Go Play: Late-season gains at Grand Junction’s Liberty Cap Trail
DIRECTIONS TO WILDWOOD TRAILHEAD
According to the National Park Service, you may access the Liberty Cap Trail from the east entrance. Proceed north on Monument Road 0.6 miles; turn left on South Camp Road. Drive 2.6 miles to its junction with South Broadway. Turn left and go 0.5 miles. Turn left onto Wildwood Drive and go 0.5 miles and watch closely for a brown trailhead sign on the right at what appears to be driveway. Turn down this road to the trailhead. This trailhead is shared with Ute Canyon Trail and Corkscrew Trail.
Liberty Cap Trail: Found on the east end of Colorado National Monument, this lung-busting hike on federal land is worth the work. Though it’s almost winter, the moderate trail remains mostly devoid of snow and it’s still sunny and warm at the top.
It’s steep (4 miles total of straight up and then down the way you came, according to GJhikes.com); it’s quick (about two to two-and-a-half hours roundtrip); and it’s not for the feint-hearted (those afraid of heights may take issue with the second leg of the hike above Corkscrew Trail for its rocky/mean ledges, jutting plateaus, and open-air terrain). Hikers must scramble carefully to the top, however it’s suitable for most hiking levels as long as care is taken and proper attire is worn. Small children should be left at home due to difficulty of terrain.
According to Seth Anderson, a Colorado National Monument Association board member, Liberty Cap Trail has an elevation of 4,800 feet at its base with an elevation of approximately 6,000 feet at the cap.
As elevation is gained, Liberty Cap Trail offers fantastic views of Grand Junction, the Bookcliffs and Mount Garfield. Distant mountain ranges to the south are also visible. It offers what is potentially the No. 1 view of the valley, vying for the spot only with Mount Garfield’s vast spectacle (in this writer’s opinion).
Heading up to the top, hikers will enjoy watching herds of big-horned sheep; much farther up, wind-carved mini-arches dot the area, which offers an otherworldly feel. The landscape is both barren and beautiful, swooping and sharp.
Upon arriving to the top, hikers must then decide if they’ll summit the actual cap, which looks a little like a nose, is about 50 feet high, and boasts steps and rungs cut into the rock by none other than John Otto, Colorado National Monument’s founder. The jaunt up the cap is helped along by metal rungs secured in the rock; some of those original hand-holds by Otto have since been replaced.
“The Liberty Cap is my favorite hike in the Valley,” Anderson said. “Sneaking to the top of the Liberty Cap itself is an awesome thrill. The route that John Otto put up the cap has been changed over the years, but gives a sense of the monument’s founder and his style of climbing and hiking route.”
For a longer hike, Liberty Cap can also be accessed from inside the park.
Hiking tips: Wear hiking shoes, dress in layers, bring water and snacks. Don’t forget a camera. There are no fees to hike if you access the trail from Wildwood Trailhead. Leave dogs at home as most of the hike is on National Park Service land. Check the weather as hikers would not want to be caught at higher elevations in a storm. Be aware of surroundings and take care on the descent not to slip.