The Box Canyon Trail is part of the San Juan National Forest Transfer Campground network of trails near Mancos in southwest Colorado. The trailhead is about one mile south of the campground along Forest Road 561. The first segment of trail that descends into the West Mancos canyon is also part of the Rim Trail and Transfer Trail loop hike.
The 1 mile descent into the West Mancos canyon is about 500 feet of elevation change through a lush forest of Gambel Oak, Ponderosa Pines, Aspens, and a few Douglas firs. The roar of the West Mancos River can be heard all the way down. Follow the trail signs downstream at the bottom, including the one that sends horses to one river crossing and hikers to another.
The hiker crossing is large log with some upturned branches that provide some help with balancing on the rounded surface. In the middle of the primitive bridge there is a gap between the helpful branches that made me nervous for two steps. Not so bad in July but probably harder during the roaring spring runoff. The horse crossing looked to be shallower water but without a bridge.
Just past the bridge, the trail splits providing an option. I stayed to the left, staying north of Box Canyon Creek and heading for Gray Beal Springs, another 1.25 miles according to the trail sign. The climb to the mesa top has some views down the West Mancos Canyon with some glimpses of Mesa Verde.
This shady climbing segment has more Douglas Firs with some spruce visible deep in the Box Canyon. The other trail option leads toward Coyote Park on the south side of Box Canyon.
The mesa top area has a series of wildflower rich meadows with views toward Mt. Hesperus and the LaPlata Mountains. In early July, I didn’t see any flowing water in the area of Gray Beal Springs, just a dry creek bed. After these lush meadows, the trail looks like an old road and continues east.
The Box Canyon Trail is more or less parallel with the West Mancos Trail, but on the mesa top south of the West Mancos River. Both trails eventually arrive at the old mountain town of Golconda.
It took me 2:15 hours to reach the small reservoir and 2:00 hours to return for a total hike of 4:15 hours for about 8 miles. In early July, it was about 62 F degrees at 9:30 AM when I started and about 80 F degrees at the 1:45 PM finish. I carried and drank 3 liters of water.
It is possible to access the distant end of the Box Canyon Trail using the Box Canyn Spur Trail that begins in Echo Basin, east of Mancos, CO.