"Moki" is a local term for the ancient Puebloan people who inhabited the Colorado Plateau hundreds of years ago. "Dugway" is a term used to describe a roadway carved from a hillside. The Moki Dugway Scenic Backway is a stretch of Highway 261 in Utah where the blacktop turns into a dirt road that drastically switches back and forth down the side of a cliff at an 11% grade.
This unique stretch of road, which has literally been carved from the face of the cliff, connects Utah Highway 95 with US Highway 163. Along the dugway route is a place to pull out and get a fantastic view of Valley of the Gods. The Moki Dugway also offers great views of the San Juan River Canyon, where the stripes of different colored rocks create what is known as the “Navajo Tapestry”. If you look off to the horizon, you can even see Monument Valley.
The Moki Dugway was constructed in 1958 as a route for transporting mined materials from Fry Canyon to a processing mill in Mexican Hat, Utah. This stretch of Utah Highway 261 is part of the “Trail of the Ancients”, a national scenic byway where travelers can see multiple archeological sites and unique geological formations that played a role in the history of the southwest Native American people who inhabited this area.
Driving Moki Dugway Scenic Backway
There are no facilities along the Moki Dugway stretch of Hwy 261. The dugway is open year-round. The route is safe and passable for passenger vehicles, but you should drive with extra caution, especially if you will be pulling a trailer or driving an RV or other large vehicle. The road is wide enough to easily accommodate the passage of vehicles, but there are no guard-rails. While many travelers take the Moki Dugway in order to make their way to different San Juan County sites and monuments, the Dugway is a unique and beautiful destination unto itself. The rugged and rocky expanse of Utah’s Canyon Country can more fully be seen and appreciated from this cliff-side road. San Juan County is a unique piece of the western United States, and the view from Moki Dugway is truly “monumental”.
Is Moki Dugway safe to drive?
Yes, if you drive carefully! The roads are maintained and well constructed. Because of the steep grade and elevation, drivers should obviously keep to a low speed and stay alert. But the Moki Dugway is no more dangerous to travel than most other high-mountain roads.
Is Highway 261 / Moki Dugway paved?
While Highway 261 is mostly paved, the specific stretch of road from top to bottom of the cliff known as “Moki Dugway” is not paved. The highway turns to dirt at the top and bottom of the dugway before becoming regular blacktop again.