A classic loop that is part of the Grand Mesa 60k, 50 Mile and 100 Mile courses. Wildflowers and fall colors add to the scenic vistas of the Book and Roan Cliffs, the West Elk Range and the San Juan Range (on a clear day). The trail is a mix of dirt singletrack and talus tread with the occasional root or waterbar to navigate. Be sure to take a break from watching your step to take in the views.
No water available at the campground. The previous wellhead has been dismantled and the USFS is now required to chlorinate water sources or close them.
From the West Trailhead, follow signage for Crag Crest Trail #711
(Crag Crest Loop) as you gradually climb through open meadows. At the first trail junction head left following signs for the Crag Crest Loop and Cottonwood Lakes Trail. The steepest climb comes between mile 1 and 2 as you gain the craggy ridge.
When you get to the Cottonwood Lakes Trail junction, head right to keep on the ridge. Follow the ridge as it passes through forests, meadows and along the talus strewn ridge that is only a few feet wide at points. Once you reach the highpoint on the crest you have one small climb before you descend to the lakes below. Keep right at all of the trail junctions (namely the Crag Crest Lower Loop Trail #711.1A
at around 6.5 miles in), always choosing singletrack if there is an option until mile 10 where you can either take a left and make a perfect loop, or go right and rejoin the trail to get back to the West Trailhead (right option shown on map).
The final miles have some deceiving climbs so don't go all out getting to the crest at the beginning. This clockwise direction is the one used during the annual Mesa Monument Striders race, but the loop is great to hike in either direction from either the West or East Trailhead.
Alternatively, you can hike this loop counterclockwise to warm up your legs. Ascend to the top of Crag Crest (11,189') for endless views in all directions. In this direction, you'll similarly pass by multiple lakes, through a volcanic rocky landscape, and end by descending a fun, technical downhill back to the parking lot that will leave your legs wanting more—if they can handle it.
July is generally peak columbine season and the aspens in the fall are wonderful along the trail. Ample opportunities for small mammal sightings including marmots, pika and porcupine.
The highest point on the Grand Mesa, Leon Peak, lies just to the east of the crest and was previously the site of a fire lookout. Geologically, the crest is a remnant of the volcanic vents that fed the Grand Mesa shield volcano
when is last erupted ~10 million years ago.