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Dark Canyon Wilderness Area

Bears Ears Area

Dark Canyon is the name given to a large canyon system in San Juan county of southeastern Utah.

Dark Canyon and its tributaries begin high on the edge of Elk Ridge at an elevation of 8,800 feet and cut through layers of sandstone and limestone to the upper reaches of Lake Powell and the Colorado River ending up at 3,700 feet.

The Dark Canyon drainage is primarily administered by the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The Forest Service manages the upper end of the canyon, which includes the 45,000 acre Dark Canyon Wilderness Area. The BLM manages the lower reaches of the canyon as a primitive area.

The Dark Canyon Primitive Area is 62,000 acres and includes a Wilderness Study Area. The extreme lower end of Dark Canyon is within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and is administered by the National Park Service.

Trailheads, weather, and road conditions

The lower elevation trailheads in Dark Canyon are extremely hot in summer; spring and fall are the preferred times to travel. Upper trailheads, often inaccessible in spring due to snow or mud, are pleasant to hike in the summer, but the lower one hikes into the canyon, the more oppressive temperatures become.

Seasonal rains come from mid-July to September, which may cause flash flooding and lightning.

Road conditions vary greatly with the weather. Generally, roads are slippery when wet. High-clearance vehicles are recommended and slick road conditions may require four wheel drive, but most trails are accessible by regular passenger cars under dry road conditions.

Elk Ridge reaches 8,800 feet and the road is generally open only from May through October. Certain portions of the road are in shade and snow melt comes late. Check first with the Forest Service and BLM before using these roads.