Gem Canyon, West Fork

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 38.71670°N / 111.0445°W
Additional Information Route Type: Technical canyoneering
Additional Information Time Required: A long day
Additional Information Difficulty: Canyoneering 3A-IV (pitches up to 5.5)
Sign the Climber's Log


This is the trailhead, if you...Important: This is the upper trailhead, if you found it correctly
Assuming you made it out of...You will end here
This is the trailhead out in...Upper trailhead- out in the middle of no-where
Assuming you made it out of...Exit trailhead
Another name-less tower that...Name-less tower near Gem Canyon

A journey to out in the middle of no-where............

Upper Trailhead

As mentioned, just finding the trailhead is a navigational challenge. You must do the vehicle shuttle the day before the trip as it will be a long day just getting through the canyon. You absolutely must have the 7.5 minute quads (maps) Big Bend Draw and Ireland Mesa for the drive to the trailhead. Even then, the maps are inaccurate especially near the trailhead. A 4wd is also required. The 63 mile shuttle took us 3.5 hours, but we already knew how to get there, having been to the head of the canyon before. Expect to take longer.

To get to the trailhead at the head of the canyon, drive west from Green River, or east of the Emery area along I-70 to exit 108. You must carefully follow the topo maps for the remainder of the drive. Take the southbound gravel road and veer right after a short distance. Stay on the main road until you reach Kimball Draw at an intersection with a sign. This is at about co-ordinates N38*47'16.47" W111*5'52.69". Turn left onto the dirt road signposted for Copper Globe. After following the bottom of the wash for a while, you will reach an intersection (no sign and it can be hard to spot) at about co-ordinates N38*47'4.42" W111*4'34.19". Turn right onto a seldom used track. Follow the track in and out of several drainages until you reach an intersection at a top of a hill at about co-ordinates N38*46'24.02" W111*3'57.04". Turn right here.

The road weaves in and out of drainages and scenic and colorful badlands and is one of the most interesting pieces of road construction I've ever seen. There are some sections of the road that pass through sparkling gypsum beds. Not too far after the road climbs out of Dizzy Trail Canyon (see the topo map), you will reach a junction next to a small hill with a cairn (pile of rocks) on top. From here on, the topo map is inaccurate as far as showing the many tracks go, so pay attention closely to the topographic features on the map. There are many routes to the trailhead, but here's the route we took. Turn right at the junction with the hill and cairn. You will cross a few very rough spots in the road while crossing two washes. After the second wash, make a very sharp left turn onto a track that heads east [update: this track was just about invisible when we were here in 2007, so see the alternate route below]. The trailhead and where you're aiming for is very near the 6350 elevation marked on the Ireland Mesa quad NW of the word "DIKE" on the map. Park here.

Note #1: This year, I found an alternate route to the trailhead. The road is not as rough from this alternate route, but the trailhead can be harder to recognize from this direction, as this route has no landmarks near the trailhead. At the hill with the cairn, continue straight instead of right. Look for a faint track to the right not far beyond the hill with the cairn. This road leads to the trailhead, but it’s hard to recognize. Hopefully the cairn I left will still be there!

Note #2: The main track that continues straight from the junction mentioned in the paragraph above dead ends at Horizon Arch. This is a scenic place and if you hike over the hill and slickrock, you will have an incredible view of the San Rafael Swell.

Exit Trailhead

Unless looping out via Dizzy Trail Canyon or Poncho Wash, you must also leave a vehicle at the exit trailhead. You must also have a map to drive to this trailhead. Perhaps the best map is the Trails Illustrated-National Geographic Map San Rafael Swell. Another good map is the one in DeLormes Utah Atlas. Briefly put, you will exit I-70 at exit 131 and head south on gravel roads while following signs to Tomsich Butte and Muddy Creek. Most intersections are marked with signs.

From exit 131 on I-70, follow the southbound gravel road. The road first heads west and then south. Stay on the main road at all junctions for the first 9.9 miles. At 9.9 miles turn right on the road marked Reds Canyon. Continue on the most used track to another junction at mile 13.5. This is a loop road and either fork will get you to the trailhead and both forks are about the same distance. Follow the road and map to Tomsich Butte. On the north side of Tomsich Butte, you will notice a faint track heading west. This is the best route to the trailhead. The track is a very rough 4wd track and you may prefer to walk. Follow the track west to its end. There is an old mining cabin near the end of the track. Park here. Notice your surroundings so you will recognize the place when you reach it on foot at the end of your trip. Hint: Notice the "layer cake rocks".

Make sure to leave Green River or Castle Dale with a full tank of gas! This area certainly is out in the middle of no-where!

Route Description

This is the beginning of the...Beginning of slot section
Wall Detail. Mark McCray photo.Wall detail
Scorpion FallsScorpion Falls
I call this Swiss-cheese...Canyon walls
Another shot of Scorpion...Rapping a drop

Finding the head of the canyon is also an adventure in routefinding. It is highly recommended that you scout out the route from the trailhead to the head of the canyon the day before the hike, as the trip is a very long day hike, and you don't want to spend too much time routefinding around trying to find the canyon on the day of descent. Make sure to follow your maps carefully to make sure you head down the correct drainage. You must be proficient in routefinding; there is no marked route, and the many drainages can make navigation very confusing.

From pt. 6350, make your way to Gem Canyon which is the drainage about .5 miles due south of the word "DIKE" on the topo map. It is also just north of pt. 6540. There are several routes and you must follow the map carfully through the maze of drainages. You will notice two minor drainages forming the head of Gem Canyon just north of pt. 6540. The northern most drainage is the best one to use to enter Gem Canyon. You must scramble down this boulder-choked drainage. The excitement begins right away right with much scrambling to get down to the canyon bottom. It is then a walk down to the first of the technical sections. There are three short rappels (about 25 feet), then much chimney work and scrambling down through the slot. The slot section ends in a spectacular free hanging rappel from a chockstone and down through a crack. The canyon opened up after this and it is a mostly easy walk down to "Scorpion Falls". This is one awesome site; the entire canyon shoots over a 200 foot alcove and dryfall. An albino scorpion hanging on the cliff face was spotted part way down the rappel by one of the group, thus the name. This section of the canyon is incredibly beautiful and spectacular. There is a huge alcove and the view up Scorpion Falls is great. There is a semi-permanent pool (it may dry up during a very long drought) of grungy water below the alcove that must be bypassed. You will reach two junctions with two major side canyons shortly after. The next section of the canyon is also spectacular and contains a nice surprise. There are several huge Ponderosa pines lined up against the huge north facing cliff face in this section of the canyon. This is a really rare site in this hot desert area. The final obstacle is a 15 foot rappel over a flowing waterfall (which may dry up at times). This is the shortest rappel, but also the trickiest because it is over an awkward overhang. You will likely show your klutziness on this one. Try and see how many limbs you can get straight into the air while on rapell. It is then a pretty easy walk down along Muddy Creek down to Tomsich Butte.

There are alternatives for those who don't want to do the long car shuttle, but it will take much planning and has special considerations. You could do the canyon as an over-night trip and hike up Muddy Creek and exit via Dizzy Trail Canyon and then hike back to the vehicle. This will take two long days minimum (3 days may be better if you can pack very light). The problem with doing an overnight trip is that the slot section of the canyon is so narrow that it will be very difficult to take an overnight pack through. If you did attempt it, take as small as pack as possible (leave a tent and stove behind!) and expect some possible pack damage. The only water available for camping is in Gem Canyon near Muddy Creek and possibly the grungy pool near Scorpion Falls. Muddy Creek doesn't taste good, but could be used if ran out of water (but treat the water!).

You could also hike up Muddy Creek to Poncho Wash and exit via a rigorous chute. This is one very long day trip and very tiring. See the additional route pages for more information on these options.

Essential Gear

Several slings (bring 100 feet minimum), 8-12 rapid links or rappel rings, two 60 meter (200 feet) ropes (warning, standard 50 meter ropes will be two short!!!), a 30m meter (100 foot) rope, and a climbing harness. A helmet is definitely recommended.

Miscellaneous Info

If you have information about this route that doesn't pertain to any of the other sections, please add it here.



Parents refers to a larger category under which an object falls. For example, theAconcagua mountain page has the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits' asparents and is a parent itself to many routes, photos, and Trip Reports.