No Thoroughfare Canyon, Top to Bottom

Page Type
Trip Report
Location:
Colorado, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Apr 13, 2016
Activities:
Hiking
Season:
Spring
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No Thoroughfare Canyon, Top to Bottom
Created On: May 4, 2016
Last Edited On: May 5, 2016

Overview

No Thoroughfare is the largest canyon in Colorado National Monument. Like all other canyons in the park, it starts in Glades Park, a plateau that sits at an elevation of 6800-7000 ft. At the edge of Glades Park, walls drop 300 vertical feet into the bottom of No Thoroughfare Canyon. For the next 8.5 hiking miles, the canyon heads northeast and its bottom slowly loses elevation until it reaches Devils Kitchen Trailhead near the park’s eastern entrance. The mid sections of the canyon are the remotest parts of the park where you are unlikely to see other hikers.

Park map shows two waterfalls in No Thoroughfare Canyon. Bottom to top these are named The First and The Second Waterfall. I actually counted six waterfalls, four of which were smaller than the official 2 waterfalls. To avoid confusion, bottom to top, I will refer to the waterfalls as follows:

1) First Pool (small)
2) First Waterfall (big)
3) Second waterfall (big)
4) Third Waterfall (very small)
5) Fourth Waterfall (small)
6) Fifth Waterfall (small)

A trail starts at the lower trailhead (Devils Kitchen Trailhead) and goes up the canyon 3.1 miles to reach the Second Waterfall. A different trail starts at the top of the canyon in Glades Park and goes 3.3 miles downstream to fade away at the Fifth Waterfall. Between the Fifth and the Second Waterfalls, boot prints/a beaten path can be followed with minimal bushwhacking.

The second Waterfall presents an obstacle to the hiker. My paper map and my map in the GPS showed a way for bypassing the Second Waterfall to its east. This turned out to be a one mile long bypass that took me 500 vertical feet above where I eventually returned to the canyon. If there ever was a beaten path there, it must have not been used for a long time before the day that I did my hike. I did not even see a single boot print on the bypass. Without the GPS, I would have probably run into walls or nasty slopes when attempting to return to the canyon below the Second Waterfall. The External Link at the bottom of the page mentions a bypass on the west side of Second Waterfall.

Of all the hikes that I did in Colorado National Monument, No Thoroughfare Canyon turned out to be the “wildest” one making me feel like I was far from civilization. I did not see any other hikers until I was below the Second waterfall.

Hike Statistics

All elevations and distances are per my GPS.
Place
Elevation
Distance from Upper Trailhead
Upper Trailhead
6820 ft
Zero miles
Bottom of the canyon
6530 ft
0.45 miles
Fifth Waterfall
6200 ft
3.35 miles
Fourth Waterfall
5965 ft
4.20 miles
Third Waterfall
5875 ft
4.59 miles
Top of Second Waterfall
5870 ft
4.66 miles
High Point on bypass
6050 ft
-
Back to Canyon
5500 ft
5.65 miles
Bottom of Second Waterfall
5660 ft
6.30 miles
Bottom of First Waterfall
5300 ft
7.40 miles
First Pool
5085 ft
8.30 miles
Low point
4970 ft
-
Lower (Devils Kitchen) Trailhead
5020 ft
9.45 miles




Trip Report

Wednesday April 13, 2016

My wonderful wife Mary and I left the vacation rental home with 2 cars at 6:35 am. We went through the eastern entrance to Colorado National Monument. Devils Kitchen Trailhead was a short distance after the entrance. I left my car at the trailhead and got into Mary’s car. We drove up the switchbacks to the top of the mesa, made a left onto East Glade Park Road and then another left onto Little Park Road. The upper trailhead for No Thoroughfare Canyon was about 1.5 miles from the start of Little Park Road. I had actually come to that spot the prior day to find the trailhead. It was as if the park service did not want visitors to find the trail. There were no signs on the road. We had to park in a small pullover and hike a short distance down to see the trailhead sign hiding among the trees.

Said goodbye to Mary and started my hike at 7:20 a.m. It was 39 degrees F and I was at 6820 ft of elevation. Below me, orange colored rocky walls and steep slopes dropped 300 vertical feet to the bottom of the canyon. Some of the walls were glowing in the light of the early morning sun while many other walls and the bottom of the canyon remained in the shade. Once Mary drove off, it hit me that I was on my own. I did not know if there really was a trail at the bottom of the canyon and if I would be able to get around the Second Waterfall. The dark bottom of the canyon added to the intrigue.

Near upper trailheadFrom near upper trailhead


The trail turned out to be well-established and quickly went down the walls of the canyon.

Trail going down the upper canyon wallsTrail descending down the walls


Pretty soon I was down in the shade and began to feel cold. I could actually see a plateau at the bottom of the canyon. The stream created a 30-40 ft deep ravine at the bottom of the plateau in the center of the canyon.

Plateau and Central ravine at the bottomPlateau & Ravine at the bottom of the canyon


After 0.46 miles, I was on top of the plateau at the bottom of the canyon at an elevation of 6530 ft. There was a dense growth of bushes and small trees on top of the plateau. I was thankful for the trail. Without it, bushwhacking through the growth would have been extremely frustrating.

After reaching the plateau at the bottom
Trail under the bushes and trees


The sun slowly rose and I was no longer cold. At one point, I stopped to put sun screen on.

I then had to cross a branch of the ravine at the bottom of the canyon. The trail went down a crazy steep slope. Fortunately the wall of the ravine was made of soft dirt and going down was not difficult.

Steep dirt slope into ravineSteep trail


Inside the ravine.

Bottom of ravineInside the ravine


The trail then went up another crazy steep slope to reach the top of the plateau on the other side of the branch of the ravine. Looking back at the slope I had descended.

Trail into ravine


Looking into the great central ravine.

Ravine at the bottom of canyonCentral ravine


The trail continued on the surface of the plateau. Big red colored walls rose all above me.

Upper canyon
Upper canyon
Upper canyon
Upper canyon
Upper canyon
Upper canyon


Another side ravine to cross.

Another side ravineSide ravine
Another side ravineSide ravine


I was really enjoying myself all alone at the bottom of that magical canyon.

Upper canyon
Upper canyon
Upper canyon
Upper canyon
Upper canyon
Upper canyon
Upper canyon
Upper canyon


Yet another side ravine to cross.

Trail going into another side ravineSide ravine
Side ravineSide ravine


After 3.35 miles, I reached an area covered with black rock where I could hear a waterfall ahead. This was actually the top of the Fifth Waterfall but I was mistaking it for the Second Waterfall. The trail suddenly disappeared. I started following the path that my GPS showed. It took me down a small gully covered with black rock to reach the stream at the bottom of the waterfall bypassing the waterfall on the west side of it. I thought that bypass was no big deal.

Fifth WaterfallFifth Waterfall

Fifth WaterfallFifth Waterfall


I sat somewhere a short distance downstream of the waterfall and had my lunch thinking that I had already passed the hardest part of the hike. I started to hike again at 9:50 a.m. and was expecting to see a well-established trail now that I thought I was below the Second Waterfall but I only saw boot prints and signs of a beaten path here and there. I just followed the stream.

Mid canyon
Mid canyon


At times, the growth of bushes became pretty dense and I was afraid that I may soon have to start whacking my way through them but it never became bad.

Bushwhacking in mid canyonSome bushwhacking


I then found myself at the bottom of a ravine similar but smaller than what I had seen before. Kept wondering if the trail was on top of the plateau above the wall of the ravine but there was no easy way up.

Ravine wall, mid canyonInside ravine


Continuing downstream.

mid canyon
Mid canyon


Everything became rocky again.

Black canyon above Fourth Waterfall


Small pools of water covered the rocky floor of the canyon.

Above Fourth Waterfall
Above Fourth Waterfall


I knew I was reaching another waterfall. This was the Fourth Waterfall but I was mistakenly thinking it was the First one. Minimal hand and foot hiking got me down a rocky slope on the west side of the waterfall.

Where I bypassed the Fourth WaterfallBypassing Fourth Waterfall


At 4.2 miles and 5965 ft, I was at the bottom of the Fourth Waterfall.

Fourth WaterfallFourth Waterfall


Black rock continued to cover the floor of the canyon for some time.

Below Fourth WaterfallBelow Fourth Waterfall
Pools below Fourth WaterfallBelow Fourth Waterfall


When I still did not see any sign of the trail, I realized that I was probably mistaken. The waterfalls I had seen were probably not the Second and First ones.

Mid canyon
Mid canyon

Mid canyon


A major branch came to join the main canyon from the left. The rock became pink in color and I ended up bypassing another small waterfall. This was the Third one.

Third WaterfallThird Waterfall


Right after that, I entered a black rocky canyon.

Black canyon above Second WaterfallBlack canyon


The canyon became tight and I knew I was reaching the top of a big waterfall. I could not go to the edge of the falls but could tell that ahead of me, the bottom of the canyon was far below me. I guess the waterfalls that I had seen so far were too small to be counted by the park service. This was the top of the Second Waterfall.

Top of the Second WaterfallAbove Second Waterfall


There was no quick easy way around this waterfall. I was at 4.66 miles and 5870 ft. My GPS showed a path up the eastern wall of the canyon.

Where I climbed out of the canyonI climbed up this slope on the east


Roughly 20 ft up, I reached a slope covered by juniper trees. Looking back into the canyon before the Second Waterfall.

Looking back at the streamLooking back at the stream


I kept looking for cairns or any sign of human traffic in the past but I saw none. I just had to trust my GPs. It took me up a black earth slope among juniper trees going up to a maximum of 6050 feet and then slowly began to go downhill. The red/orange colored walls of the canyon rose far above me. I could see the bottom of the canyon far below but I never got to see the waterfall. The views were just spectacular.

From the path bypassing the Second Waterfall
From the path bypassing the Second Waterfall
From the path bypassing the Second Waterfall
From the path bypassing the Second Waterfall

From the path bypassing the Second Waterfall


As I went, the downhill slope became steeper and I kept getting closer to the bottom of the canyon. When I was only 30 or so feet above it, I saw a hiker going up the trail at the bottom of the canyon. He did not see me. I waited until he was gone then I went down a steep scree slope to reach the trail at the bottom of the canyon. I was now at 5500 ft and had hiked 5.65 miles. Without the GPS, I would have seen no sign that this would be where I should return to (or leave) the canyon.

Where I descended back into the canyonCame down this slope to reenter the canyon


At that point, I had still not seen the Second Waterfall. I decided to follow the trail at the bottom of the canyon upstream. After 0.6 miles, the trail dead ended at the base of the Second Waterfall. Wow, it was a big and impressive one pouring down into a tight black canyon half of which was still in the shade. That hiker I had seen earlier was standing there at a distance in front of me. My GPS showed an elevation of 5660 ft, 210 vertical feet below where I had been on top of the waterfall. Were these falls really 200 ft tall?

Second WaterfallSecond Waterfall

Zoomed view of the top of the Second WaterfallZoomed view of the top of the Second Waterfall

Second WaterfallSecond Waterfall


After a while, the guy came to me and asked if I was looking for a way to go above the waterfall. I told him I had come from above. He asked which side I had bypassed the waterfall. I said east. He said he thought the park service had removed the cairns on that side and he had heard of a way to bypass the waterfall on the west side of it. After he left, I began to follow the well-established trail downstream going beyond where I had entered the canyon. For a while, it became cloudy but the sun was back soon.

Lower Canyon
Lower Canyon

Lower Canyon


When I reached a bunch of slickrock small pools, I knew I had reached the top of the First Waterfall.

Above the First WaterfallAbove the First Waterfall


I could see the bottom of the valley far below.

View from top of the First WaterfallValley below from the top of First Waterfall


The trail went to the west side of the falls providing me with a good view. It then zigzagged and went down to the bottom of the valley.

First WaterfallFirst Waterfall from the trail


At 12:45 p.m., 5300 ft and 7.40 miles, I reached the base of the First Waterfall where I sat for some time.

First WaterfallFirst Waterfall

Pool at the base of the First WaterfallFirst Waterfall


After a short rest, I was back on the trail. Looking back at the First Waterfall and the slope where the trail went on the right.

First WaterfallLooking back at the First Waterfall


Continued down the canyon seeing a few more people.

Lower Canyon
Lower canyon
Lower canyon
Lower canyon


Reached the First Pool at 8.3 miles and 5085 ft.

First PoolFirst Pool


The last big walls.

Lower canyon


As I went, the walls of the canyon went away. I went past the junction with Old Gordon Trail and finally reached my car in Devils Kitchen Trailhead at 1:40 p.m., 5020 ft of elevation and a total hiking distance of 9.45 miles.

Near lower trailhead
Near lower trailhead
Near lower trailhead
Looking back at the canyonLooking back at the canyon



External Link

http://www.gjhikes.com/2010/04/no-thoroughfare-canyon.html.





Comments

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Viewing: 1-6 of 6
Brian C

Brian C - May 28, 2016 11:10 am - Voted 10/10

Awesome

When I did this a long time ago we went from bottom to the top and there was a faint trail almost the entire way with the exception of a small spot near the upper trailhead. I really can't see this getting done very much. Supposedly people will hike down and rappel the waterfalls, but I've never actually seen any photos of people doing it.

This is a really great adventure hike! Great report!

nader

nader - May 28, 2016 1:38 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Awesome

Thanks,

My paper map made it look like there was an established trail bypassing the second waterfall, I suppose it used to be there. Actually the top 3.3 miles of the canyon had a very good trail.

susanjoypaul

susanjoypaul - May 30, 2016 9:52 am - Hasn't voted

Very nice!

Excellent report. I did part of this hike - to the third waterfall ("second waterfall") - when I was researching my Hiking Waterfalls in Colorado book in 2012. At the second fall ("first waterfall" located at 2 miles) there are social trails (mis)leading up and out of the canyon, and it's obvious that many people follow them. If you stick to the slabby rock along the creek and past the punchbowls at the top, it takes you right back to the proper trail, though. I hope to do the whole canyon next time. Thank you for the inspiration!

nader

nader - May 30, 2016 4:50 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Very nice!

Thanks for reading and commenting,

I will Google your book.

dmckinnerney

dmckinnerney - Jun 4, 2016 7:54 am - Voted 10/10

Great Trip Report!

I had the good fortune of going to College in GJ in the 80s. Did the trail from bottom to top of Glade Park and it is grand! We free wheeled it in the 80s and got turned around, a little lost and ultimately made it as the sunset.
Wish I would of had your trip report. Excellent job.

nader

nader - Jun 4, 2016 10:28 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great Trip Report!

Thanks,

Must have been nice living in Grand Junction. I enjoyed your Guadalupe Mountains trip report too. Will eventually go there.

Viewing: 1-6 of 6


No Thoroughfare Canyon, Top to Bottom

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