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Dinosaur National Monument hikes: Jones Hole Trail

The start of the Jones Hole Trail at the fish hatchery
The start of the Jones Hole Trail at the fish hatchery
Deb Stanley

If you're visiting Dinosaur National Monument, don't miss the Jones Hole Trail. The hike starts at a fish hatchery and includes rock art, a waterfall, soaring rock walls and the Green River. You'll also get the walk along a creek and in the desert.

Green River at Jones Hole Trail
Deb Stanley

The hike starts at the Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery. Walk along the side of the hatchery's fence toward the trailhead. The hatchery was built in 1969 and produces about one million fish per year. You're welcome to come inside the Visitor's Center to learn more about the hatchery, how the fish are moved from tank to tank, and how the fish are moved to a lake by you.

As you hike the trail, you'll learn a little about the hatchery and you'll be warned that this is a desert hike and you should bring plenty of water, sunscreen and insect repellant. There's even a poem along the way called "Fishing with Dad." I won't spoil it, I'll let you read it as you begin the hike.

The hike starts in the trees. For nearly half of the hike, you'll be following Jones Creek. The path is surrounded by box elder trees. However, you won't be in the trees forever. About half of the trail is in the desert sun and it gets hot here. Avoid hiking in this area during the middle of the summer.

About a third of a mile down the trail, you'll enter the National Park Service land. A sign welcomes visitors and suggests a visit the upcoming rock art and waterfall. I'll describe the turnoffs along the way.

The hiking here is pretty easy. The first half to the river is mostly downhill. About 1.5 miles into the hike, you'll cross Jones Creek. Shortly after walking across a nice bridge, you should see an unmarked trail on your right. It's just a few steps from the main trail to the first set of rock art -- several faint figures painted in red pigment on the wall.

The rock art in Deluge Shelter was created by Fremont Indians who lived here from 800-1400 A.D. After you spot the first panel, don't turn around. Follow the sandy trail along the rock wall. You should spot about a dozen panels of rock art. A sign at the end of the spur trail explains that the Fremont used minerals, clay and whatever they could find to create the colors for their petroglyphs.

Back on the main trail, hike about another quarter mile to the turnoff for Ely Creek Falls. While the sign says the falls are 0.5 miles away, we found them to only be about 0.2 miles away. Elk Creek falls is a nice 20-foot waterfall. You can enjoy the waterfall from the pool below, or climb up the nearby rocks to the top of the falls. This is a nice spot to enjoy a snack and maybe even put your feet in the water.

When you're ready, return back to the main trail. You can turn back here for a hike of about 3.84 miles roundtrip. However, I recommend continuing to Green River. The trail is in the trees for awhile, then starts to enter more open areas, eventually coming into a desert meadow with scrub brush and other small plants. As the trees decrease in number, you'll get a better look at the surrounding rock walls towering over this canyon. Occasionally, the trail swings back to the riverbank, where you'll hike under tree cover and hear the water crashing down the streambed toward the Green River.

It's about two miles from the Ely Creek Falls turnoff to several signs in a field. Those signs repeat the information we saw at the beginning of the trail. However, this set of signs is for hikers coming from the river. At this point, you have two options. Follow the signs that points hikers to the right for the day-use area. Or continue straight ahead into the trees and toward the boater's camp sites. Don't disturb any boaters here, but if you come midday, the camp sites should be empty and are much nicer than the day-use area down river.

As you walk here, look for wildlife. We spotted three bighorn sheep. At the bank of the river, find a nice spot and enjoy the views of the Green River. When you're done taking a break, return the way you came.

Details: The hike to the Green River with side trips to see the rock art and Ely Creek Falls is about 8.9 miles roundtrip. Add extra distance for any exploring you do. There's a drop of about 500 feet in elevation from the trailhead to the river, so you'll have to hike "up" on the way back.

Admission: In 2014, there was no pay station at this trailhead. Learn more about Dinosaur National Monument.

Who is Jones?: A brochure says Major John Wesley Powell camped on the banks of the Green River in 1871 and name this beautiful side canyon in honor of the expedition's topographer, Stephen Vandiver Jones. However, local residents say the name came from an incident in 1883 when Charley Jones thought he killed a man and hid out here for a winter. When he later found out the man lived, Charley exclaimed in relief, "You mean I can finally get out of this hole?"

Directions: The Jones Hole Trail is about 47 miles from the Visitor's Cemter via paved roads. I recommend asking the Visitor's Center rangers for directions.

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