Ron Coleman Trail
The Ron Coleman Trail goes from McKelligon Canyon to Smugglers Pass on Trans-Mountain Rd by way of South Franklin Mountain. The trail is named after Ron Coleman, an El Paso Congressman who worked to protect the Franklin Mountains.
From I-10: Head North on US-54 Patriot Freeway to the Fred Wilson Rd. Exit. Turn left (west) on Fred Wilson Rd. Follow it to the left as it turns into Alabama Street. Continue to McKelligon Canyon Rd and turn right to enter the Park.
From the far west or east sides of town take Loop 375 (Also called Trans-Mountain if traveling from the west side and Joe Battle if you are coming from the east side.) and exit onto US-54 South. Exit onto Fred Wilson and turn right (west). Follow it to the left as it turns into Alabama Street. Continue to McKelligon Canyon Rd and turn right to enter the Park.
Once at McKelligon Canyon continue to the far end of the park, the trailhead is in the very back parking lot. It is recommended that you leave one vehicle at Smugglers Pass on Transmountain and then drive another to the trailhead at McKelligon Canyon.
From the trailhead at McKelligon Canyon follow the blue trail markers. Continue up and to the right past the first cave, then to the left past the second cave.
At 0.58 miles as you reach the ridgeline, turn right and follow the trail north.
At about 1.45 miles, there is a split in the trail. Follow the slightly lower trail to the left. The trail is hard to find over a few rocky areas that you will have to scramble over.
At 1.75 miles, you will climb a wall to The Window, climb the left wall up to find the trail on the top. Continue along the trail and you will see the FAA towers to your right, which are located on the peak of South Franklin Mountain.
To reach the peak you have to detour from the trail and travel up to the towers. Use caution as it is steep, loose, and covered with desert fauna like Prickly Pear Cactus and Yucca Plants.
Once back on the trail, stay to the left and follow the ridgeline down to the parking area at Smuggler's Pass on Trans-Mountain Rd.
The trail is strenuous in places and requires scrambling over rocks and steep inclines. Be sure to take plenty of water, especially during the hot summer months, and give yourself 3-4 hours to complete the hike. The trail is 3.8 miles one way, add a little more for the detour to the summit.
Please remember that this is the desert and it gets very hot during the summer months, therefore It is very important to take plenty of water. Sunscreen is also a good idea as the Franklin Mountains offer little or no shade. Good hiking boots or shoes will make your hike much more enjoyable. Please be safe and enjoy your hike!
A great write up of the trail complete with many pictures can be found at the Sierra Club of El Paso's website.
A bunch of pictures can be seen at this Gallery from the El Paso Ridgewalkers
Another great write up with pictures can be found at nm climber.com
View Ron Coleman Trail Image Gallery - 8 Images
Franklin Mountains State Park Map
The park is located on the northern edge of El Paso, in far West Texas. There are four main access points to this park:
Tom Mays Unit: On the west side and from Interstate 10, take the Canutillo/Trans Mountain Road exit and turn toward the mountains; enter the park 3.5 miles from the interstate.
McKelligon Canyon:(temporary closed) On the east side and from Highway 54, exit on Fred Wilson Road and turn west toward the mountains.
Smugglers Pass (Ron Coleman Trail):(temporary closed) Near the summit of the Trans Mountain Road (Loop 375), which has a parking lot with a trailhead.
The fourth main access point is on the Northeast section of the park, at the end of Jon Cunningham Boulevard (Latitude N: 31°55'56.56"N; Longitude W: -106°27'0.64"W)
2900 Tom Mays Access Rd.
El Paso, TX 79911
The Park HQ is located at:
El Paso hiker's death spurs call for safety
El Paso Fire Department and mountain rescue officials are urging hikers to be cautious following the death of a young man who fell while hiking in McKelligon Canyon during the weekend.
Richard Contreras, 21, of El Paso, was fatally injured Saturday after he fell while hiking off-trail near the Ron Coleman Trail in McKelligon Canyon, El Paso police and fire department officials said Monday.
Contreras died shortly after being airlifted from the mountain and taken to University Medical Center of El Paso. The police Crimes Against Persons Unit is investigating the death but foul play is not suspected, police officials said.
"When you go off trail, you encounter way more danger because it is not designed for walking," El Paso Fire Department spokesman Carlos Briano said during a news conference at McKelligon Canyon.
At 1:58 p.m. Saturday, a hiker called 911 to report that Contreras had fallen while hiking and was seriously injured, fire department officials said.
“According to the reporting party, the person slipped and sustained injuries," Briano said.
At 2:03 p.m., the first firefighters arrived at the scene from a nearby fire station, spotted the two hikers on the mountain and the multi-agency mountain rescue team was deployed, a fire department news release stated
"If you look at where the trail is, they were not on the trail," Briano said. An estimate of the distance that Contreras fell was not immediately available.
At 3:38 p.m., members of the Combined Search and Rescue, or ComSAR, team made contact with Contreras and began to provide medical treatment. At 4:51 p.m., Contreras was taken up in a medical helicopter and flown to UMC, where he died shortly after arrival, police and fire department officials said.
Hikers who leave trails may potentially encounter loose ground, snakes and other wild animals and may damage the park's ecosystem by trampling on plants, authorities said.
Hiking on a trail can become a problem if hikers are unprepared, inexperienced or do not have the right equipment, members of the mountain rescue group said.
The Ron Coleman Trail is one of the toughest trails on the Franklin Mountains and becomes increasingly steep as it rises from McKelligon Canyon. It can take three to five hours to complete.
“It is a strenuous trail. It is a difficult trail and it is meant for people who are more experienced in hiking," Texas Parks and Wildlife Officer Jonathan Murphy said. Murphy is a member of the ComSAR team.
"Make sure you plan ahead, make sure you have the proper equipment, the proper gear, make sure you give yourself plenty of time and also that you are physically fit to be hiking the trail," Murphy said. "Start on easier trails before you jump on Ron Coleman (Trail) if you have never been hiking before."
Murphy explained that it is against state law to leave a trail.
There have been 13 mountain rescues this year compared with 17 in all of last year, said Briano, explaining that the number of rescues is about average for this time of year.
“We have seen different reasons for the need for mountain rescues," Briano said. "People who have gotten lost, injured. We've seen people who lost daylight. They didn’t have the necessary supplies to descend. They didn’t have water. They didn’t have jackets. They didn’t have lights. They didn't have batteries. Various reasons. We have seen several ages — young people and older people. We have seen them on weekdays and weekends."
It had been several years since there had been a hiking death on the Franklin Mountains, said El Paso Fire Department Capt. Kris Menendez, who remembered two other fatalities in his 15 years with the mountain rescue team.
In 2005, Fort Bliss Army Capt. Kristin Shay Paulson, 26, slipped and fell to her death from a ridge called "Gun Sight Draw" while hiking on the Ron Coleman Trail, according to El Paso Times archives.
In 2003, Milan D. Pascillas, 14, who was set to start high school after finishing Wiggs Middle School, died when he lost his footing and tumbled 100 feet while hiking near Palisades Canyon near his West Side neighborhood, according to Times archives. In 2000, Gadsden High School student Anthony Lee, 16, died when he fell while hiking on Castner Range.
Daniel Borunda may be reached at 546-6102; [email protected]; @BorundaDaniel on Twitter. Reporter Aaron Martinez contributed to this report.
Mountain hiking safety
- Know your limitations. Plan ahead, know rules and regulations.
- Always stay on the trail. Walking off-trail increases chances of getting lost, injured or encountering wildlife.
- Carry cellphone for emergencies. Also carry flashlight, whistle, mirror, flag or flare to signal your location.
- Take plenty of water, light snacks.
- Use sun block, hats and clothing to shield from the sun.
- Be aware of wildlife you may encounter.
- Check weather conditions.
Source: El Paso Fire Department, Texas Parks and Wildlife.
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Ron Coleman Trail
Dogs No Dogs
Features Cave · Views · Wildflowers
Rocky, rugged, and battered by the sun and wind, the Franklin Mountains are home to over a hundred miles of scenic but unforgiving desert trails. The Ron Coleman Trail is widely considered the centerpiece of the Franklins, stretching between two canyons along the ridgeline. Steep and difficult, with two sections requiring bouldering, it is not a trail for the faint of heart. However, those who finish Ron Coleman are rewarded with views of three states in two countries and the distinction of completing the most challenging trail in El Paso.
Need to Know
Like other trails in the Franklins, there is no shade or water available along Ron Coleman. Plan to avoid the hotter parts of the day. Also, check the wind when reviewing the forecast; gusts over 20 mph can make the ridge and climbing segments uncomfortable. 30-35 mph should be the no-go point for most hikers.
The chain-assisted sections require about thirty total feet of climbing up a near-vertical rock face. Be sure to assess your fitness before proceeding. If you are unable to do a pull-up, you're probably not in good enough shape to complete the full trail.
While there is no "official" direction to take the Coleman Trail, most users making the full journey do so from the south to north. The primary reason is to take on the chain assists as a climb instead of a descent; going down is more difficult than going up. The blue dot markings also are oriented more towards the south, making pathfinding easier.
The southern end of the Coleman Trail is found at the back of McKelligon Canyon. Initially a wide doubletrack, it quickly narrows to single and makes a slow circle to the left of the canyon. Visitors familiar with other area trails will find Coleman's composition about the same: frequently rocky, with hardpacked dirt underneath.
Soon, the first of two caves found along the route comes into view. The portion between here and the ridgeline becomes fairly steep, and at the quarter mile point, the trail starts to split into several parallel segments. All are within a few feet of each other, and they eventually end at the cave, so pick whichever one makes the climb easier. Covered in graffiti by local idiots, the cave marks the turning point for most casual trail users.
Look to the right of the cave opening for a narrow track making a steep ascent. A red arrow painted onto the rocks can help. This section may require some minor scrambling, but some poured concrete steps assist in the climb. After reaching the top of the cave, the trail continues to the left. Another cave is visible to the right and can be reached by going off trail a bit. The remainder of the climb to the ridge is similar to the path before the first cave, with a few more splits and occasional loose rock. The path can be faint at points, so look for areas without vegetation indicating prior foot traffic.
An impressive view of both sides of El Paso awaits at the ridgeline. Turn right and continue along the top of the mountain range. For the next two miles, a series of blue dots spray painted onto rocks help mark the trail. Experienced hikers won't have much trouble locating the rugged path, but the dots can help guide through ambiguous portions.
As it transits the ridge, Coleman occasionally forks and rejoins. The left segments follow the higher line and tend to be more scenic and challenging, whereas the right side drops down a few feet, blocking the winds that whip up from the west side. At the three quarter mile point, the trail stays on the leeward side, and spends the next half mile in a relatively peaceful climb. Coleman shifts back to the west side of the ridge at the mile and a quarter point. Avoid two false paths branching to the right. Keep an eye out for the blue dots.
The trail then comes to its most challenging segment. First up is a precipitous cliffside section be careful, as a fall would be dangerous followed by the first chain assisted climb. This ascent is short and easy, but the next one, found just ahead, is significantly more difficult. Check for good handholds and move slowly, climbing about twenty feet up the jagged rock face. The reward at the top is The Window, a hole formed in the mountain through which an impressive view of the east side can be seen.
Two more chain climbs follow, and a lack of good footholds can deter some hikers here. Power through to the top and continue on the last climbing segment of the trail, which passes through a mountaintop bowl thick with plantlife. Coleman flattens out just west of the transmitters on South Franklin Peak; a barely visible path leads to the perimeter fence.
Coleman is indistinct through this plateau, passing through numerous creosote bushes. Again, look for the dots. Continue down the other side and curve right around a runoff area. The trail now begins a rugged descent down a washout, directly towards Mammoth Rock. Some scrambling may be required. At the base of Mammoth, the dots end and the trail turns north for a half mile along the jagged, rocky ridgeline.
At the two and three quarter mile point, Coleman descends down the west wall of Fusselman Canyon in a series of thirteen switchbacks. False trails lead off from the south end of many of these; stay on track. The hairpins, covered in talus, make for a grueling climb in reverse.
At the three mile point, the trail reaches the canyon bottom. Coleman ends on a long, bumpy straightaway descent to the parking area.
Flora & Fauna
While not as lush as other area trails, just about every variety of plant life in the West Texas desert can be seen on Ron Coleman. Creosote bushes and cacti are the most common sights, with ocotillos, lechugillas, and sotols all making appearances. A few barrel cacti can be seen on the northern section of the trail. Desert plants bloom in waves from spring to fall, so at any given time during the warmer months, there will be something flowering.
As with the plants, there tends to be fewer animals visiting the rough, wind-swept ridges of Ron Coleman. Watch for small birds and reptiles, with the occasional golden hawk circling overhead. Roadrunners can be seen in the lower sections.
History & Background
The Coleman Trail is named for Ronald D'Emory Coleman, a prominent Texas congressman who played a significant role in protecting the land which would eventually become Franklin Mountains State Park. Residents felt that the Park's centerpiece trail was a worthy tribute to Coleman's work, which created the largest urban state park in the United States.
The north side of the trail ends at Smuggler's Pass. Once a route for cattle rustlers to move between the mountains, it is now the high point of Transmountain Drive, a four lane highway connecting El Paso's two sides. The nearby Fusselman Canyon, through which the Coleman Trail descends during its last half mile, was named for Charles H. Fusselman, a Texas Ranger killed in pursuit of bandits in these mountains.
Shared By:Brendan Ross
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