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Adventure, Travel / October 16, 2013

Southeast Colorado’s canyons

Written by: Matt Minich

We know the words “National Grassland” don’t usually make hikers’ hearts go all pitter-patter, but bear with us. Because Southeastern Colorado’s Comanche National Grassland isn’t all chiggers and ticks. It’s home to some of the state’s coolest (and least-traveled) canyons.

Picture Canyon houses an easy 2.6-mile loop trail that winds through the one-time home of Plains Indians. Archaeologists theorize ancient hunters traveled the canyon as many as 12,000 years ago, and the canyon walls are still marked with red and black petroglyphs.


Crack Cave, an opening in the rock walls along the Picture Canyon trail, is closed to hikers for most of the year. The cave is only opened for free tours on the days of the Spring and Fall Equinox, when thousand-year-old markings on the cave’s walls are briefly illuminated by sunlight.

Picketwire Canyon offers the most strenuous hiking in the Grasslands, with out-and-back options that stretch from two to 17 miles in length. The Picketwire Canyonlands are home to more rock art, but also more than 1,300 apatosaurus and allosaurus tracks left about 150 million years ago.

Getting there: To reach Picture Canyon, leave Springfield south on Highway 287. Reach the town of Campo after 20 miles, and turn right onto County Road J. Follow this for 10 miles, then turn left onto County Road 18. After five miles, turn right at the Picture Canyon sign and drive another mile to the trailhead.

To reach Picketwire Canyon,  leave La Junta on Highway 109, and drive 13 miles. Turn left onto Vogel Canyon Road (County Road 802), and drive eight more miles. Turn left onto County Road 25, and follow this six miles to the Corral Parking Area. From here, drive or hike a high-clearance jeep road three miles to the canyon parking area.

Cover photo by Jeffrey Beall

about the author

Matt Minich

Matt Minich is Editorial Director for Shoulders of Giants. He has spent more than a decade writing, editing, and curating content about outdoor sports and adventure. As an adventure journalist he has climbed peaks in Patagonia, rappelled waterfalls in Colorado, B.A.S.E. jumped in Moab, and sampled fermented horse milk in Kyrgyzstan.

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