Turkey Flats: Prize-Winning Foliage on "The Other" Grand Mesa
Originally published in the Fall 2019 issue of Spoke+Blossom
If you’re looking to enjoy hiking among vibrant fall colors of the Grand Mesa this year, but dread battling the Highway 65 masses, head west instead of east. Yes, you read right. Piñon Mesa above Glade Park is part of the Grand Mesa National Forest, where a spectacular showing of fall foliage abounds without the crowds.
Melding the Turkey Flats and Haypress trails to form the unofficially yet appropriately named “Ridge Loop” enchants nature lovers with one of the best fall experiences available on the Western Slope. Deer, elk and wild turkey (thus the name) sightings are all possible due to the trail’s peaceful solitude.
At an elevation between 8,700 to 9,700 feet, hikers will marvel at breathtaking hillsides of crimson to bronze serviceberry and Gambel oak shrubbery, blue spruce, emerald fir and glowing, golden aspen.
Ridge Loop is open to equestrians and mountain bikers as well as hikers. Dogs are welcome off leash but under owner control for the safety of wildlife and other trail users. Dispersed National Forest camping is available in the area, and don’t forget to pack your fishing pole if you wish to wet your line in the many lakes along the trail and nearby.
To reach the trailhead, take Monument Road through the east entrance of the Colorado National Monument (no fee is required if your destination is Glade Park). After the stunning switchbacks and just after Cold Shivers Point, turn left on DS Road, then left again 5.7 miles later on to 16-1/2 Road at the Glade Park Store.
From this point, the pavement ends in 2.6 miles but is still accessible to two-wheel drive vehicles in dry weather. Mud Springs Campground will be on the right at 6.4 miles followed by a fork at 7.6 miles. Continue on 16- 1/2 Road by taking the right fork. Pass the large picnic and parking area for Fruita Reservoir #1 at 9.5 miles, unless you need a facilities pit stop. Turkey Flats Trailhead is well-marked on the left side of the road at 10.7 miles with parking on the right side.
The first 1.5 miles of Turkey Flats Trail is a gently-paced climb following the drainage of Hay Press Creek. Just after 1.5 miles, Turkey Flats Trail intersects with Hay Press Trail. At this point, several options are available, from out-and-back routes to lollipop type loops.
Taking a left at the Turkey Flats/Hay Press intersection leads you on a mild trail through open meadows and tree stands with minor elevation changes. A 50-foot drop leads to Fruita Reservoir #2 followed by a climb back out. After just under three miles, the trail intersects with FS400.2C, which climbs up to Fruita Reservoir #1 and on to Ridge Trail #662. At the peak, spend time enjoying spectacular views of the La Sal and San Juan Mountains as well as a faint outline of the Abajo Mountains. In between, the canyons of Gateway, the Uncompahgre and Unaweep Canyons carve an artistic landscape. When you’ve had your fill, hang a right on Hay Press Trail off Ridge Trail where it’s all downhill to the parking lot and completes the lollipop loop version.
A right turn at the Turkey Flats/Hay Press intersection climbs up the steeper and more rugged Hay Press Creek Trail for three more miles before peaking at Ridge Trail. Head back down the slope for an out-and-back hike, or go left on Ridge Trail to connect once again with Turkey Flats to form a counterclockwise loop.
Cell phone service is unreliable with two bars at best. Be prepared for weather changes as in any high country environment. Mud can be abundant after heavy rains. Numerous creek crossings and primitive bridges keep you on your toes.
Allow at least four hours to do the approximate 8-mile loop or out-and-back hikes. Hike length depends on the configuration you choose. Trails are well-defined and marked at intersections, but route directions are the hiker’s choice. Hiking conditions are moderate to strenuous but not brutal.