In Bangs Canyon Recreation area, just 20 minutes from Downtown Grand Junction, there are two pristine canyon trails. Mica Mine and Rough Canyon both start from the same trailhead and share the first little section of trail, but each is unique and offers something different. They offer something for beginners and avid hikers alike.
From the parking lot, head through the narrow gate and descend into the canyon. The first quarter of a mile is fairly steep with several large rock steps, but the trail mellows out. After that first quarter of a mile, the trail splits. To the right is the easy option, to the left is more challenging.
Head right at this junction to venture up to the Mica Mine. The trail up Ladder Canyon is a gently sloping path that follows along the floor of the Canyon. In the spring and early summer, melting snow from higher elevations is channeled between the steep walls making for a cottonwood oasis. These giant shady trees make it possible to get a reprieve from the sun.
The fluorescent green leaves contrast against the red cliffs that surround them. This contradiction of red sandstone and vibrant green provide a perfect backdrop for your photos and video. You will stand in awe at not only the cliffs that surround you but also the towering sandstone castles that rise up from the canyon floor.
Photo by @amberthearchivist
The 2.6-mile out and back trail is wide and easy to follow as it works its way up the canyon, making it a popular excursion for families. If you’re vigilant, you can find chunks of mica and quartz along the trail. At one point, mica and quartz were mined here, and the Mica Mine trail takes you to the old mine site. A large cave has been carved into the cliff, and mica covers the walls. With a little bit of scrambling, you can climb into the upper section of the cave to explore.
Return back to where the trail splits. Head right to discover a mica mine, and left for Rough Canyon. Similar to the Mica Mine trail, Rough Canyon trail winds along the canyon and is filled with large cottonwoods and other thriving vegetation that flourish with the help of the spring runoff. And just like the Mica Mine trail takes you to a mica mine, Rough Canyon is well… rough.
Rough Canyon is steeper and narrower than Ladder Canyon. The trail zig-zags back and forth trying to follow the easiest route down. In the spring, that means multiple creek crossings. Some are narrow crossings but others are wide and require a bit of rock hopping. Either way, be prepared for the possibility to get a little wet.
Photo by @kylebts
While the trail is easy to follow, for the most part, there are a few sections where it seems to disappear around a rocky section, or is reduced to just a thin section of rock on a steep edge where grippy boots and extra attention to your footing come in handy. While these sections are short and spread out, they do add an extra layer of difficulty to the hike. The challenge is invigorating, Rough Canyon is one of the most spectacular and beautiful hikes in Grand Junction.
Along the trail, you’ll pass several waterfalls. In the early spring, water pours over the edges but will slow down to a trickle by mid-summer. The first two waterfalls are smaller, but you’ll reach them within the first mile of the hike. The last waterfall is by far the biggest and is at the very end of the trail, just over 2.4 miles. If you’re looking to skip the hike or have some off-road fun, there is a 4x4 road that wraps around to the third waterfall but a 4-wheel drive, high clearance vehicle is required.
Photo by @denitamychele
The 4x4 road is open to vehicles, as well as OHVs. It’s not uncommon to see dirt bikes, ATVs, and side-by-sides in the parking lot. However, the 4x4 road is separate from both trails, so you’ll have the trail to yourself. Once you’re in the canyon, the rumble of engines can’t be heard and the quiet serenity of nature rules.
Check out the Grand Junction Adventure Guide.