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McPhee Overlook Trail

Distance4.9 mi
Elevation Gain610 ft
My TIme2 hr 1 min
DifficultyModerate
Closest TownDolores
Food NearbyWildedge

McPhee Overlook Trail

The McPhee Overlook trail is located in Dolores, Colorado and features views of McPhee Reservoir. The trail covers a total of 8.9 miles one way but can be done as an out and back and shortened. The leg that I did covered about a third of the trail and featured the southern leg of the reservoir.

Getting Started

The McPhee Overlook starts near the Joe Rowell Park on County Road 28. The trail starts fast with a quick incline up a bit of a rocky section. The incline stays at around an 8% grade. The trail is still mostly dirt with a bit of rock and there isn’t any challenging sections other than the uphill. The rocks create a nice effect with a short section creating a small canyon to pass through while the uphill side has some really nice rock walls that you pass by.

A narrow path between two rock walls for a very small distance on the McPhee Overlook trail.
Path between the rocks at the McPhee Overlook

The steep section only lasts about a third of a mile that will gain a little over 100 feet of elevation. Once you reach the top of the hill the trail flattens out before having some small, and very manageable, ups and downs for the next mile.

River View

The mile after the first hill was my favorite part of the hike. The views are of the Dolores River as it makes its way to the McPhee reservoir. The river cuts through a bit of a valley that was bright green on the summer day. This was contrasted by the river, which was a chocolate brown color as it meandered through the fields of green.

Each step of this section of the trail provides the river view and you get closer and closer to the river connecting to the reservoir. It was a great way to see the progress of the hike and kind of felt like the snake was following you down the path.

The Dolores River snaking through a green field. The river is a brown color like a dirty river as seen from the McPhee Overlook trail
The dirty Dolores River from the McPhee Overlook Trail

Fields and Trees and Views

As you continue along the trail will turn to the northeast and away from the water and it takes the shape of a completely different hike. The trail also comes upon another hill and the second steep section. This hill is steeper and gets up to a 16% grade. The bonus is that it is heading downhill but don’t forget that you will need to head back up on your return trip so save some energy for the way back.

After the second hill you will come upon a really amazing field. The grasses were long and the trail was narrow. Just a thin line through the field and views for what felt like miles. This section is completely exposed so make sure you are prepared for the wind and sun.

A large grassy field on the McPhee Overlook Trail.
A large grassy field on the McPhee Overlook Trail

Past the field you get back into the trees and closer to the reservoir. Between the rocks at the beginning, the river views, and the wide open space of the field, the sections of green trees and bushes feel like another world. The shade provided is really nice and the green mixed with flowers made for a really pretty walk.

A narrow section of the trail through some green trees and bushes on the McPhee Overlook Trail.
A narrow section of the trail through some green trees and bushes.

Continuing on the trail will take you closer to the southern leg of the reservoir. This water was much bigger than the river and ran much clearer. The trail continues on near the water for another six miles but at any time you can turn back. I was not prepared for the southwestern Colorado heat and sun and decided two and half miles was enough for me and I turned back after a really enjoyable hike.

The bank of the south leg of the McPhee Reservoir with some trees lining the banks from the McPhee Overlook Trail.
The south leg of the McPhee Reservoir

Video

I have put together this time lapse video of the McPhee Overlook Hike. It is designed to give a feel of what the hike is like to give you a sense of what to expect. If you enjoy this video make sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel. It is free to subscribe and you will be the first to get the latest content.

Distance and Elevation

If you don’t have the AllTrails app you might want to check it out, I really love mine. It records your progress and is a great way to search for hikes that are nearby and gives you difficulty measurements. According to AllTrails today’s hike was around 5.49 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 610 feet including undulations. That put the high point at around 7,073 feet. I was also moving for a total of 2 hour 1 minutes.

This is an out and back trail so your distance and other stats may change depending on how far you go. There is also a hill in the middle of the trail so a couple of ups and downs.

Effort

There are a couple of consistent inclines on the McPhee Overlook Trail. One at the beginning of the hike and then another at about the halfway point. The halfway point incline means that you will have to do another hill on your way back as you get a little tired. While there isn’t anything technical, I am going to rate this hike as moderate because of the hills.

Terrain

For the most part the trail is packed dirt with some rocks embedded but overall it is in pretty good shape and you can tell that it is well worn. There are sections of the trail that narrow down to a single file but for the most part the terrain is pretty good at the McPhee Overlook.

Access

The McPhee Overlook Trailhead is located in Dolores, Co near the Dolores Community Center and Joe Rowell Park. There trailhead parking is in an open dirt lot past the park. There was room for probably 10-20 cars and a port-o-pottie was available.

Wrapping up the McPhee Overlook Trail

I really liked the my hike at the McPhee Overlook Trail. I didn’t finish all of the hike but even the parts I did were really enjoyable. What I liked the most was how it was like several different hikes at once. A rocky beginning and a walk with great river views. Then a trail through the green trees and beautiful fields. All followed up with some lake views to top it all off.

The trail is really exposed and the heat is no joke in the Cortez area in August! The sun beat me on this one and I think a spring or fall trek would be much more enjoyable. Even in the heat it was a really enjoyable time at a really nice area.

I have added this hike and all of my hikes to my interactive map page that you can find here. If you have a suggestion or comment you can email me at fatmanlittletrails@gmail.com. Or follow me on any of the below social media platforms. Happy Hiking!

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