No Thoroughfare Canyon offers great hikes, splendid views
If a thoroughfare is a road from one place to another, No Thoroughfare Canyon at the southern flanks of Colorado National Monument is aptly named.
There are no roads here.
Yet, a primitive and remote backcountry trail winds its way up from the Grand Valley all the way to Glade Park through this magnificent canyon where black Precambrian rock erupts from the creek bottom for about 1,600 feet to where red sandstone walls tower another 400 feet above that.
You can enter No Thoroughfare from either end, but the lower trail head is the most popular route into this canyon, only five miles from the center of town.
Take Grand Avenue across the Colorado River and turn left on Monument Road. Stay until you reach the east entrance of Colorado National Monument. 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 Gordon Trail, Echo Canyon, Devil’s Kitchen and No Thoroughfare.
Follow the signs into No Thoroughfare Canyon. It’s eight-tenths of a mile from the trail head to the first pool and another .7 miles to the first waterfall. (Well, at least when there’s water flowing, there’s a waterfall, but not right now!)
To the right (northwest) of this first waterfall is a great series of 82 steps that will take you above that first major drop-off. (Thank you NPS Trails Crew. You did a great job here!) In another mile, you’ll reach the second (dry) waterfall. This lower reach of trail through No Thoroughfare Canyon is easy to follow to this spot.
A very primitive trail then leads to the right (north) of the second waterfall if you wish to continue your trek. It involves a somewhat difficult and scrambling uphill climb.
Put your camera in the pack, because you’ll need both hands to clamber up and over this amazing and intricate granite fin. It will lead you above the waterfall, where you’ll again drop back down to the creek bed to continue your hike.
From here, you can hike another six miles to the top of the mesa where the trail meets Little Park Road. However, the stretch above the second waterfall is seldom used as most people turn around here. Too bad! It’s amazing how uncrowded and remote this canyon is, being only five miles from the center of town.
If you really want to hike the entire length, you should probably hike from top to bottom, rather than from bottom to top.
To reach the upper trail head, keep driving past that lower trail head and up to Glade Park. (You could also travel up Little Park Road). 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 four 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 might be hard to see. The pull-off is only large enough for a couple of vehicles, so if you can shuttle cars, that will really help.
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.
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 northwest 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 the waterfalls as well as 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 — if you have above-average backcountry navigational skills. If you lose the trail, which is easy to do, head downhill and stay to the left (northwest) side of the canyon. You’ll eventually pick up the trail again.
This is a true wilderness experience only minutes from downtown GJ, but it is not a hike for the uninitiated. It’s rugged, steep and long, and those waterfalls are the real obstacles.
That’s why they call it No Thoroughfare.