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Backpacker Magazine – March 2011

America's Best-Kept Secrets: Dark Canyon Wilderness, UT

by: Michael Lanza

In A southern Utah park seen by so few people the feds don’t even keep count
Out Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands–and their 8.7 million annual visitors

Dark Canyon’s sheer, redrock walls and narrow slots conjure the Southwest’s most iconic parks. But unlike its higher-profile neighbors, this 47,000-acre wilderness south of Canyonlands and east of Lake Powell remains utterly undeveloped. The premier tour is the 40-mile, five- to seven-day loop of Woodenshoe, Dark, and Peavine Canyons (including four miles of road walking between trailheads). You’ll pass Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, remnants of early Anglo settlers, and natural arches. Find water and good campsites at Woodenshoe Canyon’s confluences with Cherry Canyon and Dark Canyon; six miles up Dark Canyon; and where Kigalia Canyon meets Peavine. Keep an eye out for petroglyphs and a cliff dwelling in Woodenshoe about a mile below Cherry Canyon. Target spring and early fall for comfortable temps and reliable water. Local knowledge While there are cliff dwellings throughout Woodenshoe Canyon, most are quite small (likely used to store grain) and high off the ground in the Cedar Mesa sandstone layer. Pack binoculars.

Do it From UT 275 east of Natural Bridges National Monument, turn north on CR 228. Follow it to FR 88, drive over Bears Ears Pass, turn left on FR 108, and go about a mile to Peavine Canyon trailhead (route end). Continue 2.6 miles to Woodenshoe Canyon Rd. Turn right and go .5 mile to the trailhead.

Map Trails Illustrated Manti La Sal ($12,

Guidebook Utah’s Wilderness Areas—The Complete Guide, by Lynna Howard ($25,

Contact (435) 637-2817;

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Jun 12, 2011

This canyon is beautiful! Bring water shoes and your toe caps. If you enter from Sundance Trailhead, you descend into the canyon via a steep hill of boulders. I lost one toenail and "colored" the other a deep purple from the constant rubbing and tugging of my boots.


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