Often called an “outdoor museum” because of its dense concentration of Ancestral Puebloans’ ruins and rock art, Grand Gulch is a destination that offers many opportunities for exploration and discovery. As a whole, the Grand Gulch Primitive Area sprawls over 37,580 acres of canyons and mesas. And Grand Gulch can be accessed via a number of trailheads, most of which are located off UT 261.
Most ruins are 800 to 1,200 years old. Around every corner in Grand Gulch and its adjoining canyons, you will see the dwellings, buildings, tools, pottery, and art of the ancients. The canyon is thought to have been one of the most densely populated areas before colonization in North America. It is surmised that a several-decades-long drought at the end of this period made those who called Grand Gulch home head for more precipitous environs, leaving the ruins behind.
A favorite route into the canyon is Kane Gulch. While it is not the shortest approach, it is one of the most scenic as you enter into the high-cliffed gulch within a mile of the trailhead. This hike can be accomplished as a long, in-and-out day trip, or looped with Todie Canyon for an overnight backpacking experience. Other popular side canyons include Bullet, Coyote, and Sheik.
What Makes it Great
The 52-mile Gulch is unlike anything else in Utah in its abundance of ruins and artifacts. Aside from this, as it’s been previously noted, it is a significantly beautiful canyon. Envelop yourself in the tall walls colored with desert varnish as you meander around juniper, pinyon, and cottonwood trees.
There are a number of ways to explore the Gulch via different entrances and exits, and one could ostensibly even go the same route a dozen times and find news things on each trip.
In particular, the Kane Gulch access is a mighty rock fortress and pales the other inlets by comparison. If a day-trip is desired, it’s totally doable to reach the intersection of Kane and Grand Gulches, where you’ll be able to tour Junction Ruin before continuing on to Turkey Pen Ruin and farther, if so you desire. To Turkey Pen Ruin from Kane Gulch Trailhead and back is a 9.3-mile day hike.
What You’ll Remember
Bearing witness to ancient petroglyphs, cliff dwellings, and artifacts not through the glass of a museum–but in nature’s museum. These miles of winding canyons with high cliffs have ruins that look incredibly inaccessible. There are also closer dwellings and storage structures visitors are able to walk through. Otherwise, the scenery, wildlife, and solitude is unmatched. But really, the ruins make the experience, and there are hundreds of ruins to discover.
Who is Going to Love It
People who love museums, but prefer nature more. Also people who enjoy the infinite scale of massive canyons while at the same time trying to wrap their heads around the lives of ancient homosapiens.
GPS Coordinates, Parking, and Regulations
Kane Gulch Ranger Station
Visitors are required to obtain a permit, pay a permit fee, and register at the BLM office in Monticello or the Kane Gulch Ranger Station. Permits are needed for both day and overnight trips, and backpackers must make advance reservations.
The law of the land is to leave what you find in the ruins and with the ancient artifacts. Enjoy it by viewing and photographing it, and note that touching these things accelerates the erosion process.
The best time to go is March through mid-June and September through October. The heat of July and August can exceed 100 degrees, and there are also monsoons, which can bring flash floods.
Difficulty: 3, due to length and rock scrambling (both optional).