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Backpacker Magazine – Online Exclusive

Horseshoe Canyon, Canyonlands National Park

Where the shadows on the sandstone offer lessons from the past and there's not a soul to be found.

by: Tim Browning

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Contact Information:

Canyonlands National Park 446 Main St. Moab, UT 84532 (801) 259-7164

Location: The canyon is part of a detached portion of Canyonlands National Park and lies north of the park's primary area in central Utah. The nearest accommodating town is Green River, 50 miles away.

Getting There: Horseshoe Canyon is reached by a turnoff road on U.S. Hwy. 24 almost midway between Hanksville and I-70. The unpaved road continues south for about 30 miles, ending at a trailhead lying just north of the canyon. You can also take the fork that continues on to the Hans Flat Ranger Station. From Hans Flat, the canyon can be reached via a four-wheel-drive road of about 20 miles. This road forks south of the canyon, where the Horseshoe Canyon Road takes you directly to the canyon floor. The other fork takes you to Deadman's Trail, which requires a steep descent to reach the canyon bottom.

Seasonal Information: The park is open all year. Summer days are hot (highs in the 90s) and the nights are cool (lows in the 60s). Spring and autumn have milder temperatures and are best for hiking, but stay alert for flash floods in spring. Winter temperatures range from 20 to 40 degrees F.

Wildlife: Birds are the most likely signs of life you'll see. There may also be mountain lions.

Insects: No information available.

Plant Life: Cottonwoods and willows characterize the region.

Facilities: The canyon is designated for day use only. There is a backcountry vehicle campsite maintained by the Bureau of Land Management on the west rim of the canyon.

Parking: No information available.

Permits: Free permits are needed for horseback riding and can be obtained from the Hans Flat Ranger Station ((801) 259-2652).

Policies: No pets are allowed in the canyon.


  • When hiking, carry a gallon per person per day. There's a spring in Water Canyon but treat or filter the water.
  • Heat and elevation changes can easily exhaust.

Leave No Trace: Rock-art sites and artifacts are protected by federal law. The sites are extremely fragile, so don't touch. If you see others defacing the sites, report it immediately.

All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps: A 7.5-minute Sugarloaf Butte quad topo of the region. Topos, guidebooks, and information can be obtained from the visitor center at park headquarters (see address above).

Other Trip Options: Arches National Park is just northeast of Canyonlands.

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