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Grand Gulch
Canyon

Grand Gulch

 
Grand Gulch

Page Type: Canyon

Location: Utah, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 37.44500°N / 110.041°W

Object Title: Grand Gulch

Activities: Hiking, Scrambling

Season: Spring, Fall, Winter

 

Page By: Scott

Created/Edited: Aug 7, 2006 / Mar 6, 2013

Object ID: 213591

Hits: 20820 

Page Score: 88.19%  - 26 Votes 

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Overview

Grand Gulch is an “outdoor museum” and one of the best places in the world to hike for an archeological interest in a scenic and wilderness setting, rather than under a glass case in a museum in some large city. Grand Gulch is full of Anasazi Indian ruins, as well as several earlier archeological sites. Most ruins are around 800 to 1200 years old, but some are as recent as 700 years old, and some are as old as 2000 years old.

Grand Gulch
Grand Gulch scenery


Around 1300 AD the Anasazi moved south and into the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico. Since then, so one has ever lived in Grand Gulch, but the ruins of an ancient civilization remain.

The rediscovery of Grand Gulch happened in 1880, and several archeological parties visited the canyons between the years 1890 and 1897. Now days, it is very illegal to remove or otherwise disturb the sites in any way. Please leave the potsherds, corn cobs, and ruins for other future generations to enjoy.

Grand Gulch itself is over 50 miles long, so hikes range from one day to several weeks. There are many opportunities and variations possible.

Split Level Ruin
Split Level Ruin

Getting There

There are many access points to Grand Gulch. The main trailheads are outlined below:

This area can be reached from the east from Blanding and along Highway 95, from the west and Hite along Highway 95, or from the south via Highway 261 and Mexican Hat, or Highway 47 north from Bluff. Make sure to have a good roadmap before heading into this area. The closest town with gas is Blanding, about 40 miles away from the upper trailheads.

Kane Gulch

Kane Gulch is located four miles south of the Highway 95/Highway 261 junction and is right near mile marker 29. Kane Gulch is also where the ranger station for the Grand Gulch Primitive area is, so just about everyone stops here for information. It is also necessary to stop here for overnight permits for the high season.

Todie Canyon

To drive to the head of Todie Canyon, drive south from the Kane Gulch Ranger station to just north (before) of mile marker 25. Turn west (right) on a gravel road (labeled CR #2361) and follow it for 1.1 miles.

Sheiks Canyon

To reach Sheiks Canyon, drive south along Highway 261 from the Kane Gulch Ranger station to just north of mile marker 25. Turn west (right) here on a gravel road (labeled CR #250) and follow it to a junction, which is reached after 3.1 miles from the highway. Turn right, staying on CR #250 and follow the gravel road to its end. The end of the road is 4.9 miles from the highway.

Bullet Canyon

From the Kane Gulch Ranger Station, drive south along Highway 261 to just south of mile marker 22. Turn west (right) and drive to the trailhead which is reached after 1.1 miles.

Pine Canyon and Step Canyon

This is a trailhead on the west side of Grand Gulch and the access route is different from the above driving routes. Drive along Highway 95 from the east or west to mile marker 87. The access road to Pine Canyon and Step Canyon is about .2 miles west of mile marker 87. Turn south, go through a gate, and drive the road for three miles to some slickrock. This location is labeled as 6243T on the topo map.

Pollys Canyon, Government Trail, and Deer Canyon

From the Kane Gulch Ranger Station, drive Highway 261 south to just north of mile marker 19. Turn west (right) along the gravel road (labeled CR #245). At mile 2.6 from the highway (make sure to set trip odometer at the highway), turn right staying on CR #245. At mile 5.6, keep to the right again, and again keep right at mile 7.6. Drive to the end of the road and park. The last section is rough, and if you have a car, you might want to walk it.

Collins Canyon

Like Pine and Step Canyons, this is a trailhead on the west side of Grand Gulch and the access route is different from the above driving routes. . Drive along Highway 95 from the east or west to mile marker 83. Turn south on a gravel road (labeled CR #260). Follow the road to its end 6.3 miles from the highway.

San Juan River

If you are a rafter or canoeist, you can hike the bottom of Grand Gulch from the San Juan River. This is a scenic multi-day run from Mexican Hat to Clay Hills, but is beyond the scope of this page.

High Ruin
Notice how high on the cliff the ruin is. The ancients must have had some very long and precarious ladders to get up there.

Routes Overview

Kane Gulch

Kane Gulch is by far the most popular entry into Grand Gulch. The route is easy, and class 2, but one ledge can be dicey in winter if it is covered with ice.

There are some nice aspen trees and a few ruins in this canyon before reaching Grand Gulch. The one way distance to Grand Gulch is 3.8 miles.

Todie Canyon

Todie Canyon has many archeological sites, but is a steep and rugged class 3 route. The route is not recommended for winter unless the area is free of snow.

There are many ruins in the canyon, and the lower end has a small but nice little stream, but it doesn’t flow very far. The one way distance to Grand Gulch is 1.4 miles.

Sheiks Canyon

Sheiks Canyon is another little used steep class 3 route into Grand Gulch. It has ruins in the upper end and pictographs and some water in the lower end. The route is not recommended for winter unless the area is free of snow.

Bullet Canyon

Perhaps the second most popular entry into Grand Gulch is via Bullet Canyon. It’s a long canyon, and long enough that it will have its own SP page (see the link above). The route is 7.5 miles long, class 3, and there are many archeological sites, as well as good campsites and some water. The route isn’t recommended if there is snow or ice around in winter.

Pine Canyon

This is a rugged route and sometimes it requires a rope. It is a seldom used route. There is sometimes a wooden ladder fixed at one drop of the canyon. If the ladder is not there, the route requires a rope and rappelling gear.

There are some nice ruins and pictographs in Pine Canyon. Pine Canyon drains into Step Canyon before reaching Grand Gulch.

Step Canyon

Step Canyon is another seldom used route. There are some challenging dryfalls to pass, and several ruins and archeological sites. About half way to Grand Gulch, Pine Canyon joins Step Canyon.

Pollys Canyon

Pollys Canyon is just north of the Government Trail. It is said to be a moderately challenging route, and has some nice ruins.

Government Trail

The Government Trail is said to be the easiest route into Grand Gulch. It was originally constructed in the 1930’s by the CCC, but vastly improved in the 1970’s. This is the standard route to the famous Big Man Pictograph.

This route along with Collins Canyon is the recommended entry into Grand Gulch in winter.

Deer Canyon

Deer Canyon is a rugged and seldom used route into Grand Gulch. It is the canyon to the southwest of the Government Trail. There is at least one route out of the canyon between the two southern forks. You had better talk to the rangers or consult Kelsey’s Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau before attempting the route, as can be hard to find.

Deer Canyon itself has some ruins and pictographs.

Collins Canyon

Collins Canyon is said to be the second easiest route into Grand Gulch. It is an old cattle trail. There are some nice ruins and pictographs in the canyon, as well as an old cowboy camp. In winter, and along with the Government Trail, this is the other route into Grand Gulch that is recommended.

San Juan River

If you are rafting or canoeing the San Juan River, you can hike up Grand Gulch. The lower end is deep, has a bit of running water, but there doesn’t seem to be any archeological sites.

Junction Ruin
Junction Ruin

Suggested Routes

There area many routes of all lengths available. Here are just some of the recommended routes. All would make great trips.

One Day:

Hike Kane Gulch to Junction Ruin and back. This route is about 7.8 miles round trip.

Long Day Hikes:

Hike Collins Canyon to Bannister Ruin and back.

Government Trail to Big Man Petroglyph and back.

Hike down Pollys Canyon and exit the Government Trail.

Two Days (or one very long day):

Hike Kane Gulch and exit Todie Canyon.

Hike Todie Canyon, Grand Gulch, and exit Sheiks Canyon.

Hike Sheiks Canyon, Grand Gulch, and exit Bullet Canyon.

Three Days:

Hike down Kane Gulch, down Grand Gulch, and exit Bullet Canyon.

Hike down Bullet Canyon, Grand Gulch, and exit the Government Trail.

Four Days:

Hike down Kane Gulch, Grand Gulch, and exit the Government Trail.

Hike down Bullet Canyon, down Grand Gulch, and exit Collins Spring.

Hike down Collins Canyon to Grand Gulch, and then Grand Gulch to the San Juan River and back.

Five Days:

Hike down Kane Gulch, Grand Gulch, and exit Collins Spring.

Eight to Ten Days:

Hike Kane Gulch, Grand Gulch to the San Juan River, up the San Juan River, and finally exiting via Slickhorn Canyon. Depending on the route, this is about a 70 mile hike.


Split Level Ruin
Split Level Ruin

Red Tape

Permits are now required for hiking and camping in Grand Gulch. See the official website below for more information:

Cedar Mesa BLM Website

HIGH SEASON – March 1 – June 15 and September 1 – October 31

Day Use Permits

$2.00/per person/per day
$5.00/per person/ 7 consecutive day pass

Permits may be obtained at each trailhead through a self pay system.

Overnight Permits

$8.00/per person/per trip

All advanced and walk in overnight permits must be picked up on the day of your trip at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station between 8:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon, 7 days a week. Advanced overnight permits may be reserved up to 2 days prior to your trip through the Monticello Field Office at (435) 587-1510.

Commercial groups, groups of 8 or more people, or groups using pack or saddle stock must obtain their permits by advance reservation through the Monticello Field Office. Walk in permits will not be issued to these groups.

OFF SEASON – June 16 – August 31 and November 1 – February 28

Day Use Permits

$2.00/per person/per day
$5.00/per person/ 7 consecutive day pass

Overnight Permits

$5.00/per person/per trip

All overnight and day use permits may be self issued at each trailhead during the off season.

Overnight permits for commercial groups, or groups using pack or saddle stock must be obtained in advance through the Monticello Field Office at (435) 587-1510.

ANNUAL DAY USE PASSES

The annual day use pass is $20.00 and can be purchased at the Monticello Field Office or the Kane Gulch Ranger Station. This pass is good through the calendar year and will cover all passengers in the vehicle.

ARCHEOLOGICAL SITES

Disturbing or removing any archeological sites is strictly illegal. Please leave artifacts for others to enjoy.

Pot sherds
These are some of the pot sherds at Grand Gulch. Please leave them for others to enjoy.

Seasons

Spring:

March through May is the best time to hike Grand Gulch. Water is usually more plentiful than in other seasons, and days are long and pleasant. March and April can be cold and April and May can be hot, but most of the time, this is the prime to go.

Summer:

Summer (June through August) is cooler in the upper canyon, and very hot in the lower sections. Expect hot days and little water. Hiking and camping is still possible, but not as pleasant.

Fall:

Fall (September through November) is another good time to hike Grand Gulch, but the first half of September is usually really hot, and late November can be cold and snowy. Temperatures are similar to Spring, but there isn’t as much daylight. Fall colors usually peak around mid to late October in Grand Gulch.

Winter:

Winter (December through February) can be pleasant if you are prepared. The lower canyon (anywhere from the Government Trail to the San Juan River) is the best place to go in winter, and the upper canyons can be cold, snowy, and icy, and some routes can be dangerous.

Canyon Walls
Grand Gulch in May

Weather Forecast and Conditions

Bad weather usually isn't a problem here, and the canyon is wide enough that rain usually poses little danger (this is not true of some other canyons in the area).

CLICK HERE FOR AREA WEATHER FORECAST

Weather and climate data for the Natural Bridges National Monument, elevation 6500 feet, and located near the upper trailheads, is below. *National Weather Service Data 1965-2006. This should be representative of the upper end of Grand Gulch.


MONTHAVE HIGHAVE LOWREC HIGHREC LOWAVE PRECIP (in)
JAN401960-111.01
FEB452368-13.83
MAR52287761.16
APR6134856.83
MAY73439322.72
JUN845210130.46
JUL8959103411.33
AUG865799401.56
SEP775095221.33
OCT65398661.38
NOV502878-21.01
DEC412061-14.91


Weather and climate data for the Mexican Hat, elevation 4250 feet, is below. *National Weather Service Data 1948-2006. This should be representative of the lower end of Grand Gulch.


MONTHAVE HIGHAVE LOWREC HIGHREC LOWAVE PRECIP (in)
JAN452069-17.59
FEB532578-8.51
MAR6231867.52
APR71399311.46
MAY824910427.47
JUN935810938.24
JUL986611050.57
AUG956410746.62
SEP875410329.71
OCT74419419.92
NOV5829828.59
DEC462168-16.51

Camping

There are many campsites throughout the canyon. See the above for camping regulations. See below for the water situation.

Stimper Arch
Stimper Arch

Water

Reliable water sources in Grand Gulch above Bullet Canyon are up Todie Canyon and up Sheiks Canyon. Usually there is water at the Grand Gulch/Bullet Canyon junction, and often times at other places scattered throughout the canyon. Other than at the San Juan River, I have not hiked Grand Gulch below Bullet Canyon, but I will post reliable water information after researching it about some more.

Water is the biggest concern while camping in the canyon. In dry times, most of it is stagnant and doesn’t taste great, but is safe after filtration.

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