7 of the Best Trails in Western Colorado’s Frontier Country
Photo Courtesy: West End Trails Alliance
The Colorado Plateau in the western part of the state is a diverse ecosystem of mesas, high alpine environments and dramatic red rock canyons. Indigenous peoples first populated the land followed by European miners and ranchers in the mid- to late-1800s looking for their fortunes in the new American West. The towns that dot San Miguel, Montrose and Mesa Counties — Norwood, Naturita, Nucla, Bedrock, Paradox, and Gateway — were all founded at the turn of the century, and today are hubs for outdoor recreation, ranching and alpine adventure.
This unique corner of Colorado draws those in search of the road less traveled and other-worldly landscapes. On the trails that dot this sparsely populated area, you can expect to find old-growth pinyon and juniper pines, deep canyons and roaming wildlife. Whether you like to hike or mountain bike, horseback ride or take a leisurely stroll, there’s truly something for everyone on these relatively untrodden pathways. We’ve put together a guide to some of the best trails in western Colorado’s frontier country to help you make the most of your next trip to this beautiful destination.
Easy to Moderate Trails
1. Dolores River Trail
Length: 7.2 miles, round-trip
This trail begins at a BLM-developed campground and then winds its way along a long-abandoned state highway roadbed that was active from the 1890s to the 1930s. You can expect to find stunning views of the Dolores Canyon, the Dolores River, and at 2.5 miles into the hike, you’ll come across a large boulder field. Be sure to pause at this spot because amongst these boulders you’ll find petroglyphs, pictographs and dinosaur footprints.
2. Roc Creek Petroglyphs Trail
Length: 2 miles, round-trip
Prehistoric petroglyphs found on a rock overhang along the trail are the main draw of this destination. You can also expect to find stunning views of Sewemup Mesa and Blue Mesa as you make your way through the desert-like landscape.
3. Shamrock Trail (Y-11)
Length: 6 miles, round-trip
If you’re into spectacular views and wild western mesas, this trail might be your new favorite destination. As a hiking trail, this intermediate route takes you above the San Miguel and Dolores Rivers to beautiful views of the Hanging Flume and West End canyons. This trail is more of an expert route if you choose a mountain bike over hiking boots.
4. Nyswonger Mesa Trail
Length: 8.4 miles, one-way
If it’s off-the-beaten path adventure you’re after, the unmarked Nyswonger Mesa Trail will be a fun adventure. Start at the two-track leaving the Paradox Valley just off the east side of the highway. You’ll follow the two-track to the western base of Nyswonger Mesa and climb to the base of the cliff band. Be sure to bring plenty of water and a map for this off the grid trek!
5. Paradox Trail
Length: 118 miles (smaller sections available to hike and bike)
Established in the mid-1990s, this 118-mile trail runs the length of western Montrose County. This wilderness route will bring you to the tops of mesas, along rivers and past reservoirs. Some sections of the route are more approachable than others, and it’s best enjoyed on a mountain bike. Popular sections include: Biscuit Rock to Buckeye Reservoir and Buckeye Reservoir to Kokopelli Trail.
6. Beaver Creek Loop
Length: 32.5 miles
This demanding mountain bike trail begins in Gateway and crosses over the Utah state line at mile 8.7. You can choose to do the full route or shorter, out-and-back sections from the trailhead. Expect to find amazing canyon views, remnants of the old log Kniblock Cabins, and steep climbs followed by creek-side cruises.
7. Wild Steer Canyon Loop
Length: 4.4 miles, round-trip
This route climbs up over mesas and traverses a canyon creek bed in the remote Dolores River WSA. Some non-technical rock scrambling is required to complete this route, and expect the trail to be marked by cairns, rather than developed signage. western Colorado hiking is all about getting out there, and this route sure takes you there.