Exploring Grape Creek In The Hidden Recesses Of Temple Canyon (near Canon City, CO)

October 2019

Photos by Chris Duerksen and Fran Rulon-Miller

For articles on my other adventures on Grape Creek, see my 2017 posts:

https://hooknfly.com/2017/11/08/going-ape-over-grape-creek/

Grape Creek southwest of Canon City, Colorado, is one of my favorite backcountry creeks, offering over 30 miles to explore in a rugged canyon where the wild brownies and bows are plentiful.  And happily, with only a few public access points the entire length, boot marks are scarce.

Most anglers fish the stretch upstream of Canon City, gaining access where County Road 3 crosses it a few miles outside of the town.

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County Road 3 Off US Highway 50 Is Best Access Route–Red Pin Marks Bridge Over Grape Creek and Parking Area

From the bridge an adventuresome angler has over 10 miles of state and federal land with beautiful water to explore before reaching the next public access at Bear Creek Gulch.  The canyon and stream gets wilder the further up you go.

But what of downstream from the bridge into Temple Canyon Park, owned by Canon City?  I’ve rarely seen any serious fisherman head that way.

Temple Canyon Map
Temple Canyon Park Map–Downstream Of County Road 3 Bridge

The creek disappears downstream a few hundred yards into the cottonwood-studded canyon, and most of the hikers venturing into the rocky, spectacular canyon have as their goal the magnificent natural amphitheater on a side canyon off the creek that gives the park its name.   I’m intrigued by the fact that there’s nary a mention online of anyone fishing the five-mile stretch down to the confluence with the Arkansas River, and my piscatorial appetite is whetted even further by the alluring twists and turns in the creek that Google Earth reveals, promising deep pools and maybe big fish.  Who can resist!

Temple Canyon and Grape Creek Canyon upstream beyond have a fascinating history.  The intrepid explorer John Fremont traversed the rugged terrain during the winter of 1806 as he explored the Great American West.  He followed a trail used by the Ute Indians that led from the plains to their summer hunting grounds in what we now call the Wet Mountain Valley.  Incredibly, in the late 1800s a narrow-gauge railroad line was carved up the canyon to tap the wealth of the silver and gold mines around present-day Silver Cliff and Westcliffe.  But it operated for only a few years, landslides and washouts dooming the line.  Remnants of this amazing feat can be seen today in the form of old bridge abutments and rock walls along the original rail bed.  Workers in those bygones years discovered a spectacular natural amphitheater high above the creek which became something of a tourist attraction.

Temple Canyon was transferred to the City of Canon City in 1912 by the federal government and today is managed to maintain its wild environment.  The road from the city to the park is scary rough in places and there are only a couple of primitive campgrounds for the hearty visitor.  No motorized contraptions of any kind are allowed in Temple Canyon, only leg-powered hikers.  All of this is great news for the intrepid angler!

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While in the old days the canyon experienced wild floods, today the waters are controlled, for better or worse, by the (so-called) Arkansas Water Conservancy District through its DeWeese Reservoir on upper Grape Creek near Westcliffe.  The reservoir holds water for downstream irrigation by ranches and farms around Canon City.  Flows can still fluctuate greatly depending on irrigation demands, but in summer the water can get dangerously low—down to 4 CFS—as water is stored up for periodic releases.  State and federal wildlife agencies are working with the district to assure adequate summer flows, reportedly with some progress, albeit halting.  The controlled flows have also allowed heavy willow and brush growth along some stretches of the creek, vegetation that would have been swept away by annual raging floods before the dam was built.

Last night I checked the flow on the conservancy district web site and found it to be at 20 CFS, low but eminently fishable (I find 30-50 cfs is optimal.).  So it’s a go.

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Four Mile Creek Near Canon City, CO

For a more recent trip on Four Mile Creek, see my July 2019 article “Off The Shelf (Road) And Into Four Mile Creek.”

Saturday, August 15, 2015

With my home water, the Arkansas River, once again blown out by rain and inundated by rafters, float boats, and stand-up paddleboarders, I decided to head to an old reliable remote creek deep in a gorgeous red rock canyon for a day of quiet and solitude.  Four Mile Creek arises near the old mining town of Cripple Creek then plunges through a long, deep red-rock canyon.  It emerges near Canon City where it empties into the Arkansas…if it isn’t dried up first by irrigators.  I usually fish the creek in June when other rivers and creeks are running high and the temperatures haven’t begin to soar–90s are typical in Canon City in July and August.

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