Grand Junction, CO: Quick-and-Easy Canyon Getaway (Jones Hole Creek, Dinosaur National Monument)

Swimming holes, waterfalls, petroglyphs, and an idyllic campsite—all just a few miles deep in Dinosaur National Monument. BY ROSE CONRY
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Swimming holes, waterfalls, petroglyphs, and an idyllic campsite—all just a few miles deep in Dinosaur National Monument. BY ROSE CONRY

A mile into this overnight, I’m checking out thousand-year-old petroglyphs. Less than 2 miles in, I’m soaking in a secluded, sandstone-rimmed pool. Later, I will stroll back to my creekside camp—just a mile and a half from the trailhead, mind you—and have to decide if I want to make the 1.5-mile-long trek to the Green River for fishing and floating. Not bad for a Friday after work.

Trip stats
Distance: 6 miles
Time: 2 days

Turn-by-turn
From Jones Hole Fish Hatchery

(1) Pick up the Jones Hole Trail and hike 1.5 miles to Ely Creek.
(2) Continue 1.5 miles south to the Green River in Whirlpool Canyon.
(3) Retrace your steps to the trailhead.

Campsite
Ely Creek (mile 1.5)

Nab this spot for its central location: The best swimming hole is .4 mile west and the Green River is 1.5 miles south. Set up your tent (there is room for two) on the far side of the bridge over Ely Creek. Reserve the (free) site ahead of time or follow the park’s dispersed camping rules (bit.do/dinosaur-camping).

Swimming hole
Sure, you can cool down in Jones Hole Creek at any point on the hike, but break from the main trail at mile 1.5 to find a secluded pool inside a side canyon. Just before you cross Ely Creek, veer .4 mile west (on a trail) to a 12-foot waterfall that spills into the swimming hole in Ely Creek.

Rock art
See thousand-year-old Fremont artwork just past the first bridge (mile 1.2) under the rock overhang. See well-preserved pictographs of humans, bighorn sheep, and repeating triangles, as well as a petroglyph of an intricate sun.

Gone fishin’
Find brown and rainbow trout in Jones Hole Creek and, if you make it down to Whirlpool Canyon, you can cast a line for foot-long roundtail chub (catch-and-release only).

DO IT Trailhead 40.584243, -109.054949; 47 miles northeast of the Quarry Visitor Center on Jones Hole Rd. Season Year-round, but winter brings freezing temps. Visit in late spring for daytime temps in the 70s and creekside flora. Permits Required (free) for backcountry camping Custom mapbit.do/BPmapJonesHoleCreek ($15) Contactnps.gov/dinoTrip databackpacker.com/jonesholecreek

Trail Facts

  • State: UT
  • City: Grand Junction, CO
  • Distance: 6.0
  • Contact: nps.gov/dino
  • Land Type: National Monument