If you want a challenge, trek your way through No Thoroughfare Canyon
They call it No Thoroughfare Canyon because you can’t get through it ... at least not in a vehicle.
However, a remote backcountry trail winds its way down from Glade Park to the Grand Valley through this magnificent canyon on the southern flanks of the Colorado National Monument, and I’d never hiked its entire length until the other day.
Michelle Wheatley, the chief of interpretation and education for the Colorado National Monument, Hank Schoch, a retired former chief ranger and superintendent of the monument, and I bushwhacked our way down the 8.5-mile-long trail through No Thoroughfare in about six hours. We spied wildflowers and waterfalls, towering red cliffs and mining artifacts from yesteryear. What we did not see was another humanoid on the entire length of trail. It was a true wilderness experience only minutes from downtown GJ.
This is not a hike for the uninitiated. It’s rugged, steep and long. As Michelle said, “If you have above-average navigation skills, you’ll be fine.” If you don’t, however, you could be in a world of hurt.
In contrast, taking a short hike from the lower trail head to the first or second waterfall is a piece of cake. In fact, the monument hosted about 40 third-graders from Tope Elementary School the other day. They made it that far and did just fine.
That lower trail head is the most popular route in this canyon. To get there, take Grand Avenue across the Colorado River and turn left on Monument Road, the first stoplight once you cross the river. Stay on that until you reach the east entrance. Pay your fee ($7 per vehicle for a day pass, $20 for a yearly pass), and travel another .3 miles to the parking area where you can jump off to Serpents Trail, Old Gordons Trail, Echo Canyon, Devil’s Kitchen and No Thoroughfare.
If you want to hike the entire length, however, you need to keep driving past that lower trail head and up to DS Road, which is the Glade Park turnoff just past Cold Shivers Point.
The upper trail head is located 9.5 miles from the east entrance of the monument. Drive 3.7 miles from the east entrance along Rim Rock Drive to DS Road. Turn left on DS Road and travel 4 miles to Little Park Road. Turn left on Little Park Road and travel 1.8 miles to the trail head on the left hand side of the road.
Don’t expect a big fancy parking area. There’s just a wide pull-off along the road, and the sign for the trail head is about 30 feet below the road, so it’s hard to see. The pull-off is only large enough for about two vehicles, so if you can shuttle cars, that’ll really help.
We had a good Samaritan drop us off at the top trail head, and we hiked down to the lower trail head where we’d left our vehicle. It’s all downhill, but it’s still 8.5 miles from top to bottom, so you’ll get a healthy workout.
Wear good boots for this trip. It’s not made for tennis shoes. Take your GPS and a map (or a couple of Colorado National Monument employees) so you don’t get lost. If you lose the trail, which is easy to do, head downhill and stay to the left (west) side of the canyon next to the rocks. You’ll eventually pick up the trail again.
Take your camera because the wildflowers are in full bloom right now, even some of the claret cup and barrel cactus. You probably ought to carry your bug juice as well. The gnats were not out the day we hiked, but they will be — soon.
About 2,500 acres of the upper stretch of this canyon were added to the southern flank of the national monument in 1979, said Schoch, who was superintendent at the time. What a great addition that was.
This is a primitive trail, but you only have to pick your way through in a few places. The upper reach of this canyon actually has three branches. The trail drops through the middle branch and shortly meets the other pair of side canyons.
Once you pass the confluence of these branches, try to stick to the west side of the canyon and follow the trail through the sagebrush. Eventually you’ll come across Precambrian black rock that dominates this zone all across the Monument. This is where you’ll find those waterfalls, and a number of smaller pools and spills.
From top to bottom, you’ll drop in elevation almost 1,900 feet and for the most part, this trail is easy to follow. But as Michelle said, you’d better have above-average navigational skills, or do like I did: talk Michelle and Hank into going with you. They know the way, and it’s a great hike!