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Chinaman Gulch
Chaffee County, Colorado
View this on the Colorado Trailheads Map

BLM Road: 6044
Trail Type: Loop
Nearby Towns: Buena Vista, Johnson Village
Nearby Trails: Carnage Canyon (BV), Shields-McGee Loop, Sevenmile Creek (Fourmile Area), Lenhardy Cutoff, Bassam Park, Bald Mountain Gulch, Bald Mountain Loop
Season: Year Round
Trail Length: 6.9 miles
Elevation: 7,832 to 8,904 feet
Named Obstacles: Rock Garden, Rock Pile, Whale's Tail, The Stairs, The Chutes

Recommended by Alanna
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Recommended by Steve G.

The start of this trail is about 2 1/2 hours from Denver down Highway 285. It is in a valley in the Fourmile Area, making the weather very mild nearly all year round. The weather is one of the best things about this trail, though it can get pretty hot in the middle of the summer. This trail is often mistakenly called "Chinaman's Gulch" or "Old Chinaman" as well.

It stays well below timberline and in the trees for almost all of the trail. This makes for a day of very little scenery compared to many other Colorado trails, but the obstacles more than make up for that.

It starts very close to the highway, which is an added bonus -- no long, bumpy road to go down on your way to the trail. It is a loop, with a bit of the trail repeated on your way out. This also makes it nice because you rarely run into anyone else (run the loop counterclockwise).

It starts out with some nice rocks, then the Rock Garden. The "guardian" rocks from the start get bigger every year as the dirt around them gets eroded. The beginning of the trail is probably the most difficult as it can't be avoided. It is a long stretch and offers a lot of fun.

There are fun little challenges on your way to where the loop meets itself. It's a wide, open area that is great for lunch if you're there at this time. There is always shade, which is hard to come by sometimes.

The loop is traditionally run counterclockwise because the obstacles are more fun and challenging in this direction. You should not run it in the opposite direction as there is often no room to pass another vehicle. Take the road to the right and you will come down the other road to your left later.

Follow signs to Chinaman Gulch throughout the trail. At one crossroads you can turn right instead of following the sign to your left. This will take you a short distance to the very top of Carnage Canyon where you can see one of the most challenging trails in Colorado.

There is a sandy stretch that is very mellow, then you come around a corner to find the Rock Pile on the right side of the trail with a bypass going around it to the left. The Rock Pile is a short section of rocks, but it can take awhile to get through it. Stock vehicles may not be able to make it through this optional section, and even modified vehicles may find themselves high centered in spots.

The next section is called The Wash, and there are lots of rocky areas with many lines through the challenges. Some areas have bypasses. Just before The Wash ends at Whale's Tail, you come to two piles of optional rocks on the left side of the trail. The first set of rocks has many lines through it but it isn't too tough if you find the right line. The second set of rocks is difficult for most vehicles and impossible for most stock vehicles. The chances of getting hung up in the middle of it are pretty good, even with a modified suspension. You can go around these rocks and stay in the sand.

Just around the corner from The Wash is the Whale's Tail (also known as "The Waterfall"). It is a big sloping slab of rocks with many lines. The line to the far right is the easiest and the line to the far left is very difficult. This line is for modified vehicles and experienced drivers, and it might be smartest to put a strap on the front of vehicles with shorter wheelbases, just in case. Other vehicles should take the line in the middle, straddling the large crack running up the rock.

When you get to the far end of the loop you will travel along the fence without passing through it (the old trail used to cross to the other side but the trail was rerouted in 2003). Here you will find The Stairs. Most lines over this obstacle are difficult, but many stock vehicles will be able to cross it (you may want to take the easy bypass if you do not have rocker panel protection). There is another extremely difficult line through it, on the left. The easiest way through it is to keep your driver's side tires on the highest point on the rock in the middle, keeping close to the the right side of the obstacle.

Not long after getting through The Stairs and the difficult rocks soon after them you will come to The Chutes. This is a difficult section with no bypass. It is narrow and most vehicles will need to climb the high wall on the right to get through it (there used to be a rock sticking out into the trail on the left but this rock slid down into the trail in 2004, blocking one of the routes through the obstacle).

You climb a few more rocky sections and then the trail is relatively easy for a little while. The only other difficult section in this half of the loop is a tippy area that can be dangerous if wet. You should walk this section first to plan your route through it.

When you come back to the crossroads you will continue straight and do the section of trail again where you started your day, only the other direction. You will do the Rock Garden again, which can cause even more trouble on the way down (though it's usually a little easier in this direction).

Though the views are amazing at the trailhead, the rest of the trail is all about the obstacles. This is a fun trail for everyone.

Information last updated on June 9th, 2013.

Member Reports

Driving Directions

Take Highway 285 to Johnson Village. There are gas stations there where you can fill up if you need to. In between the rafting building and the gas stations you'll see CR301 to your left. Take that road just past the red barn and you'll see a gate to your left marked "Prison Property" that runs in a straight line for a short way to another gate and an open area (you can see this open area from the main road). This area is perfect for airing down, disconnecting and getting ready for the trail. Be sure to close both gates.

This is also the trailhead for Carnage Canyon (also known as "BV Carnage" because this "Carnage Canyon" is near Buena Vista and is NOT the same trail as the Carnage Canyon trail that once existed in Boulder County).

Meeting Places

Meet in Conifer on Highway 285 at the Bradley gas station. Those coming from Colorado Springs will want to meet at Johnson Village instead and not come that far north.

Low-End Rating: 4
High-End Rating: 7
Rock Crawling:
Dirt & Mud:
Water Crossings:
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Trail Photographs

The Chutes The Rock Pile First Rocks
The Stairs Whale\ Start of the Trail

Trail Movies
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Maps and Coordinates
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Trail in Red
900 x 500 pixels
271 KB
Trail in Red with Carnage Canyon in Blue
900 x 500 pixels
267 KB

Chinaman Gulch (GPS Exchange File)
Whales Tail (Google Earth Placemark)
The Stairs (Google Earth Placemark)
The Chutes (Google Earth Placemark)
Chinaman Gulch Trailhead (Google Earth Placemark)
Chinaman Gulch Track (Google Earth Track)
The Rock Pile (Google Earth Placemark)
Rock Garden (Google Earth Placemark)

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Trail information is only accurate on the date posted. Trails may have changed or closed since that date. Use this information for historical purposes only. Contact the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management for up-to-date trail information.

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