Box Canyon - Hiking

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Box Canyon Trail parallels the West Mancos River in the beautiful La Plata Range of the San Juan mountains.

Written by

Craig Mustoe


6.4 miles

6.4 miles to Golconda and 6.4 to return: 12.8. The West Mancos Trail is 4.0 miles to its intersection with the Mancos Rim Trail, which runs about 1.6 miles back to the trailhead. That makes the loop 12.0 miles. There is also the Box Canyon Spur, which can be added for another 2-4 miles.


4 of 5 diamonds

A very steep and rocky descent at the start and a bit rough going through the creek bottom . A few creek crossings. Many talus fields to cross on the West Mancos return route.

Time To Complete

6 hours

That's 12 miles at 2 mph. If Granny and the kids are along, you may want to double the times. Young people in excellent shape could cut off an hour or two.


Spring, Summer, and Fall

Summer is best. Spring comes late and snowbanks can linger well into June in spots. Fall can be stunning with the aspen all aglow but hikers should be aware that there are lots of hunters here in October.

Dog Friendly




Box Canyon Trail, when combined with the West Mancos and Mancos Rim trails, makes a loop up one side of a portion of the West Mancos River and back down the other. It descends steeply through a series of rocky switchbacks, crosses the creek, and climbs up on the mesa. From here it rises gradually for a few miles then descends to Golconda, an old mining site. The return on West Mancos trail is very rocky. From some points you’ll spy stunning views of the La Plata mountain peaks included Hesperus, one of the four sacred mountains of the Navajo, Centennial, and Sharkstooth. You’ll travel through fragrant aspen, spruce, and fir forest while listening to the roar of the creek.

What Makes It Great

Though easily accessed by a main road, you’ll find deep peace and solitude on these trails. You’ll have some steep and rocky areas but most of the hike is fairly level. You’ll get to cross the creeks a few times, so come prepared. You could enjoy a shorter trip if you took the Box Canyon Spur and the loop there, and then backtracked. When you come to a four-way intersection, turn right. Otherwise always stay left until you get back to the steep climb up the canyonside to your vehicle.

Deer, elk, and bears treasure this area, so have your camera close at hand. Numerous wildflowers dot the open meadows, and giant aspens will amaze you with their black-scrolled white trunks. As you lie back for a rest, evergreens will sway high above you in the gentle breezes. Just try not to doze off as the tranquility permeates your being!

Nearby Transfer Park is a great place to camp in the aspens. It’s cool, peaceful, and studded with exquisite, beautiful blue Colorado columbines, the state flower. Fishing is great in the area’s small streams and beaver ponds for pan-size trout. For more developed camping try Mancos State Park located on Jackson Gulch Reservoir.

Who is Going to Love It

Experienced hikers will find this trail  challenging enough. Older kids can handle it too; just be prepared to turn around when they have had enough. But this trail is really all about the beauty, solitude, and peace it affords. Do be aware though that motorcyclists, mountain bikers, and horsemen may occasionally be encountered. Keep an ear out for them and follow trail etiquette: yield to horses, and everyone else should yield to you. Be practical though and work it out. Most other traffic will be going faster than you are and you should step aside to let them pass. By all means bring the dogs but control them.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

From Cortez take Hwy. 160 east for 18 miles to Mancos.  From Mancos travel north on Hwy. 184 for .2 miles and turn right onto West Mancos Road, aka County Rd. 42 toward Mancos State Park.  After about 5 miles you'll see the turnoff to the State Park. A mile farther you'll hit the Forest boundary. Stay on this road when it turns into gravel Forest Service Road #561. Travel another 3 miles and you'll see the turnoff to the trailhead parking lot on the right. If you get to Transfer Park turn around and go back about a mile. In toto, the trailhead is about 10 miles from Mancos.

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