and your lungs.

To get there: From I-70, take the only exit for Palisade and turn south on Elberta Ave.  Travel a short distance and turn right (west) onto 7/10 Road. Follow 7/10 Road until it makes a right turn and becomes a dirt road. Go through the narrow tunnel under I-70 to the parking area. Other than an informational sign nearby about the history of the area, there are no trail signs.

Happy Trails!

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for more than 26 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.


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