If you’re looking for a scenic and easily accessible hike near Gunnison, Colorado, then check out the Dillon Pinnacles Trail in Curecanti National Recreation Area. This roughly 4 mile hike provides photo-worthy views of Blue Mesa Reservoir and the Dillon Pinnacles- a unique geologic formation that looks like an impenetrable wall of spires made from ash and volcanic rock.
This is a great hike to do if you’re driving along U.S. 50 between Gunnison and Montrose and want to stop and stretch your legs. The Dillon Pinnacles Trail is relatively easy, so it’s great for beginner hikers, but there are a few sections with steady elevation gain that some hikers may consider moderate (especially those who aren’t acclimated to hiking in Colorado).
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Quick Stats: Dillon Pinnacles Trail
Location: Curecanti National Recreation Area near Gunnison, Colorado
Trailhead Parking: Google maps
There is a pit toilet and garbage can at the trailhead
Trailhead Parking Difficulty: Easy-moderate depending on time of year. The trailhead is right next to the highway and serves a boat ramp, so it can get crowded.
Trail Type: Out-and-back
Distance: 3.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 490 ft.
Difficulty: Easy-moderate (3-4/10)
Dog-Friendly: Yes, dogs MUST be leashed.
Recreate Responsibly on the Dillon Pinnacles Trail
Remember to practice Leave No Trace while hiking the Dillon Pinnacles Trail, which includes:
- Plan ahead and prepare.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
- Properly dispose of waste. Pack out all of your trash, including dog poop!
- Leave what you find.
- Minimize campfire impacts.
- Respect wildlife.
- Be considerate of other visitors. Remember uphill hikers have the right of way. Please don’t play music over speakers on the trail.
The member-driven Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics teaches people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. This copyrighted information has been reprinted with permission from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.
Complete Hiking Trail Guide
To begin your hike on the Dillon Pinnacles Trail, walk towards the boat ramp from the parking lot and look for a trail on your right. The first stretch of the trail runs along the shore of Blue Mesa Reservoir, which provides scenic views right out of the gate. Unfortunately, you can also see and hear traffic along U.S. 50 on the other side of the reservoir.
NOTE: Dogs are welcome on the Dillon Pinnacles Trail, however they MUST be leashed in order to protect big game in the area. There is a sign at the beginning of the trail that provides a reminder!
The Dillon Pinnacles Trail traverses across fragrant sagebrush steppe. Since the trail is in a National Recreation Area, grazing is not permitted, which has allowed native plants and grasses to flourish.
You’ll find 3 interpretive signs along the Dillon Pinnacles Trail that provide information about the natural history of the area. After a ½ mile of easy hiking on a wide dirt trail, you’ll reach the first sign titled, “Reptiles Used to Roam.” The sign contains information about the dinosaurs that used to roam Western Colorado hundreds of millions of years ago.
After about 0.8 miles of easy hiking the trail begins to gain elevation. This gain is gradual and steady, with a couple of steeper sections that will get your heart pumping.
Flora Along the Dillon Pinnacles Trail
Just after a mile of hiking on the Dillon Pinnacles Trail, you’ll come across a large Ponderosa pine with a bench underneath. This is a great spot to stop and take a rest if the first stretch of elevation gain took you by surprise. There are also some Douglas firs, gamble oak, cottonwoods in this area of the trail. Gamble oak provide unique fall colors in Colorado so this would be a great trail to hike during the fall!
Once you’ve hiked approximately 1.15 miles, you’ll reach a trail junction. Stay left to continue on the Dillon Pinnacles Trail. From there, continue hiking to top of a hill that overlooks Blue Mesa Reservoir to the south, and the Dillon Pinnacles to the north.
After 1.4 miles of hiking, you’ll reach a second interpretative sign, titled “Forming a Pinnacle,” which discusses how the Dillon Pinnacles were created from ash and volcanic rock. There’s another bench here where you can sit and take in the view of Blue Mesa Reservoir.
The rest of the trail undulates over a few washes that drain from the pinnacles. The National Park Service has done an incredible job at constructing retaining walls along this section of the trail. You’ll also pass some large trees in this area, which provide shade on sunny days.
Loop With a View
You’ll reach a third bench after 1.75 miles of hiking that provides an up close and secluded view of the Dillon Pinnacles. After about 1.8 miles of hiking, you’ll reach the beginning of a short lollipop loop. You can choose to hike the loop clockwise or counterclockwise.
As you hike along the loop you’ll come across a third sign titled, ”Look Before It’s Too Late.” The Dillon Pinnacles are highly susceptible to erosion and will continue evolving over time. You’ll also find a fourth bench along the loop that overlooks Blue Mesa Reservoir. After completing the loop hike back to the trailhead along the trail that you hiked in on.
While I don’t have any children myself, I would consider the Dillon Pinnacles Trail to be very kid-friendly, particularly for younger children. The interpretative signs on the trail add an element of fun and education to the hike. Older kids and teens may find the hike to be a bit boring unless they’re into geology.
Dillon Pinnacles Trail Map
My Trip Report: Dillon Pinnacles Trail
I hiked the Dillon Pinnacles Trail with my husband and in-laws the day after Thanksgiving this year (2023). We got to the trailhead around noon and saw a family that had just finished their hike. Our timing was perfect because we ended up having the trail completely to ourselves!
While Colorado is usually sunny, the weather was gloomy during our hike. There were a couple of light flurries, but we managed to evade a big incoming snowstorm. Temperatures were in the 30s (F) in late November, so a hat, gloves, and puffy jacket were essential.
This is a trail that you can hike year-round, but you may need to carry microspikes during the winter and time your hike to avoid the heat of the day during the summer.
What to Pack to Hike the Dillon Pinnacles Trail
The Dillon Pinnacles Trail is relatively easy and can be seen from the highway, so you don’t necessarily have to pack like you’re heading deep into the backcountry. With that said, it is important to carry certain essentials so you’re safe and prepared on the trail.
Hiking pack recommendations are incredibly subjective. I personally use and love the Osprey Sirrus 24L. Since this is a shorter hike, you can get away with wearing smaller day pack or trail running vest.
Carrying water is essential on any hike. 2L of water should be more than enough for the Dillon Pinnacles Trail.
It’s important to carry a snack on your hike, even if you don’t plan on eating it. A protein bar, granola bar, dried fruit, or trail mix are some great options for a shorter hike like the Dillon Pinnacles Trail.
If you’re going on a sunset or early morning hike it’s important to carry a headlamp to help you see the trail in the dark.
The Dillon Pinnacles Trail is very easy to follow, but it doesn’t hurt to carry a map or download one to your phone.
Trekking poles aren’t necessary, but may be nice to have while hiking the Dillon Pinnacles Trail.
What clothing you specifically need to wear or carry depends on a number of factors including the forecast, time of year, and your personal preferences. Helpful layers to consider wearing/bringing include a sun shirt, rain coat, and outer layer (how heavy of an outer layer you need to carry will depend on the month you’re hiking).
Enjoy Your Hike!
Other Colorado Adventures You May Enjoy:
- Complete guide to fall in Crested Butte.
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- Backpacking from Aspen to Crested Butte.
- The best hikes within 90 minutes of Denver.