Picketwire Canyon is an unbelievable place in a completely unexpected location.
This canyon has something for everyone. The scenery is AMAZING! Once you descend into the canyon (which is steep whether you follow the trail or hike your own path), the hiking is reasonably flat. But if you explore the boulders strewn on canyon sides, you will be rewarded with impressive rock art that is quite numerous (though far from on every rock, so you have to work for the reward). There are modern ruins along the way in the Dust Bowl homestead & the Mission. And you can hike the 5+ mi. (one-way) to the dinosaur tracksite - a place that is worth every step there and back. I won’t detail it here, because I think everyone should make it a point to check it out for themselves!!!
One of the very best things about this hike is the solitude. During the week, you’re likely to have the trail to yourself, with only a stray roar from an airplane breaking a bird’s song or the silence. On weekends, you may encounter the 4WD auto tour, mtn bikers or horses, but I can’t imagine this trail ever gets very busy.
Things to know about this hike:
1. Bring lots of water. I went through 2L each time in 65 deg. weather.
2. You have to cross the river to get to the main tracksite. We brought Crocs and aqua socks for this and had no problems on the slick-rock river bottom. The water in the Fall reached 2/3 to the knee and was much colder this time, after the first major snowfall at the headwaters, than it was at the end of Sept (it was refreshingly cold then).
3. Any measurable precipitation can make the county road and the road to the trailhead difficult, if not impassable. Call the Comanche Nat’l Grasslands office in La Junta for road conditions before driving all the way out there!
NOTE: The US Army wants this area back! If they succeed, it will be lost to the public FOREVER! Visit it before it’s gone, and get involved in the fight against the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site expansion!