register help

South Fork Mule Canyon, UT

109 9 0
Guide 9 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List UT > Southeast
3.8 of 5 by 5
HAZ reminds you to respect the ruins. Please read the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 & Ruins Etiquette
clicktap icons for details
Difficulty 1 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Round Trip 6 miles
Trailhead Elevation 5,957 feet
Elevation Gain 20 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 6 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 6.1
Interest Ruins & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
editedit > ops > dogs to adjust
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
2  2018-04-15 Steph_and_Blake
49  2018-04-13
Nine Days - Cedar Mesa Comb Ridge (Part 2)
10  2015-05-21 AZLOT69
42  2015-04-30 big_load
7  2012-06-20 MtnBart01
25  2012-06-20
Keet Seel etc
5  2010-05-29 Digital_Sherpa
7  2006-09-04 PaleoRob
Page 1,  2
Author PaleoRob
author avatar Guides 137
Routes 111
Photos 5,253
Trips 942 map ( 2,097 miles )
Age 38 Male Gender
Location Grand Junction, CO
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
Expand Map
Preferred   Oct, Apr, May, Mar → Early
Seasons   Late Autumn to Late Spring
Sun  6:07am - 6:16pm
Official Route
0 Alternative
Flora Nearby
Culture Nearby
Easy canyon hike on Cedar Mesa
by PaleoRob

Cedar Mesa, in southeastern Utah, is one of the most ruin-ridden places in the entire southwest. While most people flock to the Grand Gulch drainage system and its myriad of ruins, rock art, and stunning canyon scenery. Other canyons score Cedar Mesa, however, and all of them hold Anasazi ruins, petroglyphs, pictographs, and general canyon country beauty, if you know where to look. Many of these canyons are much less visited than Grand Gulch.

Mule Canyon is one such canyon. Most folks who have traveled Utah Route 95 between Blanding and Lake Powell are familiar with the name, as there are some excavated and partially restored ruins that are signed along the road. Those ruins, and their trail, is described elsewhere here. Running just north of the Mule Canyon Road Ruins lays the South Fork of Mule Canyon. South Fork runs into North Fork just south of Route 95, and then drains into Comb Wash, at the foot of Comb Ridge, visible to the east from most of Cedar Mesa.

The trail begins at a dirt-fill crossing of South Fork. The dirt embankment is easily scaled on the west side, with a well defined trail leading down to the trail register.

From the trail register, the trail drops across a narrow arroyo, and then back up onto the other side, before crossing a grassy meadow at the bottom of the canyon. The arroyo and road embankment are the most serious elevation changes to contend with for a basic Mule Canyon hike.

For the most part the South Fork of Mule Canyon runs west-northwest for most of its course, with no real side canyons to speak of. At about 1.8 miles, there is a small draw on the north cliff face that can be used to access the mesa top between North and South forks, and can be used as a route to get to North Fork if one desires a loop or backpacking trip. The canyon bottom is flat, with very little of the steep arroyo cutting that marks Grand Gulch. The hiking is very easy, and the trail quite simple to follow, until about 3 miles from the trailhead. The trail deteriorates quickly then, and most turn back here. This is the figure I used to calculate the round-trip distance. In the spring there is often a flowing stream at the canyon bottom, and there are also seasonal springs up on some of the terraces of the canyon. Check with the Kane Gulch Ranger Station for the latest water information, though - the canyon is generally dry during the summer except for flash floods.

Mileage can quickly add up exploring ledges and such for Anasazi traces. The canyon has a fair amount of ruins and rock art, so the pursuit of such will not be in vain. One famous ruin in South Fork of Mule Canyon is Flaming Roof, or House on Fire, Ruin. This cliff dwelling, from the late 1200's, is well preserved and not a far hike from the trailhead. In fact, a quick hike to the canyon rim from the Mule Canyon Road Ruins shows the location of Flaming Roof quite well. I won't give away the specifics, though - discovery is half the fun, and its not terribly hard besides.

Lots of other ruins await the explorer in Mule Canyon. Once you have explored what you feel is enough, or have gone to the end of the trail, you return to your vehicle by the same route you came.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your hike to support this local community.

2007-12-25 PaleoRob
    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.

    Most recent Triplog Review
    South Fork Mule Canyon
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    After a series of long days, I was ready for a little easy camp time. Unfortunately, much of the big grassy area near the South Fork of Mule Canyon was occupied by a huge group in a bunch of giant tepees. I moved along to another site up on the canyon rim, but it was basically a parking lot. OK, the big group in the grassy area might not be so bad. It appeared to be an all-female church event, so I figured they wouldn't be noisy late into the night. (As it happened, nothing short of heavy ordnance could have interrupted my coma.)

    As sunset, neared, the canyon filled with cars and trucks and hardy-looking people loaded with photo gear. For the first time on this trip, crowds seemed like a real possibility. However, I had one big advantage over all of them: I wasn't interested in getting perfect light at House on Fire. That would happen too late to get very far up-canyon, and I planned to go until my gumption ran out, and then another mile or two, before turning around.

    I signed the TH register an hour after first light, and stumbled across House on Fire about 20 minutes later. The fire was not yet lit, but it was still pretty cool. Even so, it wasn't nearly as cool as everything else in that canyon. I got up on a ledge as soon as possible and followed ledges at different levels as far they could take me, which was usually pretty far.

    My low battery continued focus problems impaired the pictures, but the memories will be enough until I get back for another chance. Here's a short list of my favorites:

    • An apparently pristine set of multilevel ruins, deeply set, and perhaps unreachable (at least by me)
    • A beautiful half-collapsed kiva. It looks easy to reach, but turns hard at the end. The crux involved a tree.
    • A huge alcove with Basketmaker and Archaic rock art, some evidence of long-gone mud walls, but no ruins and no pottery remains at all (it did have some tool-making debris). Signs of digging suggest it was looted.
    • A small complex on a high ledge with no access for a very long way up or down the canyon. After being up there for a while, it took half an hour to figure out the way back down even though I was right there. Ponderosas take over from the junipers this far up the canyon.
    • Another shot at House on Fire on the way back late in the afternoon.
    • Some surprise petroglyphs that I haven't seen mentioned.

    Despite all the many visitors that day, my early start and late finish kept human contact to a minimum. I met one person as I was leaving House on Fire in the morning, and then one couple between the kiva and the Basketmaker cave.

    I thought about staying another night to visit the North Fork, but opted for a shower and some town food instead, with one more hike to go.

    (Photos now in. My camera was still having woes).

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

    To hike
    From Blanding, Utah, drive west on Utah Route 95. Once you pass through the pass at Comb Ridge, you will drop into a valley, and then begin driving up the side of Cedar Mesa. A few miles from when you start driving up Cedar Mesa, you will see a sign for the Mule Canyon Ruins. The easiest was to find the Arch Canyon Road, leading to the trailhead, is to turn around in the parking lot for the Mule Canyon Ruins, and proceed back east on Route 95 for 1/4 mile. The turn will be on the north side of the road. After crossing a cattle guard, there will be a map and BLM information, along with a fee envelope station. You can pay your fee here on the off season. View external link above for more details. There is no fee or permit needed for camping on the mesa tops. During the on-season (Spring and Fall), you will need to call ahead to the BLM office in Monticello, Utah.

    From the fee kiosk, continue down the dirt road, through a road cut to a dirt fill "bridge" across a canyon. The first such that you come to is the South Fork of Mule Canyon. Park your vehicle as far to the right as possible. The trail starts on the left side of the road.
    help comment issue

    end of page marker