Dark Canyon
Wilderness / Primitive

Dark Canyon Wilderness Area

Dark Canyon Wilderness Area (above image) is located in San Juan County, Utah, west of Monticello and north of Blanding. Designated in 1984 and managed by the U.S. Forest Service, the 47,116-acre primitive area holds the distinction of being the only designated wilderness in southeastern Utah. The Wilderness Area includes Dark Canyon and its two main tributaries, Peavine and Woodenshoe canyons, plus several Colorado River drainages. With Cedar Mesa sandstone walls soaring up to several thousand feet high and blocking the light from entering the lower canyon throughout much of the day, the 40-mile long Dark Canyon is aptly named. Ten different trailheads, including the popular Sundance Trail, lead into the Wilderness Area from the Elk Ridge Highlands road.

Dark Canyon Wilderness Area’s life zones are diverse, with rocky desert canyons at the lower 4,000-foot elevations, aspen-covered foothills of the Abajo Mountains at around 8,000 feet, and hanging gardens, ancient ponderosa, stone arches, and sheer sculpted sandstone walls in between. The various ecosystems support a variety of wildlife, including snakes, mule deer, elk, wild turkey, cougars, black bears and bighorn sheep. The area was once home to Ancestral Puebloans, whose rock art and dwellings can still be found hidden in the cliffs.


The Grand Gulch

Grand Gulch Primitive Area

Grand Gulch Primitive Area is surrounded by southeastern Utah’s most iconic landscape, with Natural Bridges National Monument to the north, Valley of the Gods to the east, and Moki Dugway, Muley Point, and Goosenecks State Park to the southeast. But Grand Gulch is remarkable of its own accord, an outdoor museum of ancient culture and history with the highest natural concentration of Ancestral Puebloan relics and ruins on the Colorado Plateau. Some of the oldest artifacts found in Grand Gulch date back between 200 and 700 A.D. from the Basketmaker nomadic tribes. Grand Gulch was rediscovered in 1880 during the Hole-in-the-Rock expedition, and excavations began the following decade.

Grand Gulch Primitive Area is truly remote, accessible only by foot or pack animal. The most common access points are Kane Gulch and Bullet Canyon. The 23-mile hike between the two canyons reveals ancient cliff dwellings, petroglyphs and pictographs, pottery shards and more. There fragile ruins are protected by the Archeological Resources Protection Act and should not be touched or removed. Visitors are required to register and obtain a permit at the BLM office in Monticello or the Kane Gulch Ranger Station. Grand Gulch Primitive Area can be reached via SR-261 from Mexican Hat and via Highway 95 from Blanding.