StageCoach to Coal Canyon Date: 6/5/2010 Difficulty: Moderate/Strenuous Miles: Approx. 11.5 Miles Round Trip Rating: Type:Loop/Shuttle Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 39° 7’12.55″N, 108°19’19.24″W
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The StageCoach to Coal Canyon hike we did utilizes the StageCoach trail for the 1st half of the hike so the trail head is the same. The best thing to do is either drop your vehicle off at the trailhead in Coal Canyon then have someone give you a ride to the StageCoach trailhead or just have someone pick you up at the Coal Canyon trailhead when you are finished.
In the past, a person was able to park just off of Interstate 70 on the North side right after you cross the Colorado River, but the highway department has since blocked the parking area. Unfortunately blocking the parking area has made it harder to access the trail. Each time that I have hiked the trail I park across the river at the intersection of N. River Road and G Road. There is a nice pull off there where you can park somewhat under some trees in the shade. This is the same place I park when we hike the Palisade Petroglyph Trail. From here I walk across the bridge and walk down an old road that takes you to the roller dam. The road is closed and there are a couple no trespassing signs but this is the route everyone I’ve talked to takes to get to the trail. As soon as you cross below the interstate you can go up and over the train tracks, be sure to watch for oncoming trains. Once over the train tracks you will see the trail.
The trail will parallel the interstate for about 100 yards or so and then turns to the right and heads up the side of the hill. This is where the fun begins. From this point it is a healthy uphill climb that will definitely give your legs a workout. As you get higher and higher the views get better and better. The trail wraps its way around the hill where you get views of the top of the hills across the river and clear up the valley almost to Parachute. The climbing comes to a nice end as the trail passes through a notch in the cliff face and eventually levels out for a while.
Once on top you will be in the middle of a small pinion juniper forest for a little while. The trail winds through the trees and follows a dried up stream bed for a ways. As the trail comes out in the open you need to look around because this is the area I have always seen wild horses. The trail will slowly work its way towards the rim of the Bookcliffs where you will have amazing views of the Grand Valley. Continue following the trail as it skirts the rim of the Bookcliffs, from here it is pretty hard to lose the trail because there is really not much room between Mt. Lincoln and the cliff edge. You will see the flagpole in the distance up on the hill. You will pass through an area of sandstone and then a section of ground that is black with coal and has a distinct smell seeping from the ground.
I have never been able to find an actual trail to the flagpole so I continue hiking until I am almost straight across from the flagpole then I just head across country and pick my way to the top of the hill. The climb to the flagpole is a good climb as it is a steady up. Be sure to look to the East or your left as you are heading towards the flagpole because there is an old hunting blind or ruin that I assume was used by the Utes. I have read that the Ute Indians had a trail that followed the rim of the Bookcliffs and I am assuming that this structure is associated with that trail.
The flagpole is the goal for most people and they generally turn around at this point. I usually cut back across towards the North and hook back up to the trail. I continue following the trail west. As you continue there is a section of the trail that branches off and heads towards a flow of “petrified looking mud”. The trail has had some small rocks placed on it that makes you think you need to follow the section that heads towards the ‘mud flow’ looking area. You can go that way and explore that area because it is a rather interesting feature.
I chose to step over the rocks and continue on the trail. From this point the trail dips and twists and ends up coming to a fence with a gate on it. This gate is the start of the Coal Canyon section of the trail.
From the gate the trail continues to follow the base of Mt. Lincoln as it gradually drops to the canyon floor. Approximately ¼ mile past the gate the single track trail turns into a washed out two track then eventually connects at the bottom of the canyon with a nice fairly maintained gravel road. If you feel adventurous and have time you can turn left and follow the road back up the backside of the Bookcliffs where you can explore deeper into Coal Canyon and eventually end up on Mt. Garfield.
Turning right onto the road allows you to follow the normally dry creek bed as the road weaves its’ way down the creek bottom. This portion of the trail was a little drab for me, as I’ve stated on other pages I don’t care much for just walking down roads.
There were a few interesting sights, there in a small area behind a large sandstone slab that looks like it might have been used for living quarters or storage many years ago. About ½ ways down the road on your left is a shallow coal mine that you can crawl up too and look inside. We passed two separate groups of people in vehicles that were out looking for wild horses, they said they were told the wild horses liked this area. We didn’t see any on this trip.
After thinking the road will never end, it does eventually come to a fence and gated area that indicates the Coal Canyon Trailhead. From this point, as I stated earlier, your best option is to have someone pick you up or drive your car out you left there earlier. The road from here travels for about another two miles as it gently winds its way out of the canyon, past the Cameo Power Plant and back onto Interstate 70. Unfortunately, I wasn’t smart enough to drop my car off earlier and had no one to give us a ride back to the starting point, so we were forced to walk the extra 4 miles or so out of the canyon and back to Palisade via Interstate 70. I would definitely not recommend walking down the Interstate. For one, it is dangerous, there is actually a lot of debris that falls of semis, mostly in the form of mud and rocks, but there were numerous items including pipes, tires, mirrors and all kinds of other items that I am sure flew off of vehicles traveling 70+ mph. You might not be hiking for a long time if you got hit by a pipe that flies off a semi.
Overall this was a fairly nice hike, the beginning is always nice and just the fact that I was hiking somewhere new once we dropped off into the canyon still made it exciting. Having a ride out of Coal Canyon would of have made for a comfortable 7.5 mile hike, walking the Interstate was a little much for me.