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Backpacking the Dominguez Canyon Wilderness

Aaron Zagrodnick

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Aaron Zagrodnick

November tends to be a dead zone for Colorado hikers. It's too early for skiing or even snowshoeing in the high country. But cold temps and the threat of blizzards are present even if the snow is lacking. Most backpackers sit out the month, maybe catching up on their favorite trail magazine. Not all Colorado is high country and 14er's though. Out beyond the West Elks, the Uncompahgre Plateau runs from the Utah border 60 miles southeast down to the edge of the San Juans. Elevations range from 4000 feet along the rivers to 9000 feet at the crest. The terrain is mostly a rolling plateau of pinyon-juniper grasslands. Red rock canyons cut their way down from the plateau to the Gunnison River. Some of these are incorporated into the BLM’s Dominguez Canyon Wilderness, part of the larger Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area. The Big and Little Dominguez Canyons form one possible loop route from the Gunnison River up to the crest and back again. Only Big Dominguez canyon sports a maintained trail...

@HappyHour details this backpacking trip through Colorado canyon country and the Uncompahgre Plateau, take a look at the article in Issue 45:

Lost Highway of the Uncompahgre

Backpacking Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Colorado

Issue 45 Page 1

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This is a loop I have mapped out as well but have yet to do.  Your day 1 and 2 challenges with difficult overgrown terrain in the lower d canyon give me some pause about the degree to which I would enjoy.  Seems to be an area that would be worth some volunteer trail building time.

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As always, expectations are important. If you were planning on an easy 2-3 day stroll, it will be a problem. If you plan on 3-4 days, then not so much. Also, consider doing the loop counter clockwise. Then you will be going downhill through the bushwhack, which makes a big difference.

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  • 4 weeks later...
Philos 67

A friend and I went up Little Dominguez Canyon in May 2019, intending to climb up the 400' canyon wall at an accessible spot, head over to Big Dominguez and then back to Bridgewater.  I spent a bunch of hours looking at google earth and maps and reading trip reports.  The spot I chose to go up the canyon wall didn't work and we turned around and headed back down Little Dominguez.  It was the side canyon heading up towards Steamboat Spring.  There was a 20' fairly vertical wall about 1/2 way up we "could" have climbed, but decided not to.  

 That's a beautiful, tough little hike.  We crossed the raging creek over 20 times to find the easiest route.  The brush slows everything down, way down.  I should have worn snake chaps or heavy duty canvas pants to keep from tearing up my legs (we saw no snakes).  I saw lots more beauty headed down than up, so it didn't feel like an out and back.  


Edited by Philos 67
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