Good way to Cap the weekend
Linerty Cap trail offers relief from crowds on Grand Mesa
Are you feeling patriotic this weekend, but not quite patriotic enough to scale Independence Monument?
Would you love to be up on Grand Mesa to celebrate this Independence Day weekend by spraying mosquitoes with bug juice, but all the campgrounds are full?
How about Liberty Cap Trail?
It sounds patriotic.
Give me Liberty, or give me death!
You could have both if you tackle this trail in the middle of the day in the middle of the summer. It’s getting hot, and the gnats are making their presence known. In the early morning or evening, however, this trail offers relief from the crowds on Grand Mesa, it’s only minutes from downtown Grand Junction, and it’s a patriotic-sounding trail name.
Liberty Cap Trail scales the face of Colorado National Monument on the eastern edge of the Colorado Plateau. It begins at a small gravel parking lot on the Redlands in Grand Junction, the Wildwood Trail head, and travels to a small gravel parking lot a few miles from the visitor’s center on top of the monument along Rimrock Drive.
Total distance of the trail, from top to bottom, is seven miles. In between stands the 160 million-year-old “liberty” cap, a remnant sand dune that is slowly succumbing to the forces of erosion. Many locals run, hike and climb up the 1.5-mile stretch from the Redlands to Liberty Cap quite often. They have their choice of return routes. They can either return the way they came, or take the Corkscrew Trail back to town.
The Corkscrew Trail was built in 1909 by John Otto, the first full-time caretaker of the monument. It was one of the first trails Otto constructed and for decades provided the only official route through Ute Canyon. Over time, however, the original access to Corkscrew Trail was lost.
In 2005, portions of Corkscrew Trail were rehabilitated by the Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado. Since then, it’s gotten quite a bit more use and a lot more TLC from National Parks Service crews maintaining all of the trails through Colorado National Monument.
The lower Liberty Cap trail meanders across a sparsely vegetated knoll for a short distance, leading to the base of a dark Precambrian rock escarpment. The trail climbs between that dark Precambrian and an enormous Kayanta sandstone rock tipped on its side. It took some major geologic force to slide that baby into place.
The trail is steep and slick in spots, so a walking stick may be useful. Good footwear is essential. Do not forget your water.
After a mile-long ascent, the well-marked trail splits. Ute Canyon Trail curves to the southwest. Corkscrew Trail follows that path for a short distance before winding back down the monument to the Wildwood Trail head.
Liberty Cap Trail continues to the right and northwest. A good chunk of elevation gain comes in this next half-mile, yet an aerobic climb to the cap with its numerous switchbacks provides a constantly changing view of the valley below — and plenty of rest spots.
On top are spectacular views of the valley and of Ute Canyon, looking deep into the gorge of the monument. Those so inclined can scramble to the very pinnacle of the rounded knob of Wingate Sandstone — good ‘ol Liberty Cap itself.
Evening hikes here bring spectacular color changes to the Bookcliffs in the distance. Early morning hikes present stunning sunrises over Grand Mesa.
To reach the trail head on the Redlands, take Broadway (Colorado Highway 340) to the Redlands Parkway and turn left on South Broadway (or take the Redlands Parkway and stay on it, because it turns into South Broadway). Proceed to Wildwood Drive. Turn left, and then veer to the right through a lovely private residential area. Please respect their privacy and drive slowly.
If there are too many cars in the parking area, please take a scenic drive to the upper trail head, where the temperatures are 10 degrees cooler anyway.
That upper trail head is 6.4 miles from the Saddlehorn Visitor Center on Rimrock Drive. The upper reach of this trail meanders across gently sloping Monument Mesa through pinyon-juniper forest and sagebrush flats for 5.5 miles. When the moon is full, this upper trail provides a wonderful moonlight hike. About five miles of this upper reach is shared by horseback riders.
To reach the top trail head, take Monument Road to the east entrance of the monument. Stop and pay your fees and continue along Rimrock Drive for about 12 miles. Watch for bighorn sheep.
You’ll come to the Black Ridge Hunter Access Road to the left (west). A few hundred yards farther and to the right, you’ll see the Liberty Cap Trail parking area. If you’re traveling from the Fruita side, or west entrance to the monument, drive 6.4 miles past the visitor center until you come to this well-marked parking area.