Picketwire Canyon

La Junta, Colorado (Otero County)

Last Updated: 11/22/2016
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Typically Open: 05/01 - 09/30
Permit Information: Permit Required - Click Here
Length: 9.89 miles
Highest Elevation: 4600 feet
Duration: About 8 hours
Shape of Trail: Out & Back
Best Direction to Travel: N/A
Nearest Town: La Junta
Nearest Town w/ Services: La Junta
Official Road Name: 2187
Management Agency: Comanche National Grasslands


Highlight: Picketwire Canyon
Picketwire Canyon is the drainage of the Purgatory River across the southeast corner of the Comanche Grasslands in southeast Colorado near La Junta. It is an area rich in history and geology featuring early Indian rock art, an historic cattle ranch, an old Spanish mission and the largest trackway of dinosaur footprints in North America. It is said that a group of Spanish treasure seekers followed the river into the area and were killed by Native Americans, dying without the benefit of clergy. Thus the Spanish came to call the river El Rio de las Animas Perdidas en Purgatorio or the River of the Lost Souls in Purgatory. When French trappers and traders entered the area they shortened the name to Purgatoire (pronounced Purr-ga-twa). When English-speaking settlers followed the Sante Fe Trail into the area they couldn’t pronounce the French correctly and corrupted it to Picketwire. Picketwire Canyon is only accessible by vehicle through a guided tour offered by the National Forest Service who administer the Grasslands. You must make reservations ahead of time for this tour. The only other access is by hiking, biking or horse-back along a long, difficult route through Withers Canyon.

Route Information

Technical Rating

( EASY )

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1. Trailhead (0 mi)
Pass through a locked gate and cross the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site.

Directions to Trailhead

Starting Point: La Junta

Meet at the Timpas Unit Ranger Station, 1420 East Third Street, La Junta, CO 81050. The Ranger/guide will lead you to the trail head.


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Questions & Answers (1)

Q: Route Length says 8 hours. Is this correct for a 20 mile trail rated a 2? Thinking of visiting the park on my way out of town over thanksgiving but not if it takes 8 hours.
–Paul (10/23/2018)
–Bill Andrews (10/23/2018)

Writer Information

Bill Andrews

Mapping Crew - Colorado

Bill is an off-road enthusiast with nearly 30 years of 'wheeling experience. At one time he had a streak of about 20 years of 4-wheeling at least once a month. He likes anything from easy, dirt roads to difficult trails but stops short of extreme. Over the years he has traveled over 700 different trails, mostly in Colorado and Utah. He loves finding and exploring new areas and sharing his knowledge with others. He has been the coordinator of Calvary 4-Wheelers for many years.
For individual use only, not to be shared.