Situated just north of Echo Park on the Colorado side of Dinosaur National Monument, a sudden break in the cream-colored Weber sandstone produces a multi-hued swirl of color—a peculiar twisting formation where the horizontal shelves suddenly thrust upward into vertical stripes, culminating in one of the area’s weirdest—and most spectacular—geological features. This is the Mitten Park Fault, the product of dramatic faulting and uplift, and shares a name with one of the best “unofficial” hiking routes in Dinosaur National Monument. The Mitten Park Trail, a three-mile out-and-back from Echo Park Campground, is a rarely-traveled path that features spectacular views of the Green River, Steamboat Rock, and Whirlpool Canyon and offers access to a remote beach along the river’s edge, just across from the Mitten Park Fault. The hike traverses some exposed ledges and requires minor scrambling—but remains non-technical and accessible to those with a sense of adventure and thirst for solitude.
The Mitten Park Trail is a remote route accessible only by river or the 12-mile, unpaved Echo Park Road. (Note: See my previous post for a description of this drive.) The road ends at the shores of the Green River, the centerpiece of Dinosaur National Monument’s canyon country and sculptor of the dramatic gorge walls of Steamboat Rock and beyond.
To reach the trailhead, head left into the Echo Park Campground and swing around to the walk-in camping area, where there is a grassy field, several tent sites, and parking for several vehicles. The Mitten Park Trail is unmarked but evident, passing the four tent sites and continuing north, around a leafy gulch and bearing close to the towering Weber sandstone walls on the left. Follow the base of the vertical cliffs as the narrow trail passes through a clutch of tall grasses and then rises to clear an outcrop, providing the hike’s first open views to the Green River and Steamboat Rock.
Besides perhaps the world-famous Dinosaur Quarry in the Utah section of the park, the hulking mass of Steamboat Rock is likely the most iconic geological landmark in Dinosaur National Monument, notable enough that it attracted the attention of explored John Wesley Powell on his historic exploration of the Green River in 1869.
From here the trail rises in fits and starts, skirting juniper trees and following a high bench below the vertical walls but well above the river. At low water levels, the Green River below splits in two, forming a long sandy island below Steamboat Rock. As the trail progresses, hikers can see the long tail of Steamboat Rock, which drops to a lower height but extends for more than a mile, concealing a drop-off to the confluence of the Green and Yampa Rivers beyond.
The climb becomes considerably more difficult at around 0.35 miles, with a steep and rocky scramble in which it begins to make sense why this is noted as an “unofficial” and unmaintained route, not an official, routine hiking trail. After a brief crest, the trail drops a bit and then resumes a more gradual ascent, skirting a true slickrock ledge at around ½ mile. Although the drop is vertical, there is plenty of clearance.
From here the Mitten Park Trail rises to the base of a peach-colored wall, followed by a rocky sequence in which hikers must clear a boulder fall. Now firmly up on the slickrock, the route wraps around a left-hand bend, then climbs to a high crest at 7/10 mile, offering the first open views to the north: here hikers can see the easternmost edge of Whirlpool Canyon, with the ruddy cliffs of Wild Mountain towering above. The rock layers beyond are older and more varied in color than the Weber sandstone, exposed due to the uplift of Mitten Park Fault.
Having gained around 300 feet, the trail proceeds to shed it all, starting with a steady descent to a flat basin dotted with junipers, pinyon pines, prickly pear cactus, and lots of Mormon tea. There are a couple of sudden drops—of about 3-4 feet—that may require the use of hands to clear. By now the open meadow of Mitten Park is visible below, as is the exposed beach area beyond.
At about 1.1 miles, the incline eases, and the trail sets out across the overgrown fields of Mitten Park, where the tall and prickly grasses quickly consume the path. Route-finding is challenging here. Generally, however, follow the path that parallels the Green River while staying up on the flat basin, avoiding the temptation to edge toward the orange and purple rocks that appear on the left. More than 2,000 feet up to the west is Harpers Corner, a popular viewpoint area at the end of the Harpers Corner Road.
Just as the route seemingly disappears for good, bear right, heading down toward the river. Here the path reappears and moves up and down through a couple side drainages. At the second ravine, the trail spits out to the right and culminates at a sandbar along the Green River. Directly across the river is the Mitten Park Fault, with orange creamsicle-colored lines shooting upward in an impressive uplift. This marks the end of the Weber sandstone and start of the Morgan Formation, a Pennsylvanian period layer composed of a blend of sandstone, limestone, and shale.
It is possible from here to scramble farther north to see the point where the Green River rounds a corner and heads west into Whirlpool Canyon. But doing so requires some scrambling and bushwhacking, so most hikers will use the sandbar (possibly covered at high water levels) as the turnaround point.
The return journey of course does the elevation gain and loss in reverse, beginning with a steady ascent through the pinyon-juniper forest back to the high crest, then a rocky descent to Echo Park. All told, this moderately difficult hike takes around 2-3 hours to complete for experienced hikers. Even as Echo Park is a relatively popular destination, Mitten Park is not—offering beautiful seclusion and spectacular scenery in a beloved section of Dinosaur National Monument.