Grand Gulch

Hiking Sheiks Canyon on Cedar Mesa

Sheiks Canyon is a short, steep side canyon that enters Grand Gulch between Todie and Bullet Canyons. Sheiks Canyon is not shown on the maps or described in the Cedar Mesa Travel Guide that the BLM provides to visitors. However, it’s fairly well-used access into Grand Gulch. It’s mostly used by day hikers seeking the well-known Green Mask rock art panel.

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I don’t recommend Sheiks Canyon for beginning canyon country hikers. The trail is steep and in places very hard to follow. Parts of this hike require good route finding skills and, if you’re in the canyon bottom in the wrong place, it is a laborious hike/scramble through dense brush and piles of house-sized boulders.

Note: This is not a hike for beginners. There is no developed trail and you will 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 Sheiks Canyon.

Finding the Trailhead

The Sheiks Canyon trailhead is fairly easy to access. The access road is west of Utah 261 at just about mile marker 24.2. The road is signed and is County Road 250. It is a pretty good road in dry conditions and suitable for any type of vehicle, although low clearance vehicles will have to park about 1/4 mile before the car park. After turning onto the road drive a bit more than 4.5 miles to the parking area where there is room for several vehicles. I’ve never camped here but there are camping opportunities available. 

The Sheiks Canyon trail is obvious from the carpark – just look for the BLM visitor sign-in kiosk. From the registry, follow straight down the canyon bottom. The canyon starts shallow and not very interesting but quickly deepens. Sheiks Canyon is one of the shortest accesses to Grand Gulch which makes it steeper than most other canyons.

After a short distance in the shallow and open upper Sheiks Canyon, the canyon narrows and deepens quickly. The trail through this section mostly goes straight down the slickrock bottom and it’s not too difficult to find the side trails detouring around the rough places. Along this part of the trail keep your eyes peeled as you will find ruins on a ledge just above the canyon bottom.

Yellow House Ruin in Sheiks Canyon
The curved wall of this building still holds some of the original plaster covering the outside. In the right light this wall shows a very yellow color.

Yellow House Ruins

The Yellow House Ruins are on the right looking down-canyon. There are two sets of structures, one of which is well preserved. One of the buildings still retains some exterior plaster that appears to be yellow in the right lighting conditions. There are a few buildings in mostly good condition. If you look at the ceiling of one ruin you can still see the original construction. I’ve read reports that the yucca cord tying around the beams is original. However, I can’t verify that myself.

Photo showing the roof construction of a ruin
You can look up to see the remarkable preservation of the ceiling and roof of this building. It would have taken a lot of work to build this.

Keep your eyes open as you continue. There’s a couple of granaries fairly close to the Yellow House ruin tucked into the small alcoves along the cliffs. Watch carefully, it’s easy to walk right past ruins and rock art.

Granary ruins in Sheiks Canyon
Ancestral Puebloan “Anasazi” ruins in Sheiks Canyon .

Descending Sheiks Canyon

The middle section of Sheiks Canyon is broad, fairly flat, and easy hiking but it narrows down and the hiking gets pretty challenging. First comes a series of small pour-overs that are passable by staying straight through on the slickrock bottom. Soon, there is a pour-over that’s 3 to 4 feet high across the entire canyon bottom. The way to get through is at the very left-hand edge looking down-canyon. It’s an easy scramble down, as it’s only about a 3-foot step-down. You come down behind a couple of giant boulders – one leaning against the other and you go through a short little tunnel formed by the rocks. At this point, you have to immediately cross the creek on the slickrock and start heading up the slope on the right-hand side.

There are some cairns marking the trail but it takes some route finding to figure it out. The trail climbs up and out of the creek bottom and you can look down in the creek at various places along the way. Looking down at the canyon bottom makes you thankful to be above the mess. The canyon bottom itself is littered with house-size boulders interspersed with jumbled rock piles and thick vegetation. It would be a torturous effort to hike down the canyon bottom.

Lower section of Shieks Canyon
This view of the lower section of Sheiks Canyon shows the steep, narrow canyon that you have to navigate. This view is from above the canyon floor near the point where you need to climb steeply down into the canyon bottom. Hikers are far better off finding this trail than trying to make it through the canyon bottom.

The trail skirts along this inner gorge of the canyon which is descending rather rapidly. This is a skinny little trail and you have to pay attention. Continue to follow along this side slope until you reach an obvious saddle and stay in the canyon you are in. Continue to head down-canyon for a short distance until there is no more skinny little trail and the only option is to go straight down a pretty ugly slope of loose conglomerate rock. This slope has disintegrated badly and it’s a steep trail. There is no actual trail – you figure out your own way to get down it. It’s very steep and it’s soft and loose. If you are day hiking, one of the worst parts about going down this slope is realizing the return trip requires a climb back up this same slope.

On to Grand Gulch

The slope ends in the slickrock canyon bottom right where the jumble of rockfall that fills the stream bed ends. Hiking the slickrock bottom you quickly reach a broad sandy area where vegetation starts to spring up as you approach the intersection with Grand Gulch. Green Mask Spring and the Green Mask rock art panel are located a couple of hundred yards before Sheiks Canyon joins Grand Gulch.

Pictograph panel in Sheiks Canyon on Cedar Mesa
This is the main pictograph panel at the Green Mask pictograph and ruin. Photo by: Greg Willis

If you’re using Sheiks Canyon to enter Grand Gulch as part of a loop hike or backpacking trip you’ll continue into Grand Gulch. If you’re day hiking you’ll probably turn around here to return.

Sheiks Canyon is a good hike for experienced hikers. It’s a quick way to get into Grand Gulch and is not used as much as some nearby canyons. While there are other hikes on Cedar Mesa that I’d recommend before this, it offers experienced hikers some interesting options.

Nearby canyon hikes: