Roubideau Trail Pool Creek
excerpts from the book
Incredible Backcountry Trails 
by David Day

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Incredible Backcountry Trails
  • access info for 120 trailheads
  • 90 colorful trail maps
  • 305 full color photographs
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    Distance: 5.7 miles
    (plus 2.8 miles by shuttle car or bicycle)

    Walking time:  3 3/4 hours

    : 1,010 ft loss, 1,240 ft gain
       Roubideau Trailhead (start): 9,450 ft.
       Pool Creek: 8,440 ft.
       Pool Creek Trailhead: 9,680 ft.

    Trail: Poorly marked. You should carry a compass on this hike in case you loose the trail.

    Season: Midsummer through mid-fall. The road to the trailhead is usually closed from mid-November through early July. 

    Vicinity: Near Montrose

    Roubideau TrailRoubideau Trail


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    The Roubideau Special Management Area was named after a colorful French Canadian fur trapper named Antoine Roubideau who in 1828 became one of the first white men to enter the area. Roubideau entered southwestern Colorado along the Gunnison River, where he later established the Fort Uncompahgre fur trading station. His fort still stands today. It can be seen in the town of Delta, five miles east of the confluence of the Gunnison River and Roubideau Creek.

    More recently the upper reaches of Roubideau Creek have been used as a summer pasture for sheep ranchers; the first half of this hike goes through a dense aspen forest where sheep have been grazed for at least a hundred years. It was once a tradition among Basque sheepherders to carve elaborate drawings on the trunks of aspen trees during their long days of solitude, and the forests in the Roubideau Area abound with such drawings. Seeing the old drawings and the flowery signatures that accompany them is one of the key attractions of this hike.

    In 1993 the US Congress debated a proposal to include Roubideau Creek in a new wilderness area, but unfortunately disputes over water use prevented that from happening. Nevertheless, the upper reaches of Roubideau Creek did receive some protection in the Colorado Wilderness Act of that year. As a compromise, the drainage was designated the Roubideau Special Management Area, so that now there are restrictions against logging, mining, and motorized vehicles in 19,650 acres of land surrounding the creek.

    For the first 0.5 mile the trail winds pleasantly along the top of the Uncompahgre Plateau through an open forest of aspen and lots of wildflowers. Then it turns south, over what looks to be the remains of an old wagon road, and switchbacks down into Goddard Creek Canyon. After loosing some 200 feet of elevation the trail turns east and continues to work its way down the north side of the creek. Finally, 1.3 miles from the trailhead, the path crosses Goddard Creek and climbs out to a plateau south of the ravine.

    In my opinion the next 2.0 miles are the most satisfying part of this hike. The forest consists of an extraordinarily dense stand of aspen trees, with a ground cover of thick, green grass. Some of the aspen are huge-up to two feet in diameter-and they appear to be very healthy. If you are fortunate enough to be on this trail in mid-September, when the aspen are turning to shades of gold, you will not soon forget the spectacle.

    But perhaps the most interesting part of this aspen forest is the artwork that decorates the trees. As mentioned earlier, the plateau has long been used as a summer grazing area for sheep ranchers, and for as long as there have been sheep in Colorado there have been sheep herders carving their names and sketches into the trunks of aspen trees. Many of the drawings are so old and weathered they are difficult to interpret, but others are in surprisingly good condition. The oldest dated drawing I saw was carved in 1931.

    Unfortunately the Roubideau trail begins to fade about a mile after leaving Goddard Creek. Initially the route is well marked by blaze marks on the aspens, but after the first mile the marks become scarcer and eventually they disappear altogether. The trail persists, but it is often difficult to follow in the tall grass, so it is good to carry a compass. If you loose the trail just continue in a southeasterly direction until you run into Pool Creek Canyon, an unmistakable 300-foot-deep gorge with a small creek flowing through the bottom.

    According to most maps the Roubideau Trail meets the Pool Creek Trail in the bottom of the drainage 0.3 mile south of Roubideau Creek. However when I did this hike in 2001 the trail I was following met the Pool Creek Trail 150 feet above the bottom of the canyon and 0.6 mile upstream from the Roubideau Creek confluence. There is probably more than one trail in the area, but it doesn’t really matter. Any secondary Roubideau Trails must end at Pool Creek, and any secondary Pool Creek Trails must follow the northwest side to the canyon to the Pool Creek Trailhead. In some ways the uncertainty of the route between Goddard Creek and Pool Creek is a bonus. The walk across the grassy plateau is so pleasant and the solitude of the aspen forest so satisfying that it is often more fun not to be on a trail at all.

    Once on the Pool Creek Trail you will be heading gradually uphill for the next 2.4 miles to the Pool Creek Trailhead. Soon most of the aspen trees will be left behind, to be replaced by a forest of spruce and subalpine fir. The trail slowly improves as you continue upward and eventually becomes a well-trodden path. Finally, the path turns to the right to climb out of the top of the drainage, and 0.5 mile later you will see the trailhead signboard in front of you.


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