If you desire a canyon experience that offers more than nine miles of winding sandstone walls, intermixed with two prominent Precambrian styled waterfalls...then No Thoroughfare Canyon will suite your needs just fine.
Measuring approximately eight and a half miles long, No Thoroughfare Canyon holds the title of being the Colorado National Monument’s longest canyon. No thoroughfare guards the monument’s southern flank effectively separating it from the Bang’s Canyon Area and shares a popular trailhead with the serpent’s trail, devil’s kitchen and echo canyon.
Fortunately the name, No Thoroughfare Canyon is a misnomer. Passage of the canyon can be completed without any serious climbing that exceeds the level of 2+. But despite relatively easy passage, most visitors of the canyon choose to explore the eastern half usually turning back after reaching the first or second waterfall. Consequently, the remaining six miles of the canyon are left virtually untouched making for an almost primeval experience.
Two trailheads grant entrance into No Thoroughfare Canyon. The most frequented trailhead lies on the left side of the road approximately a quarter mile inside the monument’s east entrance, the parking lot is shared with other popular destinations such as Serpents Trail, Echo Canyon, Devils Kitchen and Old Gordon trail.
The second trailhead is located atop the monument near Glade Park. To access it, enter the monument’s east entrance and continue past the first trailhead for approximately four miles, then take a left onto DS road, continue on DS road for another four and half miles where you’ll make a left turn onto Little Park Road. Once on Little Park Road drive about one and half miles or until you see a small pullout on the left side of the ride, the trailhead isn't obvious as there is only a small sign designating its location.
There are two routes one can take to experience No Thoroughfare Canyon.
The most popular route starts from the lower trailhead and winds its way up the canyon until reaching either the first or second prominent waterfall. The trip can take anywhere from four to six miles round trip. For instance, a round trip to the first waterfall is approximately four miles and a trip to the second waterfall is approximately five to six miles round trip. When attempting this route be sure not to be fooled by the succession of waterfalls. There is a small waterfall that holds a considerable amount of water approximately a mile into the hike. This smaller waterfall fooled me several times into believing I had been reaching the second waterfall when in fact I had only reached the first.
Begin your escapade by heading south from the lower trailhead shared with serpents trail. A well maintained trail will guide you nearby devils kitchen in a westerly direction. Continue to follow the canyon bed which may or may not have water in it. Avoid the temptation to follow one of the canyon’s branches to the left. Soon after you’ll come to a small waterfall and pool that is circumvented to its right. The trail continues from there into the canyon’s Precambrian zone that is interspersed with cottonwood and willow trees. Approximately two miles from the trailhead you’ll reach the first of two prominent waterfalls. Overcoming the waterfall requires ascending the steep trail that winds up and to the right of the main fall. Once past the first waterfall, continue up the canyon through the increasingly denser thickets and primitive trail until you reach the second major waterfall approximately a mile after the first. This waterfall makes for a good turnaround point as the trail from here becomes more difficult and less apparent.
An enjoyable through hike of the canyon can be completed by a car shuttle. Start from the small pullout atop the canyon by following a small path and a few signs that indicate your direction. The trail starts by switch backing down the canyon side into an area thick with pinon pine and juniper trees. If possible, follow a primitive trail passing through the upper canyon’s confluence—the upper canyon consists of three small branches, the trail drops down in the middle branch and shortly meets up with the other pair. This may require a serious bushwhack as the brush here is painstakingly thick. Once you pass the confluence try to gain the west side of the arroyo, the vegetation present in this section will make your course fairly obvious. Follow the meandering trail through sagebrush that gives way to the Precambrian rock zone. At this point drop down into the arroyo and follow it until you reach a large drop of several hundred feet. This point marks the spot of the canyon’s prominent waterfall. From here head northwest up a rocky outcrop, cairns will guide you atop the rocky outcrop until you reach a draw that will take you down to the waterfalls base. Continue down the canyon and rejoin with your car parked at the lower trailhead--the remainder of the canyon’s route can be made by referring to the alternate route description. The length of this route is approximately eight and half miles and experiences an elevation change of approximately 1900 feet.
Backcountry camping requires a free permit that is administered at the visitor center. In addition, backcountry campfires are restricted. Pets are allowed, if leashed, in picnic areas and campsites in the Monument, but they are not allowed in backcountry areas.
When to Visit
Summers days are hot, but they can be quite pleasant if you get out early in the morning or later in the evening. Winters are cold but tolerable…snow amounts vary but typically don’t pose an obstacle. Some of the best times of year to experience the area are in the fall and spring, temperatures are usually just right for your hiking or climbing needs.