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Ute Canyon is one of the three longest canyons located in the Colorado National Monument and is basically the canyon that splits the monument in half. Like many of the canyons and monuments within the Colorado National Monument, Ute Canyon has changed its name at least once throughout history. Prior to being named Ute Canyon it was known by the name Lime Kiln Canyon. How it got either name or when the names actually changed, I’m not sure.
The Park Service Indicates the trail is 7 miles one way but I figured it was just over 5 miles. I would still plan for a 7 mile hike. There are two trail heads used to access the canyon. The lower trail head which starts at the Wildwood trail head and shares its start with the Liberty Cap and Corkscrew trails and the upper trail head located on Rimrock Drive. This hike describes starting at the upper trail head and ending at the lower. I chose to hike this direction because, well, I just get tired quicker hiking up hill. Both directions would be a nice hike, although going from the bottom up would be considerable more strenuous.
To access the upper trail head from the East entrance of the Monument, travel on Rimrock Drive for approximately 8.7 miles. You will pass, Cold Shivers Point, Red Canyon Overlook, and the Ute Canyon Overlook. The trail head is a small pull off on your right about a mile past the Ute Canyon View and shortly past the Fallen Rock overlook.
The trail starts by abruptly dropping off the edge of the canyon where it makes a zig zag down to the bottom. This section of the trail is fairly steep but the park service has done a great job of maintaining the trail. There were areas where steps were cut out of the sandstone making it very easy to go down. There really wasn’t any where on this section that made me feel in danger of falling.
Once you reach the bottom of the canyon the trail begins to wind its way through a marshy type area with a lot of willows and cottonwood trees. These marshy areas were a little boggy in some spots and I imagine it could get quite wet during wet weather.
The trail continues to follow the canyon floor as it travels along the intermittent stream. One of the things that are so interesting about the monument is how these little streams can have running water for a few yards then the water just completely disappears only to show up farther down the trail from out of nowhere. It makes me wonder where the water goes.
Most of this trail travels along sandy dirt. Just as the rest of the monument sits on top of a bench of Precambrian granite, Ute Canyon is no different. Just as the trail passes below Fallen Rock it encounters a small hill of this ancient granite. This section of the trail is a little steep and a little slick with loose gravel as well. There is a decent drop off in a ravine to your right that requires a little careful foot placement but it wasn’t too bad. Most anyone should be able to handle it.
After this little climb the trail bends to the left or North and you begin travelling the longest section of the canyon. From this point you can see for quite a ways down the canyon. Along this portion the trail zig zags around as it crosses the creek bed numerous times.
A little over halfway down the canyon you will climb up onto a small knoll where if you look down the canyon you can see Liberty Cap perched upon the cliff and if you turn around and look behind you Finger Arch will be visible up on the upper portion of the cliff on your left. From here the trail caually travels down the rest of the canyon until you reach the base of Liberty Cap.
Once you reach Liberty Cap the trail skirts the base of the cliff and follows the edge of the Precambrian Granite bench. There are some nice views of the grand Valley, the Bookcliffs and Grand Mesa from this section. After a short distance you will come to the first of two old fences that John Otto built. The first one is a jumbled mess of trees al intertwined running down the edge of the hill. They think this fence was built by Otto in an attempt to retain his big game he had transplanted into the park. The second fence is basically just a row of old poles in the ground with some rolls of wire hanging on various poles. This fence looks a little newer. Immediately after this last fence the trail connects to the Liberty Cap trail and begins its steep decent to the valley floor.
The Liberty Cap section of the trail is rather steep and can be quite slick in places due to al the loose pebbles. This section of the trail sees a lot of use but is very well maintained. Once on the valley floor the trail follows a mundane path as it makes its way to the Wildwood trail head. While on this portion of the trail you usually encounter small flocks of quail which kind of makes the hike a little more interesting.
Overall this was a nice hike, I didn’t see much in the way of wildlife although I’m sure there are probably deer in the canyon and maybe the occasional big horn sheep. The canyon reminded me a lot of a combination of Monument Canyon and No Thoroughfare Canyon. The scenery and the views were well worth the effort.