Picketwire Canyonlands – Dinosaur Tracks

10.6 miles round trip to dinosaur tracks and back

Minimal elevation gain, but there is a 250’ descent into the
canyon (and back up and out)

If you want to visit the largest Dinosaur Track Site in
North America be advised:  Directions
aren’t available by GPS. So if you’re interested in visiting, here are the
driving directions:  

  • Take US-50 East to La Junta
  • Turn Right onto Bradish
  • Turn Left onto E 5th Street
  • Turn Right onto CO-109
  • Continue on CO-109 for 13 miles
  • Turn Right onto CR 802 and continue for
    8 miles (dirt road)
  • Turn Left onto CR 25 and continue for 6
    miles (dirt road)
  • Turn Left onto Service Road 500A for 3
    miles and park at the Withers Canyon Trailhead.  There are several camping spots here.  4WD is recommended, but unless the roads are
    wet a 2WD can make it no problem.

I did a google search on cool hikes in Colorado, and this
hike came up.  I’d never heard of it, so
I did some research and thought it would be a fun place to visit.  It’s pretty off the grid and a long hike, so
it would have to be an all day thing.
The weather forecast was for 75 degrees today (the day after
Thanksgiving!  Amazing!) and I decided it
would be a shame to waste the good weather.
I woke up Emily at 7am and she slept in the car until we made it to the trailhead
round 9:40am.  

The trail begins behind the vault toilets, past this gate

Sign your name at the trail register, and turn LEFT here

There are two different routes here:  the Withers Canyon Trail is just a short .2
mile look that gives you an overview of the canyon.  To see the Dinosaur Tracks you want to turn
left here and take the Picketwire trail.

You’ll come to a gate, and this is where the trail truly
begins.

From this gate you’ll descend about 250 vertical feet down
to the bottom of the canyon, and continue at a pretty level elevation as you
follow the river to the track site.  

It may have just been the time of year, but much of the single
file part of the trial was covered in tumbleweeds.  This meant for some pretty prickly hiking!

About a mile into the hike we came across an old abandoned
adobe dwelling, complete with an old stove and mattress spring. It was cool to
see original adobe!  Emily remarked at
how small the doorways were, which led to a discussion about making due with what
you have, cost-benefit of effort versus utility, as well as better nutrition
and height.  

We continued and after hiking for 3.7 miles we came upon an
old Spanish (Dolores) Mission and Cemetery.

We spent some time reading the headstones, calculating
dates, and admiring the headstones themselves.
Emily was surprised she could read and understand the Spanish writing.

We also obeyed this notice:

We came across quite a bit of Native American Rock Art in
the canyon.  It wasn’t very well
preserved, but fun to muse about who made them and why they were there.  The Native Americans in this area were
nomadic hunter-gatherers who most likely passed through the area hunting game.

After hiking 5.3 miles we’d made it to the Dinosaur Track
site!!!  In Dinosaur times this was a
lakebed and popular site for all different kinds of dinosaurs.

The area on our side of the river had just been excavated,
so we were able to see a lot of fresh tracks!

Emily wanted to see if she could fit in a sauropod track…

There were several similar track sites on the other side of
the river, but even though it was late in the season the ‘crossing’ wasn’t
passable.  

We spent quite a bit of time going up and down stream
looking for a route, but the water was just not safe.  It was really cold, but we felt we could have
done it with water shoes (without them the river bottom was just too slippery with
silt/granite and we weren’t prepared to get our hiking shoes wet and hike back in
wet shoes for another 5 miles).  So, if
you’d like to cross the river to see more tracks come prepared to get wet and
be creative with the river crossing.
Emily suggests waders.  

We spent about 45 minutes admiring the tracks, and then
headed back.  We were greeted by a
tarantula emerging for an evening stroll…

All in all this was a really great hike!  It was a bit long, but well worth it, especially in such good weather!  It would be a bit brutal in the summer heat or winter cold however, so be prepared!

We made it back to the truck at 3:40pm, making it a 6 hour hike, but we did quite a bit of stopping and looking around at the cemetery, dinosaur track site, and every time we saw rock art.

Author: Laura M Clark

Mom, Solo Colorado 14er Finisher, Outdoor Enthusiast, Traveler, and Girl Scout Leader with an MBA in International Business and Marketing. I value adventure, growth, courage, wisdom, integrity, accountability, and family. I enjoy yoga, wine, whiskey, traveling, reading, and the outdoors. I strive to be the person who inspires and motivates myself and others to succeed.

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