Jones Hole
(Dinosaur National Monument)

excerpts from the book
Utah's Incredible Backcountry Trails
by David Day

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Distance: 8.0 miles (round trip)

Walking time: 4 3/4 hours

Elevations: 540 ft. loss/gain
     Jones Hole Trailhead (start): 5,560 ft.
     Green River: 5,020 ft.

Trail: Easy, year-round trail descending along Jones Hole Creek to the Green River.

Season: Spring, summer, fall. Hiking is also sometimes possible in the winter, if the road is open. For more information call the Visitor Center, Dinosaur National Monument, at (435) 789-2115.

Vicinity: Dinosaur National Monument, near Vernal

 

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     Jones Hole is the name given to a 2,000-foot-deep gorge that runs along the border between Utah and Colorado in Dinosaur National Monument. Jones Hole Creek, in the bottom of the gorge, is fed from a number of small springs at the head of the canyon and along its sides. The trail begins just below the first spring, at the Jones Hole Fish Hatchery, and winds pleasantly along the creek for about four miles to join the Green River in Whirlpool Canyon. The creek bed is a lush green oasis surrounded by the semiarid land of Dinosaur National Monument. At times the trail climbs away from the water into the sagebrush and pinion-juniper forest that surrounds it, but mostly it stays very close to the canyon floor where boxelders, cottonwoods, and other water-hungry trees prevail. The creek is also an important source of water for the monument’s wildlife, and it is not uncommon to see deer-especially in the early hours of the day.

     From the visitors parking area of Jones Hole Fish Hatchery walk downstream for a few hundred feet, past the fish tanks, to the southern end of the complex. Here you will see a sign on the east side of the creek marking the trailhead. The trail stays on the same side of the creek for just over a mile. For most of the way the path is very near the water, although at one point it leaves the creek to meander briefly through the pinion-juniper forest on the left bank. The vegetation changes dramatically just a short distance from the water's edge.
     After a half-hour walk the trail crosses a small footbridge, giving hikers the opportunity to see two interesting archeological sites on the west bank. Excavations at the Deluge Shelter site in 1965-67 showed that Jones Hole has been occupied intermittently by at least fifteen separate Indian cultures over the past 7000 years. The cultural layers exposed by the excavation proved to be unusually well defined, and the information gained has contributed significantly to the puzzle of America's prehistoric past.
     Both of the Jones Hole archeological sites contain well preserved examples of prehistoric Indian rock art, which, in view of the many hikers that use the trail, are remarkably unvandalized. Enjoy the centuries-old art, but please watch that no one in your group does anything to deface the precious remnants of our past. Don't even touch them, as the oils in our fingers can cause significant damage.
     Shortly after passing the second archeological site you will come to the confluence of Ely Creek and Jones Hole Creek. There is a small camping area here for overnighters. This is the only place in Jones Hole where camping is permitted, and permits must be obtained in advance from the Dinosaur National Monument Visitors Center. Open fires are not permitted. Ely Creek is also worth exploring. It flows out of an area known as the Labyrinths, a rugged maze of backcountry canyons, only about a mile northwest of the confluence.
     Sharp-eyed hikers may notice a change in the geological structure of Jones Hole as they pass Ely Creek. Above this point the canyon cuts through the Weber Sandstone formation, while below Ely the canyon floor enters an older formation of limestone and shale. This 200-million-year-old sedimentary formation bears testimony to the existence of an ancient sea that once covered the area, and fossil remains of the sea’s inhabitants can often be found in the limestone.
     The trail ends two miles below Ely Creek where Jones Hole Creek joins the Green River. If you are hiking in the summer you will probably see at least one party of river runners here. The Green River is very popular with rafters, and Jones Hole is a favorite overnight stop. There are several camp sites nearby, but the sites are reserved for rafters and are off limits to hikers.

Island Park
     An interesting extension to this hike, for those wishing to sample the semidesert environment above Jones Hole, is the trail connecting Jones Hole to Island Park. This trail leaves Jones Hole from the backpacker’s campground and follows Ely Creek for about a half mile. It then climbs 800 feet up the south side of Big Draw Gulch to the plateau above and continues in a generally southwesterly direction. Beyond this climb the trail is not difficult, but ample water should be carried as it is a hot, dry walk. The trail ends in Island Park near Ruple Ranch, 6.5 miles from the Ely Creek Campground. With a little advance planning a car can be spotted at Ruple Ranch for the drive back to the trailhead at Jones Hole Fish Hatchery. An 18-mile-long gravel road leads from Ruple Ranch to the paved Jones Hole Road, and from there it is another 33 miles back to the fish hatchery.
     The first two miles of the trail from Jones Hole to Island Park are well defined. Unfortunately, however, the Park Service no longer maintains the trail, and in a few places above Big Draw Gulch it can be difficult to follow. If you want to do this hike I recommend you take along a compass and a good map of the area (the USGS Jones Hole and Island Park quadrangles are ideal). The area is fairly flat and obstacle-free, so loosing the trail is not a serious problem if you have a compass and a good map.
     One of the things that makes the Island Park hike so interesting is the extremely large number of deer in the area-especially in the spring. In the spring of 1995 I counted more than 50 deer (mostly doe with their newborn fawns) within a mile of Ruple Ranch!
     One final note: Their seems to be a large disagreement over the distance from Jones Hole to Ruple Ranch. One Park Service signs says 8.0 miles, another says 4.7 miles, and a popular map says 7.7 miles. I stand by my estimate of 6.5 miles.

 

The book includes more text, more photographs, and trail maps.

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If you are interested in a supplemental map of the Jones Hole area, we recommend:
Dinosaur National Monument (Trails Illustrated, map #220)

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