Ute Canyon Trail, Ute Canyon Trailhead, Colorado National Monument, Colorado

Ute Canyon Trail - 8.0 miles

Ute Canyon Trailhead

View over Ute Canyon from Liberty Cap

View over Ute Canyon from Liberty Cap

Round-Trip Length: 8.0 miles (trail continues to Liberty Cap and Wildwood TH)
Start-End Elevation: 6,440' - 5,570' (6,440' max elevation)
Elevation Change: -870' net elevation loss (+1,110' total roundtrip elevation)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Ute Canyon Trail - 8.0 Miles Round-Trip

The Ute Canyon Trailhead is located on Rim Rock Road, 9.5 miles from the visitor center in Colorado National Monument. The Ute Canyon Trail drops 515’ in just half a mile to the canyon floor, where an unimproved but well-defined route leads through a fecund riparian corridor to the Corkscrew Trail in the lower canyon.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The 4 mile trail is highlighted by lush and varied vegetation, stunning sandstone walls and abundant wildlife. Those with time may continue .9 miles on the Corkscrew to Liberty Cap, a 160 million year old lithified sand dune along the north canyon wall:

The trail drops steeply from Rim Rock Drive on tightly wound switchbacks to the upper canyon floor (.5 miles : 5,925’). Grades level considerably here and remain so much of the way.

A well-cut track turns south (right) and follows the main streambed through dense intervals of cottonwood, willow and tall grasses, a great stretch to see birds and bedded down mammals.

The trail runs up and down a knoll to circumvent Precambrian gneiss slots at 1.0 mile (5,919’), depositing you back in the main streambed at a major dogleg (left) in the canyon (1.15 miles : 5,825’). Though well-marked, take note of this decisive turn for the return hike.

A clear path continues down-canyon through a diverse collection of pinyon, juniper, sage and native grasses. Mature cryptobiotic soil crusts cover the ground, an essential element to desert life.

Cryptobiotic soil is a living ground that conducts photosynthesis and fixes nitrogen used by other plants. When wet, Cyanobacteria moves through the soil and binds particles, forming a fibrous mesh that stabilizes the surface, holds water and reduces wind erosion.

Travel quickens through a drier and expanding landscape in the lower canyon. Look for an arch carved like a slit high up on the south canyon wall about two miles from the trailhead.

You’ll cross dark rock slabs at 3.5 miles (5,612’), past which contrastingly bright crimson soils lead to the first of two Corkscrew Trail junctions (4.0 miles : 5,570’). 

This is the official end of the Ute Canyon Trail, but you may continue .9 miles and 325’ up to Liberty Cap (note most of this elevation is gained on a short section of switchbacks). View this map for complete route details.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N39 02.217 W108 42.535 — 0.0 miles : Ute Canyon Trailhead - begin steep descent
  • N39 02.318 W108 42.384 — .5 miles : Travel moderates on canyon floor after 515' drop in .5 mile
  • N39 02.096 W108 41.870 — 1.15 miles : Sharp turn left down beside central wash
  • N39 02.313 W108 41.681 — 1.5 miles : Clear trail leads thru diverse brush and cottonwoods
  • N39 02.597 W108 41.436 — 2.0 miles : Trail follows central wash - look for arch
  • N39 02.949 W108 41.182 — 2.5 miles : Fast travel through wide, lower canyon
  • N39 03.191 W108 40.826 — 3.0 miles : Sparse pinyon-juniper and open sage flats
  • N39 03.331 W108 40.370 — 3.5 miles : Trail runs over open dark rock slab
  • N39 03.358 W108 39.941 — 4.0 miles : Ute Canyon Trail - Corkscrew Trail #1
  • N39 03.529 W108 40.048 — 4.25 miles : Corkscrew Trail split #2 - to Liberty Cap
  • N39 03.413 W108 40.078 — 4.9 miles : Liberty Cap

Worth Noting

  • Ute Canyon is also accessible from the Wildwood Trailhead, located just off South Camp Road outside Monument boundaries. This is a longer alternative for reaching the heart of Ute Canyon, but no fee is required.

  • Ute Canyon is carved from the eastern edge of the Uncompahgre Plateau and stretches over 6 miles into the Grand Junction valley. It’s the longest canyon in the Colorado National Monument.

  • Liberty Cap is located .9 miles and 325' up from the first Ute Canyon - Corkscrew Trail junction (note most of this elevation is gained in a short period on switchbacks). This is a compelling extension for those with time. Liberty Cap is a 160M year old sand dune that's been compressed into sandstone and sculpted by erosion.
  • The Precambrian gneiss slots (1 mile mark) are accessible from the wash, or by a short, steep scramble. Hikers are discouraged from entering these slots to avoid disturbing water pockets relied upon by wildlife.

Camping and Backpacking Information

Saddlehorn Campground

  • The Saddlehorn Campground is located next to the Saddlehorn Visitor Center, four miles from the west entrance.

  • $20 per site per night (in addition to the entrance fee). $10 per site per night discount for holders of Inter-agency Senior or Inter-agency Access Passes.

  • There are 80 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis with a self-registration kiosk at the entrance. Sites accommodate tents and RVs, with some pull-through sites (length limit is 40').

  • Each site includes a picnic table and charcoal-only grill. Wood fires are not permitted anywhere in the monument. There are no electric hookups or showers. Restrooms have flush toilets and water available during the summer.

  • 7 person per site limit, 3 tents per site, and two 2 vehicles per site. Generator use is prohibited from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.

Backcountry Camping Regulations

  • Backcountry Camping Permits are required in Colorado National Monument. Permits are free. The permit must be in your possession while traveling in the backcountry.

  • Group size is limited to 7 people.

  • Campers must camp 1/4 mile or more from any road or developed facility and 150' from any trail. Camping is not permitted in streambeds.

  • Fires are not permitted, with the exception of gas or alcohol camp stoves.

  • Pets, bicycles, motorized equipment, and devices such as radios, generators, etc., are not allowed in the backcountry.

  • In any calendar year, backcountry campers are limited to 14 overnight stays, whether accrued consecutively or in any combination of separate visits. Single trips are limited to 7 nights.

  • Water is not available in the backcountry, even during the spring runoff. Springs, streams, and pools may contain harmful substances like selenium or bacteria like Giardia.

Rules and Regulations

Entrance Fees
Private, non-commercial vehicle: $10
Motorcycles: $5
Individual (hiker, bicyclist ): $5

Fees are good for seven consecutive days. Fees apply to persons 16 years and older.

Directions to Trailhead

The Ute Canyon Trailhead is located 9.5 miles from the Colorado National Monument Visitor Center on Rim Rock Drive (West Entrance Station).

Contact Information

Colorado National Monument
Fruita, CO 81521-0001

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