Cedar Mesa Comb Ridge

Arch Canyon Ruin

Arch Canyon drains into upper Comb Wash in the northeast section of Cedar Mesa. It’s easy to get to and offers lots of hiking and exploring opportunities. As might be assumed from it’s name, several arches can be viewed in the Arch Canyon system. Lower Arch Canyon offers easy trails, Anasazi ruins and scenic hiking.

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Arch Canyon is accessed by driving north on the Upper Comb Wash road where it intersects with UT Hwy 95 at about mile 107.5. The Comb Wash Road, CR 205, is at the bottom of the highway on the steep side of Comb Ridge. South of the highway the Comb Wash road is CR 235 and it runs parallel with Comb Ridge for 18 miles until it intersects with US 163 near Bluff, Utah. The Comb Wash road north of the highway (CR 205) is a good quality dirt road suitable to most vehicles.

Dispersed Camping

There are a number of good campsites along the Comb Wash road south of the highway. Right at the highway there is a large dispersed camping area that actually has vault toilets. However, there is no water or other services. There are additional potential campsites along the road to the south.

To the north of UT 95 it’s much harder to find a campsite because much of the land that lies north of the highway is Ute Indian reservation land and trespassing is forbidden. It’s OK to camp anywhere on public land but the reservation lands are not public lands! It’s important for all visitors to respect the property rights of the Utes and make sure to stick to the public roads that cross their lands.

Two hikers by anasazi ruins

Directions to Arch Canyon

About 2 miles north of the UT 95 on the Comb Wash Road you pass a gated fence near some corrals. Keep driving through. The gate is usually open but if the gate is closed when you drive through make sure to close it behind you. (A general rule of thumb in the West is to always leave gates in the same state you find them.) A short distance from this point you will pass by a well signed picnic area which is private and off limits. Just past here turn to the West (left) and soon you will spot the BLM sign & trail registry.

Multiple Users in Arch Canyon

From the parking area there are two options for moving forward. Most hikers will chose to park here and continue on foot. However, Arch Canyon is a very popular 4wd road and many choose to drive up the canyon. The road runs for about 7 1/2 miles and is a one way road. It’s definitely a 4wd road and only high clearance vehicles with experienced drivers should drive this route. This can be a popular road for 4wd enthusiasts so be aware that you may find traffic in Arch Canyon.

Arch Canyon Ruin

Hiking in Lower Arch Canyon is easy. Follow the road/trail heading up canyon from the trailhead. After only about a quarter of a mile you’ll encounter the Arch Canyon Ruin. Due to heavy visitation the ruins are fenced off but there are areas to explore and there are some very interesting petroglyphs and pictographs. Make note of the cliff walls where there are holes carved into the rock that once served to hold the beams in place for a second and a third story to the building. This was a very large structure at one time.

Photo of several concentric circle petroglyphs
Concentric circle petroglyphs and pictograms are commonly found throughout the range of the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi). These examples are similar to what you can find in other places. Sometimes the circles are precise while others are uneven but all are fascinating.

In fact, at one time this was a very large ruin. There is evidence that there were a number of room blocks ranging from one to four stories tall along the cliff face. The standing walls show Mesa Verde construction techniques with loaf shaped building blocks held in place by mud plaster and Chacoan style construction with tablet shaped stones laid carefully in place. This site likely was occupied during both the Pueblo 2 and Pueblo 3 periods. The site has seen a lot of rebuilding over the years. Most of the earlier built structures were torn down by the Anasazi themselves and most of the debris was moved to the front of the site.

Exploring Arch Canyon

Hiking continues to be fairly easy as you continue up canyon. It’s about 7 miles to the junction of Arch Canyon and Texas Canyon where the road ends. From here you can see Angel Arch and Cathedral Arch, 2 of the arches that give the canyon its name. Look for both of these arches in the main canyon just up canyon looking to the right (East). There is a large grove of Ponderosa Pines at the road end which makes a great picnic spot. This is the end of the road for all motorized vehicles.

Photo of a two story wall in an Arch Canyon ruin
At one time there was a lot of construction here. These tall walls are all that remains of this multi-storied building.

Hikers can continue in either direction. Heading up Arch Canyon you’ll reach the junction with Butts Canyon. Butts, Texas and Upper Arch Canyons all offer exploration opportunities for the adventurous. It’s possible to make a loop hike by exiting from one of these canyons and entering into another but be aware that this requires advanced route finding and hiking skills.

Most hikers find that hiking from the trailhead to the Texas Canyon junction and back makes a full day. The hike to the Arch Canyon Ruin is short and easy. It combines nicely with a hike to nearby Walnut Knob.

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