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Published: April 25th 2008
Distance ~ 8 miles roundtrip from trailhead to junction with the Gulch Trail
As is usually the case when September rolls around, I found myself realizing that I still had a lot of hiking that I wanted to do and not too much more time to do it. In 2006, the hiking season was essentially over by early October, so I got worried that I didn’t have too much time left. With that in mind, I decided to take a short weekend trip up to the Glenwood Springs/Aspen area to hit a few more trails in places that I’d never been. I had the pleasure of staying with my friends Gayle and Jonathon in Glenwood Springs, which gave me the opportunity to visit a part of the state that I rarely see. I had two goals for this trip; the first being that I wanted to climb to the top of Glenwood Canyon, and the second being that I wanted to do a hike somewhere along the road leading up to Independence Pass.
For many drivers traveling along I-70, Glenwood Canyon is little more than a pretty scenic route between Eagle and Glenwood Springs. However, hikers like
me know that the canyon holds some hidden treasures that drivers never see. Tucked back in one of the canyon’s many side gullies is Hanging Lake, one of the most impressive destinations in all of Colorado. I’ve done that hike many times and I have always been curious about the Dead Horse Trail, which branches off from the Hanging Lake Trail about a quarter of a mile from the trailhead. After looking at a map of the area, I decided to take the trail to both satisfy my curiosity and to reach my goal of climbing to the top of the canyon. I didn’t know what to expect from this trail as there was no mention of it on any web site or in any book that I owned. By taking this trail, I ended up on one of the most extraordinarily difficult and potentially dangerous hikes of my life. The trail does offer some amazing views of Glenwood Canyon, but infrequent use or maintenance has resulted in some unpleasant obstacles. Much of this steep trail is covered with loose rock and overgrowth making it hard to navigate.
I’ve used words like “strenuous” and “relentless” to describe some of
the hikes that I’ve been on. As far as I’m concerned, the Dead Horse Trail gives new meaning to these adjectives. The trail starts across Dead Horse Creek and begins a strenuous and relentless (…sorry, I couldn’t resist…) climb up to the top of the canyon. The trail snakes its way up via a series of tight switchbacks with virtually no flat spots at all. Combined with this steep pitch, the loose rock and overgrowth mean slow-going during the ascent. The trail got so steep at times that I found myself stopping about every 20 or 30 yards to catch my breath! Along the way, the trail passes through sections of pine forest and comes very close to some of the towering reddish-brown rock formations that line the walls of Glenwood Canyon. Looking down, there are amazing views of the Colorado River along the canyon’s floor. While the trail never really flattens out, it does finally manage to take on a more moderate profile once the rim of the canyon is reached. The terrain around the rim is hilly with areas of dense forest and low shrubs. From here, the view to the east reveals the more arid country around
the Dotsero area. Because the trail is not listed on the White River National Forest’s web site, I can only guess at the distance. Using a map of the area, I estimate that the trail runs for about four miles before intersecting with the Gulch Trail, which heads out to the eastern side of the canyon. I’m guessing that I covered about 5 miles roundtrip on my hike.
This is the first hike on this blog that I don’t recommend to anyone. If the trail was just steep, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more. Unfortunately, the loose rocks and heavy overgrowth made the footing downright treacherous on the steepest sections. With the trail being as steep as it is, the descent was quite interesting. I slipped and fell numerous times, giving myself some colorful and painful bruises. I count myself lucky for escaping with only those minor injuries. As I was the only person on this trail for the entirety of the hike, a more serious fall could have become a very bad situation. If after reading this entry you decide that you still want to attempt this hike, do not do it alone! I also
recommend using hiking poles on this trail. They will come in handy for leverage on the ascent and stability on the descent. Also, I recommend bringing at least twice the amount of water that you would need on a normal hike. This area gets very hot during the summer and provides little shade. Personally, I would just stick to Hanging Lake!
Directions: From the Denver area, take I-70 west for about 145 miles to Glenwood Canyon. The Hanging Lake trailhead can only be accessed from I-70 eastbound. If you are heading west, use the Grizzly Creek Exit (122) and connect with the eastbound lanes of the highway. The Hanging Lake Exit (125) is well marked. From the large parking area, follow the paved bike path for about a quarter of a mile to the Hanging Lake Trailhead. The Dead Horse Trail branches off about a quarter of a mile along the Hanging Lake Trail (look for the brown wooden sign).
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