The Government Trail is considered to be the easiest route into Grand Gulch. The lower part of the trail is a bit steep and washed out, but it's still a good trail, even though it doesn't seem much maintenance. 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 and since its very close to halfway down (or up) Grand Gulch, it is often used as an entry or exit point of an extended backpacking trip. The trail isn't nearly as popular as access points into Grand Gulch such as Kane Gulch and Bullet Canyon, so there is usually solitude here.
This route along with Collins Canyon is the recommended entry into Grand Gulch in winter, but sometimes the roads can be impassable after a big snowstorm.
Part of the Government Trail into Grand Gulch.
Click for full size.
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 gas stations are quite far from here.
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.
The Government Trail near the trailhead.
The first part of the trail is an old Jeep Road which hasn’t been used for many years. Rangers ask hikers to stay in the left track (going to Grand Gulch, this would be the right one coming from the Gulch) so that it becomes a single track trail. Some hikers use either track though, so it isn’t fading away.
From the trailhead sign, follow the easy to follow trail towards Grand Gulch. The trail is relatively gentle, but is quite pretty with expansive views of faraway locations such as Navajo Mountain, the Henry Mountains, and the Bears Ears. Closer, the trail parallels Pollys Canyon, so there are views into it as well.
After 2.8 miles, the trail reaches the rim of Grand Gulch where there are expansive views into the Gulch. An old wooden sign, which probably will not last not much longer marks the descent into Grand Gulch. The trail drops rather steeply in places, and reaches the floor of the Gulch after 0.4 miles after leaving the rim. The trail is in good condition, but is somewhat washed out in the end.
The top of the Government Trail.
Once you are on the canyon floor, there is much to explore. Pollys Canyon, with a nice arch and ruins is 0.2 miles up canyon. Pollys Island is the butte/mesa across the canyon from the trail and has some nice ruins and pictographs in the drainage behind the butte. Going down Grand Gulch from the Government Trail, there are many points of interest as well.
Big Man Pictograph is about 1.7 miles up Grand Gulch and is high on a wall above the canyon. To find Big Man Panel, follow Grand Gulch, up from the Government Trail and pass Pollys Canyon (which usually has good water a ways up this side canyon) after 0.2 miles. About 1.3 miles up Grand Gulch from Pollys Canyon, you will see another side canyon entering Grand Gulch from the east. In Grand Gulch and beyond that side canyon, the streambed makes a bend to the west before swinging east again. Big Man Panel is on the east side of the bend and is sometimes missed. A steep trail ascends about 200 feet up the slope to the pictograph, which is one of the best in the entire region.
The Big Man Panel in Grand Gulch. The two huge figures, which are about eight feet high are 3000 to 8000 years old. Some of the carved figures are nearer to 1000 years old. This is one of the best pictograph panels in the world.
From the trailhead to Big Man Panel and back is a good all day hike. A more rugged all day hike is to go down Pollys Canyon and out the Government Trail. Going down Kane Gulch, down Grand Gulch, and out Government Trail takes about four days or more. Going down Bullet Canyon and Grand Gulch and out the Government Trail takes three days or more.
A good two or three day hike is to go down the Government Trail and out Deer Canyon. Down Government Trail and out Water Canyon is a good four days or more trip.
You can use the Government Trail and exit at places like Collins Spring Canyon, but it’s a long car shuttle, so few do this.
Normal hiking gear.