Hidden Colorado Canyons

Irish Canyon, Diamond Breaks, Bull Canyon - Three Northwestern Colorado Wilderness Study Areas
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Irish Canyon

Backpacking, Camping, Hiking, Mountain Biking, Wildlife Observation

This scenic area is remote and receives few visitors. Twelve of the 22 geological formations found in the eastern Uinta Mountains are present here: Although there are no developed or maintained trails, hiking and mountain biking opportunities are excellent. Several miles of primitive dirt roads in the area provide challenges to the mountain biker in this colorful, semi-arid region. Hikers will find cross-country routes up to Limestone Ridge to the west with expansive views of the region. There are also opportunities to explore the colorful badlands of Vermillion Creek to the east.

A small campground in the canyon has three campsites; a picnic site with ancient rock art is located at the south end of Irish Canyon. Water is scarce—snowmelt is often the only available natural source. Pack in all the water you will need. The best time to visit is from fall to spring. Summer is often hot and dry. October and November is big game hunting season, so wearing blazing orange from head to toe is a must. Personally, I would just stay out of the area during that time, unless you are hunting. Wildlife is abundant and includes mule deer, antelope, elk, mountain lion, coyote, fox, golden eagle, bald eagle, vulture and prairie falcon. Camping is allowed anywhere. Since the area is easily impacted, you must use backpacking stoves instead of fires.

To get there, take State Route 318 north from US 40 at Maybell. Drive approximately 41 miles to Moffat County Road 10N, turn north and continue for four miles to Irish Canyon.

USGS topographic maps: Irish Canyon, Big Joe Basin


Diamond Breaks

Backpacking, Camping, Cultural Site, Hiking, Wildlife Observation

Although Diamond Breaks gets its name from the "breaks" or canyons carved into Diamond Mountain by numerous creeks and drainages, the "diamonds" for which area is named come from an entirely different source—a con game played with, you guessed it, diamonds. Legend has it that a con artist in the late 1800's scattered diamonds al I over the mountaintop in an effort to separate unsuspecting Eastern investors from their money in a "get rich quick" diamond mining scheme. Of course, there was no diamond cache and the shyster took the money and ran, leaving bewildered Easterners scrambling all over the barren terrain of Diamond Mountain.

Once you set foot in Diamond Breaks, however, the mythical diamonds will be the furthest things from your mind. From the ridges and peaks of the breaks, you will be dazzled with spectacular and panoramic views of the Green River Plain, the mighty Canyon of Lodore and its gates through which numerous rafters pass each year, the snow-capped peaks of the distant Uintas, the Zirkel Range and Cold Springs Mountain. Currently, 36,248 acres of Diamond Breaks have been recommended by the BLM for wilderness designation.

With a pack on your back, it is possible to wander for days, al though keep in mind that the dissected terrain is extremely rugged and semi-arid. Your cross-country navigational skills must be strong and you should always carry plenty of water. The craggy terrain, rising dramatically from the sagebrush-covered plain of Browns Park, is broken frequently by draws and stands of aspen. Pinyon and juniper cover many ridges, and a stately grove of gnarled ponderosa pine clinging to the southern reaches—often growing right out of the rock itself. Both spring and fall offer rich contrasts of color literally bursting forth from the draws and canyons, with golden aspen in fall and a rainbow of colors from a wildflower explosion in spring.

Wildlife is abundant within the region. Mule deer, black bear, elk and even the elusive mountain lion call Diamond Breaks home. Pronghorn prance in the lower reaches around Browns Park.

The best hiking access is to be had from the Swinging Bridge Camping Area, just of Moffat County Road 83. First-time initiates should stick to the abandoned jeep trails until you get the lay of the land. A good bet is to follow the jeep trail that skirts the Green River's edge and leads to the western boundary of the Gates of Lodore. Along the way, another jeep trail branches off to the right and up Chokecherry Draw. Don't miss exploring this canyon; it leads to a long-deserted homestead whose crumbling foundations, running springs and rose bushes and fruit trees gone wild offer a lush retreat in the middle of a desert forest.

Special note: Camping is allowed anywhere within Diamond Breaks. Off-road vehicles are prohibited.

Location: On the northwestern Colorado/Utah state line, south of Highway 318 and adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument and Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge. From Vernal, Utah, follow the Diamond Breaks signs along Crouse Canyon Road (it turns into Moffat County Road 83 in Colorado). Crouse Canyon Road intersects with Highway 191 a few blocks north of the Vernal town center.

USGS topographic maps: Canyon of Lodore North, Hoy Mountain, Lodore School, Swallow Canyon

Bull Canyon, Willow Creek and Skull Creek

Backpacking, Camping, Hiking, Wildlife Observation

Numerous side canyons await exploring, offering visitors a collage of colorful geological formations. Views from high up are super and wildlife viewing opportunities are good. While spring and fall are the best seasons to visit, they are not without their individual challenges—cedar gnats in the spring (wear plenty of insect repellent) and hunters in the fall (wear plenty of blazing orange and do nothing to imitate a deer). The area is perhaps best suited for hiking. Although backpacking is possible, rough terrain will create some difficulties. There are no maintained trails in this region. Water is scarce, so pack in all that you will need. Private property is interspersed throughout the region. Respect signed closures and stay off private land. Cattle is run in parts of this region—leave cattle gates as you find them.

To get to Bull Canyon, drive approximately one mile east from Dinosaur on US 40 to the Dinosaur National Monument turnoff. Drive 3.5 miles up Harper's Corner Road to Plug Hat Rock Picnic Area and overlook, or continue on for three miles to the Escalante Overlook/Parking Area.

USGS topographic maps: Plug Hat Rock, Snake John Reef

BLM surface map: Rangely

Additional Information

Colorado Atlas and Gazetteer
published by DeLorme Mapping

BLM Little Snake Resource Area
1280 Industrial Avenue
Craig, CO 81625
(303) 824-4441

Craig Visitors Information Center
360 East Victory Way
Craig, CO 81625
(303) 824-3046.

BLM White River Resource Area
73455 Highway 64
P.O. Box 928
Meeker, CO 81641
(303) 878-3601.

BLM Little Snake Resource Area
1280 Industrial Avenue
Craig, CO 81625
(303) 824-4441.

© Article copyright Foghorn Press. All rights reserved.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 18 Oct 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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