Little Dominguez Canyon
Difficulty: Easy – Moderate
Miles: Approx. 11 miles round trip
Time: 5 1/2 hours
Trailhead GPS Data: 38°50’57.58″N, 108°22’20.71″W
View Little Dominguez in a larger map
Little Dominguez Canyon is part of the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Study Area. The BLM designated almost 74,000 acres of the area as a wilderness study area back in 1980. The only travel that is allowed is either hiking or horseback. Both Big Dominguez Creak and Little Dominguez Creek flow year around. Little Dominguez Canyon might not be accessible during periods of high water such as during spring thaw or after heavy thunderstorms. The Little Dominguez trail crosses the creak numerous times throughout its route up the canyon.
Little Dominguez trail shares the same trail head as the Big Dominguez trail. Both trails begin in the old town of Bridgeport that is no longer there. To reach Bridgeport from Grand Junction, travel towards Delta Colorado on Highway 50 for almost 13.5 miles. The Bridgeport turnoff will be located on your right just after you crest the hill. Turn onto the gravel road and continue traveling for another 3 1/4 miles as the road twists and turns its way down into the canyon and ends at a locked gate at the Gunnison River. The road is generally easily accessed with a passenger car, although during the winter it can get a little slick and springtime it can get muddy. The road is used daily by a rancher that lives by the river so it is generally well maintained.
The trail begins at the little green gate to the left or South East of the parking area. There are “No Trespassing” signs everywhere that the railroad has put up but that is just indicating the train tracks, little buildings and the ground immediately next to the tracks. The trail follows the tracks and the access road for the first mile until you come to the two bridges. The first bridge is an old cable type suspension bridge that was actually moved from Cameo in Debeque Canyon and reconstructed here. This bridge is strictly off limits and is privately owned. The public bridge is just upstream a short distance and is the bridge to use.
Once across the bridge the trail follows along the Gunnison River for about a half mile until you reach the mouth of Dominguez Canyon. At this point if you look to the left you will see a fairly large dam that was built way back in the day. If you drop off the trail and follow one of the little side trails it will take you to a little cove under the dam which is pretty neat. Just past the dam and on your right you will come across and old abandoned corral and what look like small animal pens. Look around here a little bit and see if you can find the remains of the old outhouse. Call me weird but I think it is pretty interesting. As many times as I have hiked this canyon I have never seen that.
From this point the trail continues up the canyon a short distance then veers to the left for another half mile or so. Be sure to keep your eyes open on the right side of the trail through this section, there is an old indian blind that is easily missed. There is a large boulder sitting on a small pedestal on the left side of the trail that draws you attention and makes you miss the blind.
So far the trail is an old road. You can occasionally see signs that someone has driven on it. Believe it or not they have. There is an old gentleman that lives up Little Dominguez Canyon. His name is Mr. Rambo and his family was one of the original homesteaders of this canyon. The corrals and things at the beginning of the canyon are remains of an old orchard that the Rambos raised. They had a ferry just up from the new bridge that they used to transport their peaches over the river. You can still see the remains of the ferry on the North side of the river. Mr. Rambo signed a Life Estate Lease when he sold his property to the BLM. The lease gives him use of the land as well as access of the existing road. The Little Dominguez trail passes by his cabin so please stay on the trail and do not disturb him.
After the last half mile the road branches off to your left and the trail gently curves to the right and heads up Big Dominguez. You will want to turn left and continue on the road as it heads North and crosses the creek. The road winds its way through the cottonwood trees and willows as it follows the Little Dominguez creek. A short distance farther up and the road crosses the creek again. Eventually you will come to the first of three fences. It is ok to follow the road up until this point. From here you must bear to your left and cross the creek yet again. There is a BLM sign indicating private property for the next 1 mile and says to stay on the East side of the creek. This area through here is Mr. Rambos personal property. As you go a little farther and watch to the right you will see his cabin and possibly a couple vehicles. It looked like there was a Winnebago parked next to his house, how he got that in there, I will never know.
For the next mile or so the trail follows the creek. There are sporadic cairns that somewhat mark a path but the trail becomes more difficult to follow. After a mile or so you will come to the second fence or what is left of it. From this point on I’m just going to say the trail disappears completely. It looks like the trail predominately follows the creek, the problem is, there was what appeared to be a large flood a few years back that apparently wiped out most traces of a trail. It looked like most people turned around at the first fence. I did keep running across one set of footprints off and on. The rest of the time I just continued following the creek and picking and choosing my way through the brush.
After a while you will pass through a third fence. If you are right next to the creek you can see where who ever built the fence hooked the wire to a large boulder. It’s amazing how they used whatever they could find back in those days to accomplish tasks. If you are a little farther north of the creek you cross through the fence and see an actual BLM sign facing away from you indicating that the area behind you is for day use only and no camping and that the next 2 miles on the west side of the creek is private property. Why this sign say 2 miles and the other sign says 1 mile I do not know. Just play it safe and try to stay on the East side of the creek as much as you can.
Once through this last fence I walked another half mile or so and decided to turn around at this point. A short distance down the canyon appeared to turn South more and looked like it got more narrow and more rougher. If I would have continued for another 5 miles or so according to the BLM map I would have been able to hook up with the Upper Bar X Trail or continue on the Little Dominguez Trail. Both trails appear to terminate at BlackPoint on the Uncompahgre Plateau. Either way I would have been looking at over 20 miles one way, so that was kind of out of the question. It would be a nice multiday hike.
The return trip was uneventful. I just tried following the same path I went up on. I left early in the morning with hopes to see some wildlife but only saw a couple rabbits, squirrels and a snake and of course plenty of lizards. Dominguez Canyon has a nice herd of bighorn sheep I’ve seen occasionally and it is also home to deer, elk, mountain lion and bear. I did see some large wild turkey tracks on the way up.
Overall the hike was pleasant, I have never been up Little Dominguez so that made it more interesting. There really wasn’t much in the way of historical interest in this canyon as well as wild life. There were plenty of signs of deer and bighorn sheep but no sightings. The large petroglyph panels in the slide show are actually located near the parking area and are not anywhere on the actual trail. I just wanted to throw the pictures in because they are in the immediate area.