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.
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
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.
From near upper trailhead
The trail turned out to be well-established and quickly went down the walls of the canyon.
Trail 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 & 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.
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.
Inside the ravine.
Inside 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.
Looking into the great central ravine.
The trail continued on the surface of the plateau. Big red colored walls rose all above me.
Another side ravine to cross.
|Side ravine |
I was really enjoying myself all alone at the bottom of that magical canyon.
Yet another side ravine to cross.
|Side 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.
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.
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.
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.
Everything became rocky again.
Small pools of water covered the rocky floor of the canyon.
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.
Bypassing Fourth Waterfall
At 4.2 miles and 5965 ft, I was at the bottom of the Fourth Waterfall.
Black rock continued to cover the floor of the canyon for some time.
|Below Fourth Waterfall |
|Below 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.
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.
Right after that, I entered a black rocky 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.
Above 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.
I 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 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.
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.
Came 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?
Zoomed view of the top of the Second 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.
When I reached a bunch of slickrock small pools, I knew I had reached the top of the First Waterfall.
Above the First Waterfall
I could see the bottom of the valley far below.
Valley 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 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.
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.
Looking back at the First Waterfall
Continued down the canyon seeing a few more people.
Reached the First Pool at 8.3 miles and 5085 ft.
The last big walls.
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.
|Looking back at the canyon