Cedar Mesa & Grand Gulch Primitive Area

Bears Ears Area

Cedar Mesa is a very special and fragile place where you can see Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, rock art, and enjoy the solitude of desert canyons.

Plan Your Visit

Most canyons and cultural sites in this remote undeveloped area can only be reached by hiking or backpacking. There are no facilities or services here, except for a few vault toilets along the SR 95 corridor, and at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station.

Water is only available at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station during seasonal business hours.

Grand Gulch canyon cuts into Cedar Mesa’s western flank, while canyons on the eastern edge are part of the of Shash Jáa Unit of the Bears Ears National Monument.

The Cedar Mesa area was inhabited by Ancestral Puebloans between 700 and 2,000 years ago with many ancient dwellings and rock art sites still remaining to be explored. If you visit, please treat everything you find with care and respect, and leave no trace of your visit.

Directions

Access to the area is from State Highway 95 (SR 95) west of Blanding, Utah, or on SR 261 between SR 95 and Mexican Hat.

The Kane Gulch Ranger Station is located on SR 261 about four miles south of the junction with SR 95. The ranger station is open during the mornings in the spring and fall. Rangers are on hand to answer questions. You will find a paved parking lot and restroom at the ranger station.

Things to Know

Permits: A permit is required year-round for day use, overnight backpacking, and stock use in these Cedar Mesa canyons and their tributaries: Grand Gulch, Slickhorn Canyon, Fish Canyon, Owl Canyon, North and South Forks of Mule Canyon, Road Canyon, and Lime Creek. Visit the Utah Bureau of Land Management Cedar Mesa permits web page for more detailed information.

  • Day-use permits (year-round): With the exception of Moon House Ruin, day-use permits must be obtained upon arrival at self-pay fee tubes at trailheads and other kiosk locations on the mesa top; no reservations are required.
  • Overnight backpacking permits: Reservations for overnight backpacking permits (for canyons listed above) can be made at www.recreation.gov. A limited number of walk-in backpacking permits may be available at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station.
  • No permits are required for camping on the mesa top.
  • Moon House day-use permits:  A permit for visiting Moon House may be reserved at www.recreation.gov. A limited number of Moon House permits may be available at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station.

Water: All water sources are intermittent and should not be counted on. Bring all the water you need.

Be prepared with extra clothing, food and other supplies.

There is little to no cell phone coverage in the canyons or on Cedar Mesa.

Pets: Pets are not allowed in Grand Gulch, Slickhorn, or tributary canyons.

Vehicles must stay on open designated roads.

Unpaved roads may be impassible when wet, even for 4-wheel drive vehicles.

Please respect and protect this special place. Leave no trace of your visit. Leave artifacts where you find them.

Things to Do

Camping

There are no campgrounds on Cedar Mesa. Car camping is primitive and is often accessed along roads requiring high-clearance vehicles.

  • Please use an established campsite and avoid impacting undisturbed areas.
  • Don’t camp at any ruins, rock art sites or alcoves.
  • Campfires are not allowed in Cedar Mesa canyons.
  • Disposal of human waste is not permitted within 200 feet of a water source, trail, or campsite.
  • Please don’t wash, bath or swim in streams or potholes.

Day Hikes

Moon House (permit required)

Moon House is a spectacular multi-room structure in McLoyd Canyon southeast of the Kane Gulch Ranger Station. It is a strenuous 3-mile (4.8 km) hike and is not for those who fear heights.

More Day Hikes

For more day hikes such as Mule Canyon, Butler Wash, and Cave Towers, visit the Shash Jáa Unit webpage.

 

Hiking/Backpacking in Grand Gulch (permit required)

  • Reminder: No pets are allowed in Grand Gulch and its tributaries.
  • Check at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station for current water availability in the canyons. 
  • Hiking is on slickrock canyon ledges and along wash bottoms and primitive footpaths. There are no constructed trails or directional signs along the hiking routes.
  • No wood or charcoal fires are allowed in any of the Cedar Mesa canyons.

Kane Gulch to the Junction with Grand Gulch (permit required)

Access: The trail begins next to the trailhead kiosk at the west end of the parking lot and continues across the street.

Trail: Easy to moderately difficult 4-mile hike (6.4 km), one way.
The Kane Gulch trail gradually descends 600 ft to the Grand Gulch. At the intersection, you can view a cliff dwelling called Junction ruin. If you decide to continue, in the next mile you can see Turkey Pen Ruin and Stimper Arch. From the Kane Gulch Ranger Station to Stimper Arch is approximately 10 miles (16 km) round trip. It is a full day hike for most people.

Water: There are usually a few seasonally intermittent potholes of water 3 miles (4.8 km) along the way.

Campsites: A beautiful group campsite is located at the junction of Kane and Grand Gulch, shaded by many large cottonwood trees; some campsites on slickrock are within 1 mile (1.6 km) of the junction.

Bullet Canyon to Grand Gulch

Access: Drive 7.0 miles (11 km) south of Kane Gulch Ranger Station on State Highway 261 and turn right (west). This dirt road (County Road 251) takes you 1.5 miles (2.4 km) to the trailhead.

Trail: 7.2 miles (11.6 km) to the junction with Grand Gulch; moderately difficult. In 0.4 mile (0.6 km), the trail descends 100 ft. (30 m) in elevation with a few drops on slickrock along the trail. Approximately 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from the trailhead is a boulder field that the trail skirts to the right along a steep slope. After the first 2.5 miles (4 km) and a 500 ft. (152 m) drop in elevation, the trail flattens out.

Water: Jailhouse Spring is 5.0 miles (8 km) from the trailhead. It is 2 more miles (3.2 km) to the Bullet/Grand Gulch Junction spring.

Campsites: There are campsites near both springs.

Todie Canyon to Grand Gulch

Note: Todie Canyon is a suggested entry access for day hikes only. It is not recommended for novice hikers.

Access: Drive south of the Kane Gulch Ranger Station on State Route 261 for approximately 3.5 miles (5.6 km) (just before milepost 25). Turn right (west) on a dirt road (County Road 236A) which takes you 1.2 miles (1.9) to the trailhead.

Trail: 2.5 miles (4 km) to the junction with Grand Gulch; difficult access, not recommended for novice or young hikers. Travel northwest past the parking lot along the south rim of Todie Canyon for 0.6 miles (0.96 km). The trail steeply descends 400 feet (122 m) in elevation. Trail erosion and bouldering make the trail strenuous and technical.

Water: There is a seasonal spring 0.2 miles up Todie Canyon from the junction with Grand Gulch.

Campsites: There are campsites near the spring and at the mouth of the canyon.

Government Trail to Grand Gulch

Access: Drive 9.4 miles (15 km) south of the Kane Gulch Ranger Station on State Route 261. Just before Milepost 19, across from the Cigarette Springs Road, turn right (west) on a dirt road (County Road 203/245). Travel 2.5 miles (4 km), then turn right at the fork (County Road 245); continue 3.1 miles (4.9 km) to the sign at the turnoff and go right (at this point a high clearance vehicle is required). The trailhead is 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from the sign.

Trail: 3.6 miles (5.8 km) to the junction of Grand Gulch; easy to moderately difficult. From the trailhead, hike 3.0 miles (4.8 km) on the mesa to the canyon rim. This mesa top section is completely exposed, offering no shade in the heat of the day. During a thunderstorm there is no cover from lightning, which often strikes the mesa tops. From the canyon rim, 0.6 mile (0.96 km) of trail makes long, gradual switchbacks into Grand Gulch, dropping 400 feet (122 m) in elevation and ending at Polly’s Island.

Water: In wet weather, potholes along the descent and canyon bottom fill with rainwater. Polly’s canyon has a seasonal intermittent spring approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) up canyon.

Campsites: Near the top of the descent, there are places to camp on the slickrock. There are campsites near the junction with Polly’s Canyon.

Your purchases and donations support education and research on the public lands of Southeastern Utah!

Shop Now