Crag Crest Trail
excerpts from the book
Incredible Backcountry Trails 
by David Day

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Incredible Backcountry Trails
  • access info for 120 trailheads
  • 90 colorful trail maps
  • 305 full color photographs
  • loads of hiking tips
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    Distance: 9.0 miles (loop)

    Walking time:  5 1/2 hours 

    : 1,160 ft. gain/loss
       Crag Crest East Trailhead (start): 10,130 ft.
       Crag Crest summit: 11,189 ft.

    Trail: This is a designated National Recreation Trail.

    Season: Midsummer through mid-fall. The upper parts of the trail are usually covered with snow from November through June.

    Vicinity: Grand Mesa, near Grand Junction



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    Crag Crest is a particularly scenic section of the long east-west ridge that separates western Colorado’s Grand Mesa into its Gunnison and Colorado River watersheds. Some sources claim that the 50-square-mile mesa is the largest flat-topped mountain in the world. It rises abruptly from the desert environment east of Grand Junction into a lush conifer forest averaging over 10,000 feet above sea level. Dozens of deep blue lakes lie just below the crest of the mesa, making this an especially pretty hike.

    About 10 million years ago a series of volcanic eruptions covered the top of the Grand Mesa with a thick layer of basaltic rock, and from all appearances Crag Crest must have been a major volcanic vent during the eruptions. Today the rocky ridge rises 500 feet above the surrounding plateau. Over the course of time the great weight of the volcanic deposits pressing down on the mesa caused the land to tilt slightly inward, forming long, narrow depressions along the top of the mesa. These depressions eventually became the jewel-like lakes that are now scattered below the ridge.

    From the road the trail proceeds north for about 150 yards to a trail junction above a small clearing. As the sign at the junction indicates, the path on the left is the "lower loop trail" while the path directly in front of you leads to the Crag Crest. You should continue straight ahead toward the crest. (Disregard the third path that branches off to the right.) After another 0.4 mile the trail passes by the west side of Upper Eggleston Lake, followed by Bullfinch Reservoir 0.6 mile later. There are so many lakes on this hike you will seldom walk far without seeing one. On the northwest side of Bullfinch Reservoir there is also a short spur trail leading to Butts Lake, 0.3 mile off the main trail.

    Bullfinch reservoir is situated right at the base of Crag Crest, and as you leave Bullfinch the trail begins a series of long switchbacks on its way to the top of the ridge. In the next 0.7 mile you will gain 570 feet of elevation, and the scenery starts to become dramatic as you near the top. Butts Lake lies 600 feet below the crest, a long skinny lake nestled snugly against the steeply sloping fields of volcanic rubble.

    The next two miles of trail along the eastern end of Crags Crest are indeed a rare treat, even for seasoned hikers. At times the ridge is reduced to a knife-edge, barely five feet wide, with lichen-covered boulder fields plunging down precipitously on both sides. Large bunches of columbine grow all along the top of the ridge. Snowfields linger on the north facing side, often well into July, with brilliant green patches of moss and liverwort finding shade in the rocky recesses. The Cottonwood Lakes are situated on the flat plateau about a mile north of the ridgeline, and to the south there are more lakes than you can imagine. As you walk along the top of the ridge the lakes flash out through the surrounding forest of spruce and fir, and then quickly disappear again into the foliage. At least 25 lakes are visible off and on from Crag Crest. At one point on the hike I was able to see 11 of them in one sweeping panorama.

    The trail crosses the highest point on the ridge above Rockland Lake, 0.9 mile after climbing up the eastern end of Crag Crest, and from there it makes a long, slow descent along the Crest to Wolverine Lake, 2.4 miles further west. Beyond Wolverine Lake the trail descends another 300 feet to meet a short spur trail leading to the Crag Crest West Trailhead. There you must turn east for the walk back along the Lower Loop Trail to East Trailhead where the hike began.

    While not as spectacular as the Crest Trail, the hike along the Lower Loop is not without its rewards. The forest is much denser here and the vegetation is very different. Gone are the columbines and asters that grow along the ridge, but in their place are fields of mountain bluebells, larkspurs, and geraniums. Sadly, there is now one major distraction on the Lower Loop Trail. In 1998 a thoughtless bulldozer operator from the nearby town of Cedaredge drove his machine up the drainage on the northeast side of Hotel Twin Lake, then turned east and continued along the trail for over a mile before being halted by the Forest Service. When you reach this area you will probably be confused as to where the trail is since the bulldozer obliterated it. Just continue walking in the same direction and at the same elevation along the bulldozed path. After about 30 minutes the bulldozed path will end and you will be back on the trail again. Soon afterward the path starts dropping back down to Eggleston Lake and the end of the hike.


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

    If you are interested in a supplemental map of the Crag Crest Trail
    we recommend:
    Grand Mesa (Trails Illustrated, map #136)

    Click here for DISCOUNTED MAP ORDERS

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