This is the “Crest” on Crag’s Crest, a popular trail on the Grand Mesa. Considering Mesa County and Grand Junction are smack in the middle of a high desert, finding ourselves on a hike in the middle of the woods is sometimes disorienting. Still, it’s nice to know that within an hour of our dusty desert life is the smell of an evergreen forest.
Crag’s Crest can be hiked from the west side or the east side. I’ve only hiked it from the west and from what I hear that’s the easier direction to go. Heading up Hwy 65 from Palisade, Co you’ll pass Powderhorn Ski Resort and Jumbo Lake. The trailhead for Crag’s Crest will be on your left near Island Lake, on your right. It’s right near mile marker 27. If you’re watching for it, you won’t miss it.
The trail meanders between woods and meadow for a bit before setting you solidly in the forest for the next four miles. It climbs gradually for the most part and there are spurs where hikers have walked to the edge of the ridge to look out towards the Elk and San Juan mountain ranges.
After about an hour you’ll reach the top. My favorite spot, and one I plan to wake up on some day (as soon as I check it out with the Grand Mesa National Forest rangers) is just to the left of the trail. There is a large flat grassy area that overlooks a lake-filled valley. You can see the Roan Plateau and Bookcliffs looking North, and the crest when you look south (right). It’s a beautiful spot for a snack and a rest.
Then it’s up to the crest! This can be a daunting section for some because it is narrow and covered with lava rock. At this point we usually walk out a little ways and then turn and head back down. You can, however, continue across and down the other side and then take a lower trail back through the woods to make a loop. The ridge extends for a full 3 miles, so if you’re nervous about heights or exposure, you may not want to spend that much time on such a narrow path. If you do choose to make the loop your trip will be about 10 miles round-trip. Some have attempted this and always seem to end up missing the lower trail, so if you decide to hike it that way, make sure you have a map.
The Grand Mesa is a flat topped mountain that rises over 10,000 ft. It is covered with over 300 natural lakes and, in the summer, mosquitoes. Standing anywhere on it after seeing it each and everyday from down in the valley is always exciting. It’s our own escape from the heat and dust of the desert.