Dolores River Canyon - Hiking

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Summary

The Dolores River Canyon trail is a pleasant trail leading through a gorgeous red rock canyon.

Written by

Garrett Stimax

Distance

7.0 miles

This will be the distance to the petroglyphs and back to the trailhead, although it can be made longer.

Destination Distance From Downtown

68.4 miles

Difficulty

2 of 5 diamonds

Fairly simple trail with little elevation gain.

Time To Complete

3 hours

It will take about three hours for an out and back to the petroglyphs. If you are feeling good, continue the trail into the canyon.

Seasonality

All Seasons

It may be unaccessible without four wheel drive for parts of the winter, but it is at a low elevation for the area, so the weather is warmer.

Dog Friendly

Yes

Fees Permits

No

Review

Intro

The Dolores River Canyon is a beautiful 30 mile stretch of red rock canyon, most easily accessed from the town of Bedrock, Colorado. The whole canyon has been protected as a wilderness study area by the Bureau of Land Management since 1980. More recently they have been reintroducing formerly native species like desert bighorn sheep and river otters. The trail, accessible from the Bedrock boat launch, winds it’s way into the canyon, following the grade of the river and providing a pleasant and easy path. After about three and a half miles, there is a site with a variety of weathered petroglyphs. This makes a nice turnaround for a good day hike, although more adventurous hikers may choose to follow the trail further into the continually narrowing box canyon.

What Makes It Great

The solitude is largely what makes this trail so spectacular. Sure, the vertical walled canyon of red strata, weathered and oxidized to create colorfully jagged cliffs, doesn’t hurt. The real draw for the Dolores River Canyon trail is it’s complete and utter solitude. It’s both remote and obscure enough that not many people visit, so the opportunities for primitive recreation are endless. 

This area would be ideal for activities that require solitude, like bird watching and star gazing. As a Wilderness Study Area, Dolores River Canyon has been preserved for 35 years and all outdoor lovers will benefit from these conservation efforts. Not only are the fauna thriving here, but the scenery itself is also magnificent. The structure and erosion style of this canyon is reminiscent of the Grand Canyon, and while a fifth of the size, still bears much in common. The canyon walls rise an average of 1100 feet above the river, with many ledges and red cliffs adorning the interior. It makes beautiful place to take a leisurely hike.

Who is Going to Love It

A variety of outdoor enthusiasts will appreciate this marvelous canyon hike. Those seeking remote areas for the sake of their hobbies, or perhaps just solitude for solitude’s sake, will love the Dolores River Canyon. Bird watchers will appreciate the flurry of activity here in the Spring, as many species migrate through the canyon. There’s little chance that anyone else will be there to scare off the birds, and this gives birders a wonderful opportunity to observe this untouched desert landscape. Star gazers will appreciate how magnificently remote the river canyon is, and how the mild grade of the trail makes it easy to hike out by moonlight. 

Then there are those who just want to be alone in natural settings like these, those who don’t like crowds. Dolores River Canyon is perfect for getting away from it all. Also, history buffs interested in Native American artifacts will love seeing the petroglyphs. There’s a lot of appeal on many different levels, but overall this trail would be popular with just about anyone. It’s beautiful without being too difficult, so it can be appreciated by hikers at all skill levels.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

From Cortez, take highway 491 for 36 miles and turn right (north) on highway 141. Follow 141 for about 60 miles and just west of Naturita take a left onto 90. After about 20 miles on 90, you will come to an abandoned convenience store in the town of Bedrock, Colorado. Turn here, to the left of the store and follow the signs for the Dolores River Canyon boat ramp. 

At the boat ramp there are picnic tables and gazebos. Here the road splits in several different directions, and they will all lead to the trail eventually, but the easiest way to find it is to stick right, away from the river and park on the side of the road. Once you follow the road until it dead ends at a sign for a Wilderness Study Area, you’ve reached the trailhead. All BLM study area regulations apply here, so removing or tampering with artifacts, rocks, plants, or wildlife is strictly prohibited. This is also a fragile ecosystem, so please try to stay on the trail as much as possible.

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Location

Dolores River Canyon

38.308098, -108.892064

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