Friday, June 8, 2012

Priest Gulch Trail-Dolores River

The Priest Gulch Trail travels parallel to the south end of the Calico National Recreation Trail in the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado. The trailhead for both trails is on the west side of Highway 145 about 26 miles north of the town of Dolores. Priest Creek contributes to the flow of the Dolores River.

The Priest Gulch Trail is open to mountain bikes, horses, and motorcycles as well as hikers. It follows along Priest Creek while the Calico Trail climbs steeply to the east side mesa top. I saw many hiker and horse tracks but no tire tracks. The forest is mostly Fir and Spruce with Aspens. There are a few Ponderosa Pines near meadow areas. The trailhead elevation is 8050 feet and both trails climb as they head north.

After about 1.25 miles, there is a trail junction with a faint trail that connects with the Calico Trail to make a loop. In June 2012, the trail sign was missing but the pole was in place.

I looked at the crossing of Priest Creek and it would have been easy, but in heavy snow years early June might not be the best time to cross here. From here, the connection trail climbs steeply toward the Calico Trail.

Continuing on the Priest Gulch Trail, there are only a few places with any views. Most of the lower part of the trail is in deep but beautiful forest. The trail is well maintained and is easy walking as it climbs gradually. There is another connection with the Calico Trail after about 8 miles for a 16 mile loop. I went up trail for 1:50 hours, about 3.5 miles before returning the way I came. My total hike took 3:20 hours.

There were some minor wildflowers along the trail. The best were patches of Irises and there were many butterflies including large Tiger Swallowtails. I didn't see any large wildlife. My hike was on a 75 F degree early June day and I carried 3 liters of water. I saw two other hikers during my hike.

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