of the Green and Colorado Rivers
time: 6 hours
220 ft. gain/loss
Canyon Trailhead: 4,940 ft.
Canyon: 4,820 ft.
point: 4,920 ft.
Easy, well marked trail
Summer, spring, winter and fall. This hike is
very hot in the summer and cold in the winter.
The best times are during the spring and fall.
For current conditions call the Canyonlands National
Park Headquarters in Moab at (801) 259-7164.
Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, near
the largest of Utahs five national parks,
is neatly split into thirds by the intersection
of the Green and the Colorado Rivers. Both rivers
have carved thousand-foot-deep canyons through
the high surrounding desert, and the view of their
confluence at the center of the park is one of
Canyonlands most impressive sights.
Both of the famous
rivers have now been largely tamed by a series
of dams built over the last sixty years, but from
this prospective one can still see the same wild
scene that John Wesley Powell saw during his historical
voyage down the Green and Colorado Rivers in 1869.
In July of that year, while his party was camped
on the north side of the confluence, Powell and
one of his men climbed above the rivers to a point
just south of the present day overlook trail.
In the following passage, first printed in Scribners
Monthly in 1875, Powell describes what he saw:
the north-west came the Green in a narrow, winding
gorge. From the north-east came the Grand [Colorado]
through a canyon that seemed, from where we
stood, bottomless.... Wherever we looked there
was a wilderness of rocks- deep gorges where
the rivers are lost below cliffs, and towers,
and pinnacles, and ten thousand strangely carved
forms in every direction, and beyond them mountains
blending with the clouds." (The
Canyons of the Colorado, reprinted by Outbooks,
Golden, Colorado, 1981)
the trailhead the trail immediately drops into
Big Spring Canyon, and then climbs up the other
side. This is really the only strenuous part of
the route, but it doesnt last long. Big
Spring Canyon is only 120 feet deep at this point.
After leaving Big Spring Canyon the trail meanders
pleasantly across the open desert for another
3.1 miles before crossing a jeep road at the northern
end of another shallow canyon called Devils Lane.
After another 0.7 mile the trail crosses the road
again as the road doubles back into Cyclone Canyon.
At the point where the trail meets the jeep road
the second time you will see another spur road
branching off to the west. The trail continues
down this road.
After walking west
on the spur road for 0.6 miles you will come to
a dead end, where there is a small outhouse and
a parking area for jeeps. A Park Service sign
points the way to the trail that will lead you
the last 0.5 mile to the overlook point.
After seeing the
rivers from the overlook point, many hikers feel
a great urge to descend into the canyon to the
shore of the Colorado. There are at least two
ways to do this. Three if you include Powells
route below the overlook point, but I would hardly
recommend his route. It is quite exposed and requires
some rock climbing skills. (Amazingly, Powell
did it with only one arm! He had lost his right
arm 7 years earlier in the Civil War.)
The easiest way
to get to the Colorado River is on the Lower Red
Lake Canyon Trail, which descends from Cyclone
Canyon 3.5 miles south of the overlook. To get
there retrace your steps back to the place where
the trail leaves the road in Cyclone Canyon. Then
turn south and walk along the Cyclone Canyon jeep
road for a distance of 2.4 miles until you see
a sign marking the Lower Red Lake Canyon Trailhead
on the west side of the road. It is 4.0 miles
from Cyclone Canyon to the Colorado River along
this trail. It is also possible to walk upstream
along the Colorado River from the mouth of Lower
Red Lake Canyon to the confluence, a distance
of 3.6 miles.
If you want to hike
to the Colorado via the Lower Red Lake Canyon
Trail you had better pack for at least two days.
However, if you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle
you can easily visit the Colorado River and the
confluence overlook in one day. A well-used jeep
road from Elephant Hill to Cyclone Canyon will
give you access to both the Lower Red Lake Canyon
Trail and the Overlook Trail, allowing you to
see everything with only about nine miles of hiking.
(See page 204 for an explanation of how to get
to Elephant Hill.)
The other way to
reach the Colorado River involves a side trip
of 2.0 miles each way from the confluence overlook
trail. If you elect to follow this route, walk
back to Cyclone Canyon and turn north at the point
where the trail leaves the jeep road. Follow the
Cyclone Canyon jeep road north for 0.5 mile. The
road starts out heading almost due north, and
then swings around to the east. Just after the
turn to the east you will see the beginning of
a drainage that heads off in a northwesterly direction
towards the river. You can follow this drainage
all the way to the Colorado River. The route involves
about 1.5 miles of off-trail hiking, but many
hikers have gone before you and the way is clearly
marked by cairns. The route becomes very steep
as you approach the river and some scrambling
is necessary, but the danger is minimal if you
are careful to follow the cairns. Once you reach
the Colorado it is another 0.9 mile walk downstream
to the confluence itself.
provided by David
Day of utahtrails.com. Click here to order
his book Utah's
Favorite Hiking Trails.