Leave a stream-braided plateau for a hike through varnished canyon walls, then tour the ruins of ancient Puebloan cliff dwellings on this 13.3-miler on Cedar Mesa. Cross UT 261 from the trailhead 10 miles south of Natural Bridge National Monument’s visitor center (where you should get a day’s worth of water), and head southwest. Thread between two colossal black boulders at mile .8, then enter the rock fortress of Kane Gulch.
At the intersection of Kane and Grand Gulches, the trail drops 600 feet to a shrubby island. Cross it and take the use trail to Junction Ruin, a thousand-year-old Puebloan dwelling nestled in an alcove. See oblong windows chiseled into the canyon wall, and tour a kiva (a sunken, circular space). Continue .7 mile through scrub brush and high grass to Turkey Pen Ruin , which opens onto views of slickrock pourovers that gush waterfalls after a rain. Follow the trail beneath the embankment and down along the streambed to 20-foot-wide Stimper Arch. In 1.9 miles, reach Todie Canyon, an overgrown gully on the left. Pitch camp here on the canyon’s north side before entering Todie.
Next day, it’s two miles of difficult scrambling and routefinding; you’ll weave along streambeds, over washes, and past house-size boulders. At 7.8 miles, cairns on trail-right mark a path along a sandstone cliff. Scramble up flat rocks to a steep pourover with a climbable overhang. Use your hands for balance against the steep incline (tip: remove packs and pass them for easier scrambling).
Follow cairns up a steep drainage (flows during rain) and continue scrambling south, gaining 300 feet to the 6,400-foot mesa rim at mile 7.9 and a view of square-top Navajo Mountain. Head east .6 mile over slickrock to the Todie Canyon trailhead. Grab your shuttle here, or hike 1.2 miles to the end of jeep road #236A, then turn left and road-walk 3.6 miles to Kane Gulch Ranger Station.
Maps: Trails Illustrated Grand Gulch Plateau ($12, natgeomaps.com)
Permits: Overnight permits, $8. Reserve 90 days ahead. (435) 587-1500; blm.gov
Gear up: Camping and Cowboy Gear, 1420 North Main Street, Blanding, UT; (435) 678-2662; campingandcowboygear.com
-Mapped by MacKenzie Ryan
- Distance: 21.4
Natural Bridges NM Visitor Center
Location: 37.60665, -109.976417
The only place you can get water, without a filter, for 30 miles. Batteries are for sale as well.
Location: 37.524556, -109.896195
From the trailhead, cross UT 261 and head southwest.
Location: 37.519695, -109.905569
At mile .8, pass between large black boulders before entering the rock fortress of Kane Gulch.
Location: 37.511835, -109.9381
Intersection of Kane Gulch and Grand Gulch.
Location: 37.512402, -109.937979
Arrive at Junction Ruin, a thousand-year-old dwelling nestled in an alcove, via a use trail.
Location: 37.509821, -109.944589
After .7 mile, reach Turkey Pen Ruin, which opens onto views of slickrock pourovers (watch for waterfalls after a rain).
Location: 37.507478, -109.94564
After following the trail along the streambed, you’ll get to the 20-foot-wide Stimper Arch. Continue south.
Location: 37.488974, -109.957857
Entrance to Todie Canyon. Pitch camp along Grand Gulch’s northern wall before entering Todie.
Location: 37.486832, -109.935977
Scan trail-right for a cairn that leads up a cliff to the canyon rim. Caution: the incline is steep – remove packs and use your hands for balance to help with scrambling.
Location: 37.486255, -109.937026
Gain 300 feet to reach the mesa’s 6,400-foot-elevation rim and a view of Navajo Mountain.
Location: 37.48179, -109.928697
Todie Canyon trailhead. Pick up your shuttle here, or continue 1.2 miles to the end of Jeep Road #236A, then turn left and road-walk 3.6 miles back to the Kane Gulch Ranger Station.