Glenwood’s Grizzly Creek a lesson in area’s history

Glenwood's Grizzly Creek a lesson in area's history

It’s quite the view from the top of the Grizzly Creek trail. You can see Glenwood Canyon and the lower Grizzly Creek from the trail, which leads into the White River National Forest’s Flattops Wilderness Area. Along the way, you’ll see plenty of wildlife, but no grizzly bears.


Grizzly Creek Trail

Drive time and distance: 90.3 miles, 1 hour, 30 minutes

Length: 3.4 miles (5.67 kilometers) one way

Elevation: 5,857 feet (1,825.7 meters) to 7,880 feet (2,418.9 meters)

Hiking Time: 3-plus hours

Difficulty: Steep, moderate to difficult

There’s a lot of history in Glenwood Canyon — ancient history, as in geologic, and modern history, as in highway construction, camping, hiking and fishing.

Geologically speaking, the rims of Glenwood Canyon are capped by Mississippi and Pennsylvanian limestone. Upstream from here, the Colorado River could escape to the north near Yampa and still stay 1,000 feet lower than the current rims of Glenwood Canyon.

So, why did the river establish a path across the higher surface? It didn’t. When the Colorado River turned westward by early Miocene time, the White River Plateau had not yet risen.

Then, after the river had established its course, the plateau rose during the rest of the Miocene. (Research indicates much of this uplift occurred in the last five million years.)

By the time the plateau started to rise, the river was stuck in a rut. As the plateau rose, the rut — now known as Glenwood Canyon — just got deeper.

In more modern times, in fact, in 1887, George P. Ryan killed the largest grizzly bear known in Western Colorado along aptly-named Grizzly Creek in the middle of the canyon. The very next year, in 1888, a great wooden flume was built along this creek to carry water from Grizzly Creek to No Name Creek. It was then piped into Glenwood Springs for its municipal water supply.

Even more recently than that, former Glenwood Springs School Superintendent Nick Massaro Sr., used to take his family into Grizzly Creek, in the middle of Glenwood Canyon, every Sunday after church, at least during the summer months. This was in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

There, his boys, along with the Morris family kids, would roll rocks as the adults made breakfast, and “drank coffee and smoked cigarettes all morning long,” according to Nick Jr.

There’s an interpretive sign at the trail head discussing many historical fun facts, although it doesn’t mention the Massaro clan. The sign also tells visitors about when Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep were transplanted into this area (17 of them were introduced in 1947 and another 20 were put into this area by Division of Wildlife biologists in 1989).

In 1991, when the interstate highway was completed through Glenwood Canyon and this particular rest area was opened, a lot more people began visiting this area. It was obvious from the interpretive signs that plenty of folks preceded them.

By 1999, the 90-year-old pipeline in Grizzly Creek was finally replaced, and there are no traces of the great flume that once carried water to thirsty residents and visitors in Glenwood Springs. Portions of that flume can still be seen along No Name Creek, however, only a few miles to the west.

The Grizzly Creek Trail is open to hiking, backcountry skiing, horseback riding and mountain biking. It is closed to motorized vehicles. Pets on leashes are welcome, but no camping or fires are allowed within the first half-mile of the trail head.

Although there may be no grizzlies found here now, the Glenwood Canyon area is home to a wide variety of other wildlife, including those bighorn sheep, which can be viewed now and then right along the north side of the interstate.

You’ll also find black bears, mule deer, porcupines, mountain lions and plenty of squirrels. The creek bed is dense with deciduous trees and shrubs that attract numerous species of song birds.

The first half-mile of the trail is broad and fairly level. There are plenty of places for a picnic near the creek. Farther up, the trail becomes narrow and is surrounded by sweet-smelling and lush vegetation.

The last mile and a half of the Grizzly Creek trail is steeper and covered with loose rocks.

Near the top, there are good views of lower Grizzly Creek and of Glenwood Canyon itself. The trail ends at the old metal aqueduct that used to take water out of the creek to be used for Glenwood Springs’ water supply.

To reach this trail head, follow Interstate 70 east to Glenwood Springs and into Glenwood Canyon. Watch for the Grizzly Creek turnoff, exit 121, and rest area.

When you exit the highway, continue for three-tenths of a mile past the main rest area and the road will curve left under the interstate to a small parking area adjacent to the trail head. Toilets and drinking water are found back at the main rest area facility.

The trail itself follows Grizzly Creek north and up into the White River National Forest’s Flattops Wilderness Area.

With its dense vegetation, now is a wonderful time to visit, especially since the colors are already beginning to change in the canyon.

You can create your own history by visiting Grizzly Creek in Glenwood Canyon, but you’d better get there before the snow flies.

Email Bill Haggerty at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


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