Cedar Mesa

Hiking Lime Canyon on Cedar Mesa

Lime Canyon is located on Cedar Mesa in southeastern Utah. Lime Creek begins at an elevation of 6,600 ft on the mesa top and quickly cuts into the rock layers. It creates a canyon that runs toward the southeast and drops to 4,150 ft where it joins the San Juan River less than 20 miles from its beginning.

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Lime Canyon has great hiking but it doesn’t have as many Ancient Puebloan (Anasazi) sites as most of the canyons on Cedar Mesa. Consequently, Lime Canyon doesn’t get much hiking pressure. However, the scenery is great, there are some archaeological sites to explore and the hiking is generally easy.

Directions to Lime Canyon Trailheads

There are three places most often used to access Lime Canyon. All are on the same unnamed road that connects from UT 261 to the Cigarette Springs Road. I find it best to come from UT261on the access road at mile marker 16. This dirt road is generally in fine condition but, when things are wet, watch out for mud. The map below shows the access road and three possible parking areas.

On this map, the red marker shows the access road leaving UT 261 near mile marker 16. It’s a little over a mile to parking for the south side of the canyon near the point where the road makes a sharp turn and there is a small sandstone butte. Looking south on the map from this parking area is West Lime Canyon which also offers good hiking. Continuing on for about a half-mile the road crosses the head of the canyon where you can find parking to head down the bottom. Parking on the north side is near where the road turns to the north and heads away from Lime Canyon. This road continues on to connect with the Cigarette Springs road to the north.

Hiking in Upper Lime Canyon

There are some options for hiking in Lime canyon. You can find access into the canyon near its head or on either the north or south side. There are no developed trails so you have to know what you are doing. Lime canyon gets steep and deep very quickly. You need to always be sure of your route up or down.

Note: This is not a hike for beginners. There is no developed trail and you may have to scramble up and down steep cliffsides. There is no trail so route finding is up to you. Maps and guidebooks can be very helpful. The information provided on this site is only to supplement your decision to hike in Lime Canyon.

Rim Walking Lime Canyon

Lime Canyon is a great place for rim walking. There are a number of inaccessible ruins, mostly on the north rim, that are high on the canyon walls that can only be seen from across the canyon. If you want to see the most structures you should rim walk the south rim while scanning with binoculars. If you just want to take a scenic hike either rim offers views into the canyon and out toward the horizon.

Of course, when you rim walk you can only see the other side of the canyon and you have no idea what is below you. There are sites on both sides of the canyon that can be explored. It’s possible to rim walk on one side to scout where to try to go on the other side. Many of the ruin sites cannot be reached from below so you have to plot a course from the rim down to the ruin. This can be a lot harder than it seems as you often need to know exactly where to drop down off the rim. You’ll find things look completely different when you approach from above than they do when you scout from across the canyon.

Entering Lime Canyon from it’s head

It’s pretty easy to hike down Lime Canyon from its head. Find parking near where the road crosses and just start heading down. It doesn’t take long and the canyon just sort of appears as you follow the drainage downward. Lime is one of the easier canyons to hike and there are few obstacles to the descent.

Hiker examines ruins on a high ledge in Lime Canyon
This high ledge is tucked under the south rim of Lime Canyon. It has a stretch of ruins and amazing views.

Lime Canyon is typically done as a one-way hike so go as far as you like and return on your same path. There are no specific destinations so enjoy the beauty. It’s possible to make this a loop hike by finding an exit in one of the south side tributaries. While none are easy there are a few ways to climb out of the canyon. If you do this you can rim walk your way back to your vehicle.

Entering Lime Canyon from the south rim

As just described, there are a few places where you can enter or exit Lime Canyon from the south. If you want to try this you will park at the first parking area you come to and head south to meet and follow the canyon rim. It’s been a few years since I hiked here but I wouldn’t be surprised to find a hiker-made trail along the rim. There are some ruins that you can climb down to a few miles ahead that attract some hikers.

There are several choices for planning a hike on the south side. You can rim walk out and back. Another option is to rim walk out and drop down to visit the ruins and return. Alternately, you can rim walk out, find a place to drop into the canyon, and return up the bottom to make a loop hike.

Looking off the knob across Cedar Mesa
The views from the top of the knob are amazing. Cedar Mesa stretches out for many miles of Pinyon/Juniper forest.

Lime Canyon Knob

While you are parked to visit the south side I recommend you spend a few minutes and explore the small but prominent sandstone butte that is near the parking area. Cedar Mesa is mostly fairly flat on top so it’s odd to see this feature rising above the mesa top.

Climb to the and top you’ll find the remains of a few structures and great views of Cedar Mesa and the Bear’s Ears. It seems likely that this was an important observation location. The sweeping views reveal everything for miles. The remains of towers are similar to those found in other Cedar Mesa locations including the Cave Tower Ruins.

Tower ruins on top of small knob near the head of Lime Canyon
There are remnants of several structures on top of the knob. It’s possible that towers were built here to facilitate communications with others.

Entering Lime Canyon from the north rim

Parking for the north side of Lime Canyon is less than a half-mile from the head of the canyon where the road turns sharply north. From here you can rim walk the north rim to look for structures on the opposite side. It’s also possible to find places to climb down into the canyon but the north side is generally steeper than the south side and there are fewer places to climb into the canyon.

That said, I’ve made a good trip out of starting on the north rim and quickly heading into the canyon bottom where I walk the canyon floor. After turning around I follow the bottom all the way out to the road and road walk back to my car.

Ledge with remains of Anasazi structures
Most of the ruins in Lime Canyon are better preserved than the row of crumbly structures tucked onto this ledge,

Hiking in West Lime Canyon

The West Lime Canyon system is just to the south of main Lime Creek and offers a lot of hiking opportunities. West Lime is very lightly used and you’re unlikely to meet others there. While the scenery in West Lime is incredible, there are few archeological remains to be found. With so many great hikes available that include ruins and rock art most hikers skip West Lime.

If you want to take a remote and scenic hike then West Lime might be perfect. There are a number of places to begin hiking. You can start from the south side parking for Lime Creek or you can find access along UT261 between mile markers 14 and 16. Watch for pull-outs or unsigned short access roads. The hiking in West Lime is one-way so hike as far as you want before retracing your track.

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