Serpents and No Thoroughfare Canyon Trails

Fruita, CO (near Grand Junction)

The weather forecast for Saturday called for partly sunny skies with a chance of afternoon thunder showers.  So we were out (relatively) early to hike a couple of trails just inside the east entrance in Colorado National Monument.

The first hike was up the Serpents Trail.  The trail uses the path of the original road into the Monument.  In 1912 construction began on the Serpents Trail, the first motorized route across Colorado National Monument.  When it was completed in 1921 most cars lacked fuel pumps and had to back up the steep road so that fuel flowed to the engine by gravity.  By 1950 construction on the east hill of Rim Rock Drive was completed and the Serpents Trail was closed to motorized traffic.


The old roadbed provides a nice wide trail as it winds uphill for 1.75 miles.  While it is uphill all the way, the elevation gain is gradual as the road winds around the 20 switchbacks.

As we began the hike we could see a man-made formation high on the hill that looked like a turret on a castle.

As we climbed we realized that it was the rock support for one of the switchbacks.  When we made our way around that switchback, we could see the start of the trail/road below us.

In many spots you can see the markings left by the hand drills used to dig into the rock to set the blast charges.

A second trailhead marks the upper end of the trail where the old road meets the new road.

The Rim Road through the monument is a very popular ride for bicycles.  In the photo below one biker going up hill crosses paths with another going down.  Guess which one was going faster!

In the photo above the trailhead is just to the left of the upper part of the road.  From that point you can look down and see were the road goes into a tunnel.  The tunnel goes through a huge rock wall that forced the old, original road to go steeply up the grade to get around it.

Pam is standing on the trail just below the arrow.

The winding Rim Road after it goes through the tunnel

Returning back down Serpents Trail we crossed the road and set out on the No Thoroughfare Canyon Trail for a visit to a high waterfall about two miles up the canyon.

Once again we had one of those pesky water crossings.  But again we used our experience to safely navigate our way across.

Another water crossing

Less than a mile up the trail we came to a pool below a small waterfall.

The trail went around the small pool using a set of steps constructed by the Parks Service.

The trail then followed the stream up into the canyon.  Most of the trail was over bare terrain, but at one point we had to make our way through tall vegetation near the creek.

Soon we came to our goal, a tall waterfall.  Although the flow of water is a bit sparse, the long drop it made down into a small pool provided a beautiful, tranquil spot to enjoy a few quiet moments.

After enjoying a light lunch near the falls, it was back down through the vegetation . . .

. . . then down the steps around the pool and . . .

. . . back through the canyon to the trailhead.

Just as we returned to the Jeep the rain began to fall.   That was all right with us as it was time to head to a local coffee shop chain for a well deserved little treat after completing 8.1 miles!

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23 Responses to Serpents and No Thoroughfare Canyon Trails

  1. Ingrid says:

    Looks like you managed to get in a nice day of hiking before the rain hit…. again.

  2. Lovely hike. Great timing!

  3. Erin says:

    Driving backwards to get fuel to the engine … LOL. With all the snow and rain in Colorado, you’d think the waterfall would be flowing strong. Still, like you said, a tranquil site.

    • placestheygo says:

      We were quite surprised by the lack of water falling, as well, Erin. Seeing the road with all the curves and drop offs made the idea of driving backwards even more amazing.

  4. I can’t imagine having to drive backwards up a hill! I sure am glad we live in the times we do! Thank goodness for sunny/non rainy mornings!

  5. Jim and Barb says:

    I always find it interesting to hear the history of a particular area or trail. We take so much for granted and forget how hard it would have been to construct roads and trails back in the day.

    • placestheygo says:

      This road/trail was a great example of the difficulty and hard work that went into roads at the time with all the drilling marks for blasting and the beautifully constucted walls around a few of the curves.

  6. Gay says:

    I love waterfalls…doesn’t matter if it’s in a creek or way up a cliff wall. I’m surprised with all the rain it didn’t have more water flow. What a nice hike…love the story about the cars going backwards to get fuel flow.

    • placestheygo says:

      I agree, Gay. It was a great hike along this small stream with lots of very tiny “falls” you could hear as you approached. Makes the hike extra peaceful, especially without many people. I didn’t know about the cars need to back up hill before fuel injection til this hike!

  7. LuAnn says:

    Glad to see you are finally getting some sunny skies. We were able to get out yesterday with Jim and Gayle and take a hike. Today we head to Lassen Volcanic NP. Have you two been there yet?

  8. Jodee Gravel says:

    My mother was born in 1919 and told stories of being a kid riding in a car driving backwards up what was then called the Ridge Route, and is now Cajon Pass on I-15 in CA 🙂 And I complain about potholes! Love the little ponds at the base of the falls, and am surprised by the bamboo. Pam looks very guilty peeking around that vegetation!

    • placestheygo says:

      Must have been a fun time to be a kid riding in a car. I guess we have it pretty good with travel now days:) Yes, it was an interesting section of the trail through the reeds.

  9. Sherry says:

    I’ve been out of touch for a few days but am glad to see you are still out on marvelous trails. Love the story about backing up the road. What a hoot! It looks like even Ruby might be able to do it. Any hike that goes by waterfalls with any amount of water is a great hike in my option. Thanks for showing it to me.

  10. Sarah says:

    What a great hike. I loved the early photo and information about Serpents Trail. Stories about the construction of scenic roads in national parks are so interesting to me, and I was not familiar with this one. I was also surprised with the waterfall had just a trickle of water after all of the recent rain and snow. We found the same to be true with Rainbow Falls in Wrangell.

  11. allisonmohr says:

    I also am surprised that the water fall was not bigger, it seems like it has been raining everywhere (except Tucson) forever!

  12. Nancy says:

    Another neat hike… and the waterfall and pond must have been cooling. Glad you beat the rain!

  13. raviolikid says:

    I do appreciate the skill that goes into your water crossings! 😉

  14. Laurel says:

    What an interesting hike! I’m surprised that there isn’t more water in the waterfalls with all of the rain you’ve been having. And bamboo??? Where did that come from? I love the story of early travelers having to back up the serpentine road. Great history tidbit. 🙂

  15. rommel says:

    The winding roads with dramatic landscapes look so so cool to see. 8 mile hike is no joke. I’ll remember you as one of my inspirations when I tackle such distance.

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