Carson Hole Date: 7/19/2010 Difficulty: Moderate/Strenuous Miles: Approx. 5 miles round trip Rating: Type: In-out Trailhead GPS Data: 38°44’18.02″N, 108°37’16.71″W
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Carson Hole is located on the Uncompahgre Plateau about an hours drive from Grand Junction Colorado. To access the trail head turn south off of Highway 50 onto Highway 141. Travel for approximately 13 miles to the Divide Road turn off. Turn left onto divide road and travel another 7 or so miles. The trail head is located on an unmarked road on your left just a few yards past the Big Creak turn off. The trail is located in the former Carson Hole picnic grounds. Some time ago the Forest Service shut down the picnic grounds and removed all the tables and stopped maintaining it. There is currently a well maintained road that loops through the area with a few limited parking areas. The entire route to the trail is suitable for any passenger car.
Rumor had it that Carson Hole was named after Kit Carson who was a famous trapper and guide way back in the old days. I have read that the canyon was actually named after George Carson who was somewhat of a hermit and built a small cabin in the bottom where he lived his life and planted a variety of different berries.
The trail is located on the south side of the road and starts out with a steep descent down the side of the mountain. The entire length of the trail we followed was very well maintained but didn’t appear to be very well used. There were numerous places where trail maintenance crew cut branches and cleared the way.
Once you reach the bottom you will come to a faint trail that branches off to the right and goes deep into Carson Hole itself. This is not the actual trail, just a little side trip you can take. Once you go through the wash this trail all but disappears. If you head towards the trees you will come to an area that has a rock fireplace sitting in a old dug out area. I believe this is the location of where Mr. Carsons cabin was located, there is nothing now but the fireplace and a few logs laying around. I didn’t go much farther then this on this trail.
The actual trail passes this little side trip and continues down the valley. After a little over half a mile you will come to a tee in the trail. From this point the trail changes from the Carson Hole Trail #610 to the Smith Point Trail #636. There is an indication that you can go either right or left on the Smith Point Trail, although we checked out the path to the right for a short distance but could not find a way to get across where the La Fair Creek and Big Dominguez Creek junction is.
Since we couldn’t readily find a way across the creek, we continued to travel to the north or downstream. The trail gently winds its way through the trees as it follows the Big Dominguez creek. Around the two mile mark there is an old fence with a gate that you have to go through, be sure to leave the gate as you find it. We continued hiking for about another ½ mile where we decided to turn around and head back due to a pending thunderstorm that was rolling in. If we would have continued following the trail, we would have come out at the Dominguez Canyon Campground. To reach the campground would require a few more hours of steady travel.
The way back out of the canyon is where the “strenuous” portion of the rating comes in. Overall you lose about 1000 feet of elevation going down. Therefore, you have to make it up coming back out of the canyon. The trail maintains a steady climb going back with an occasional steep section. The real leg burner is the very last where the trail actually climbs out of the canyon. With its switchbacks and near vertical sections, coupled with altitude, it can become pretty strenuous.
If you have never been on the Uncompahgre Plateau this would be a great trail to check out. Although there were no sweeping vistas, the scenery was very pretty and the peace and tranquility was very nice. We were exploring the area for over 5 hours and did not see a single soul. One thing to keep in mind, the Uncompahgre Plateau is known for its high concentration of black bears. I would definitely recommend this trail for a good summer hike.