When I moved to Bozeman, Montana in 2012 from my home state of Kansas, I had no intention of ever leaving. I had found, in the ponderosa studded sage brush lowlands, and rugged spruce mountains, exactly what I had been looking for in a home. I first got into trail running in the high peaks of the Gallatin, Madison, Bridger, and Spanish Peaks ranges. I spent many days hunting and fishing in the remotest places I could find. I was perfectly content there.
And then, I got married to a long-time friend, and we had a baby together. With the closest family 700 miles away and a newborn to take care of, on top of a pesky legal problem, it became almost obligatory to relocate. In the early 2016 we made the decision to move to Glenwood Springs Colorado to be closer to family. I was completely heartbroken.
Gradually though, I began to make the most of my situation as best I could. It only took a short time in the Roaring Fork Valley to realize I was in a very good place for trail running. Not only is the running community strong and accessible here (even Trail Runner magazine is based in a town 15 minutes away), but the variety and accessibility of the running environments is limitless.
Most importantly, the area offers some of the best winter running escapes just outside our doorstep. It was always a trouble for me to get in good quality training miles in during the long cold winter months of Montana. But here in Glenwood Springs, we have red rock desert a mere hour away near Grand Junction. And since this playground of mild winter running area can be located right of I70, even folks on the Front Range can enjoy it with less than a 4 hour drive. That’s close enough to easily make a good weekend running adventure out of.
The Desert of Western Colorado:
Colorado National Monument:
From my location, I could easily write about the endless desert running possibilities close to me- even the mecca of red rock Moab, Utah, is less than 3 hours drive from me. But for now, I will only cover what is in Colorado, and easily accessible to the entire state. For starts, I will mention the Colorado National Monument.
Located just next to Grand Junction and outlaying towns, most people know this wonderful place for its famous rock climbing. But there are also equally iconic trails to be explored here. In 2014, on a big road trip, I stumbled upon this place as I took backroads through Redlands. I ran the easy, rolling Monument Canyon trail. Having never explored the desert before, I found it to be a wonderful first experience in the red rocks.
This weekend, I took some rage out on the Liberty Cap trail to the southern end of the Monument. There was a pretty steep climb in the first mile and a half, and then the trail tops out on top of a mesa, offering views of the entire area below. All in all, the Colorado National Monument offers easy to moderate trails at various lengths from 5 miles to 14 miles out and back- to even farther depending on how you connect trails. The landscape is a mix of red rock mesas, scattered boulders, and thick Pinyon Juniper woodland. alltrails.com offers descriptions and driving directions to the more popular trails fund here.
Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Study Area:
This area is somewhat of a “sleeper spot,” with less crowds venturing this far south. The trails start about 20 minutes south of Clifton, off HWY 50. The first trail I explored here was the Dominguez Canyon trail that first crosses some train tracks. It is an easy, out and back trail around 10 miles. There are amazing Native American rock art hidden along the canyon, and not always advertised. This is definitely not a “tourist” spot. To the south, from the Escalante road, there is a ton of car-camping spots to choose from, and many gravel roads that can also be utilized for running purposes. The Dominguez Canyon landscape is mostly exposed red rock, with few trees, and a surprisingly high amount of exposed granite on the floor- especially in the crystal clear streams crossing the area. See alltrails.com for more info on the area.
Mcinnis Canyons National Conservation Area:
This region offers perhaps the easiest accessible winter trails, many of them just off Interstate 70 near Fruita. The landscape is characterized by studded bushes on sandy soil, and plenty of sandstone rock formations. Most of the trails- like the Kokopelli and Rabbits Ear overlook the Colorado River. The trails here are usually shorter, except for the Kokopelli, which can take one on a 140+ mile adventure well into Utah- or as far as an out-and-back run one chooses. Check out alltrails.com for more info.
This is merely a small list of trails to choose from. With a map, and some planning, you can find a near limitless possibilities of places to explore in the desert of western Colorado. In fact, the Black Canyon Ridge Wilderness attached to the Colorado National Monument and Mcinnis Conservation Area, which I have not thus far described, has even more trail running options to choose from, in a much more remote area. Though I have not described this area due to the fact that much of its trailheads take a 4×4 vehicle to get to, and in the winter months, might be impossible to reach depending on snow and mud. But, it further offers more possibilities to explore.
If you live in Colorado and are struggling to get some long, runnable miles in this winter, look no further then Grand Junction and its surrounding trail running options. Enjoy.