Approximately 38 miles east of Montrose, Colorado, and situated between Gunnison and San Juan National Forests, is a short 2.4-mile out-and-back hike that is both tranquil and beautiful. Although rated moderate by most hiking resources, this easy hike is both children and dog friendly, and on most days, is used more by fly-fishing enthusiasts than hikers.
At the beginning of the trail, you descend some 300 feet down a staircase that follows the windy Pine Creek. You will pass several landing platforms before finally reaching the bottom of the canyon. When you arrive at the bottom, you will be impressed with how the Black Canyon opens up and allows the fast-moving waters of the Gunnison River to flow through.
The Pine Creek Trail is relatively flat and conveniently follows an old narrow-gauge railroad path alongside the Gunnison River. While the tracks are long-gone, several placards describe the history of the railroad. In 1882, trains started passing through the Black Canyon from Denver to Gunnison. Due to the steep mountain passes and narrow canyons, authorities decided to reduce the tracks to a 3-foot gauge, compared to the standard 4 foot 8 ½”. Trains continued to operate through the Black Canyon for the next 67 years, finally coming to an end in 1949.
The Gunnison River is a top-rated fly-fishing destination and the area is known for its abundant trout populations. As you hike along the narrow trail, you will likely see fishermen fly-fishing along the edge of the path. According to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Fish Survey and Management, there are approximately 3,500 brown trout and 1,000 rainbow trout per mile along the Gunnison River.
The area is also known for its exceedingly warm summer temperatures, and this trail’s vertical canyon walls provide much-needed shade and relief from the heat. The Gunnison River is also a popular swimming area, so it’s truly a fantastic summer hiking location.
If you want to explore the Black Canyon more, you can purchase a leisurely 1 ½ hour pontoon boat ride that takes you down the Gunnison River. You’ll have the opportunity to learn about the area’s geology, early inhabitants, and railroad. Reservations are required, and you can get more information about tour times, dates, and cost from the Elk Creek Visitor Center.
If you are in the Montrose, Colorado area, and are looking to get out of the sun and take an easy hike, then Pine Creek Trail is a perfect hike. The only time your heart will get elevated on this hike is when you have to climb out of the canyon and return to your car. But don’t worry, there are several places along the well-maintained steps to stop and catch your breath.