Day hike introduction to Grand Gulch by Rob del Desierto
Grand Gulch, located in the heart of Cedar Mesa, is a showcase of archaeological wonders. Cliff dwellings, rock art, pottery, and stone tools seem to abound at every turn. To get to some of the most complete sites, overnight or extended backpacking trips are the only way. For a good introduction into the riches and wonders of the Grand Gulch area as a day hike or overnight backpack, consider hiking from the Kane Gulch Ranger Station down to the Junction.
The trail starts out at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station, on the east side of Utah Route 261, just a few miles south of Utah Route 95. Here you can pick up a map, get information, fill your water bottles, and pick up your permit. The trail crosses the highway (watch for cars), and from then until you return to your vehicle, you're on the dirt.
The trail is fairly flat for the first two miles or so, the walls growing around you as you cross the slickrock canyon bottoms, and willow flats. Soon after leaving the highway you'll cross a gate - make sure you close it behind you. In some places you are walking on dirt, while in others you can be boulder hopping to avoid the seasonal stream in the upper part of Kane. There are some notably scenic moments in upper Kane, including a squeeze behind a fallen boulder and some remnant ponderosa forest fragments clinging to the southern walls of the canyon. The whole character of the canyon changes as Kane Gulch suddenly cuts away, slicing through the Cedar Mesa sandstone as it makes its way towards Grand Gulch.
The trail drops sharply here and performs a few switchbacks as it bypasses a few medium-sized pourovers. The trail is wells marked and sticks to the northern side of the canyon, so you shouldn't have any trouble here. Then the last and largest pourover comes.
This large pourover broaches the entire canyon. The trail winds down to the slickrock next to the pourover. Watch the cairns carefully here, as they generally lead towards the easiest way down the steeper sections of slickrock. Then you're at the level of the top of the pourover. During the winter, and even into the early spring there can often be a ice fall here. Often there is a waterfall year round, though usually not very much flow unless it is after a monsoon storm. The trail crosses the stream, which you can usually accomplish without getting your feet wet, and proceeds down to the new canyon bottom on the south side of the canyon.
In this section of steep cutting, where Kane Gulch becomes more of a real canyon, is where Anasazi remains become more prevalent. Keep your eyes peeled for granaries, dwellings, and rock art perched high in alcoves starting in this section.
Once you reach the bottom of the canyon again, after passing the pourover, the going becomes easier again. You meander back and forth across the stream bed as the canyon grows higher, bends, and turns. The stream here often performs a disappearing act as it disappears into the sand, only to reappear a few hundred yards away. As you head downstream and west, you'll notice what appears to be an arch on the northern canyon rim. This is actually a series of two close-set hoodoos that mark The Junction. Passing the hoodoos, you'll see a canyon coming in from the north; Grand Gulch proper. If you are backpacking, the cottonwood grove just up Grand Gulch makes an excellent campsite. In addition there is usually water to be found at a small spring just up Grand Gulch as well. Junction Ruin, a popular day hike destination, is only a couple hundred yards upstream in Grand Gulch from The Junction, and the lower levels are easily accessible. If you are wanting to stretch your trip out a bit more, maybe get away from other day hikers, it is possible to hike down Grand Gulch to Turkey Pen ruins and Stimper Arch, making the whole round-trip about 10 miles. Determined hikers can probably day hike to Todie Canyon and back, bringing the total to 14, but you won't get to explore and see much going that speed. Grand Gulch doesn't reveal itself to those in a hurry.
Once you've seen all you can see for the time being, return to your vehicle the way you came, back up Kane Gulch. Remember to budget more time for the return trip to deal with the pour-overs and switch backs.
Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.
The phone number for the permit desk is 435 587 1510. Day hiking permits are $2.00 per person per day. A seven day use permit is available for $5.00 per person. An annual day hiking permit is available for $20.00.
When paying for your permit at the Kane Gulch contact station, please pay by check or credit card (not cash).
Groups of 8 to 12 must reserve a permit in advance through the Monticello Field Office. DO NOT show up at the trailhead, the contact station or the Monticello Field Office with a group of 8 or more and expect to get a permit.
Cost - There is an $8.00 per person (per trip, not per night) fee for overnight use of all of the Cedar Mesa canyons from March 1 - June15 and from Sept 1 - Oct 31.
To hike From Blanding, Utah, take Utah Route 95 west towards Natural Bridges. After passing Comb Ridge, turn south on UT261. Stay on UT261 until reaching the Kane Gulch Ranger Station.
Alternately, from Kayenta, Arizona, take US163 north through Monument Valley and Mexican Hat. After passing through Mexican Hat, make a left onto UT261 (signed for Natural Bridges and Lake Powell). This route is not recommended for RVs or vehicles towing trailers, as it switchbacks up the sheer southern escarpment of Cedar Mesa in three miles of dirt road. It is passable, generally even in winter, to passenger cars though. After gaining the summit, head north on UT261 until reaching the Kane Gulch Ranger Station.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.
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