Leave the valley & cool off with a hike on Crag Crest Trail
From Grand Junction, take I-70 and get off at the Powderhorn exit 49, which is Hwy. 65. Go past the town of Mesa for about 20 miles. The West Trailhead is located on the south side of the Grand Mesa off of Hwy. 65 and out of the West Crag Crest parking lot. Look for signs indicating the turn off to the parking lot once you approach Island Lake.
My husband and I are getting in shape for our first 14er (WOO HOO!) and we knew we needed to get in a training hike that had elevation, distance and grade. And we didn’t want to travel far. Naturally, Crag Crest was recommended by many.
So on a recent morning, we grabbed our backpacks and loaded the best hiking dog one could ever ask for, Riker, and headed up to the Grand Mesa.
Leaving the West Trailhead at Island Lake, a well-marked, well-traveled path led us gently up to vast meadows of wildflowers and into an enchanted alpine forest, which provided nice cover from the sun. At this time of year, one immediately becomes aware of the mosquitoes that are eager to snack on you; we probably noticed it more so because we completely forgot bug spray! Major rookie mistake, I know. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it.
For the first two miles, we suffered and it got so bad we nearly turned back. Thankfully, we came across hikers who generously shared their bug spray with us. I was so grateful and desperate that I was offering them anything I had in my rucksack as payment — my lunch, snack, cash! Our saviours were pretty astonished we forgot the bug spray. I’m pretty sure they were calling us “idiots” after we parted ways. I would have.
Skeeters be damned, now. When we reached the ridge crest and left the forest, there was nothing but breathtaking views in all directions of distant peaks, mountain ranges (San Juans & Bookcliffs) and numerous hidden lakes. At the peak of the hike, approximately 11,300 feet, it gets kind of craggy — hence, Crag Crest. This is where we broke for lunch and rejuvenated in the solitude and beauty of our surroundings. Nature is truly healing.
We pushed on and rain clouds threatened us, which is typical at this elevation and time of year; but nature gave us a break and I didn’t have to bust out the rain gear at all during the entire hike.
One can do this hike from the West Trailhead to the East Trailhead at Eggleston Lake for a 6.5-mile adventure, but you’ll have to coordinate transportation. We did the loop, which comes in at 10 miles. That’s 6.5 miles up and over and 3.5 rolling miles in the valley floor and along some lakes back to the West Trailhead. It took us seven hours to complete the loop, but we stopped for a long lunch and many picture-taking breaks.
I would judge this hike as moderate, not too difficult at all. If you get winded on the ups, then take it slow; but there’s no scrambling or anything like that. The views from the top are worth it.
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