Cedar Mesa Grand Gulch

Kane Gulch Trail into Grand Gulch

Kane Gulch is the most popular entrance into Grand Gulch which is the large canyon system that bisects Cedar Mesa. Cedar Mesa is the best place to find undeveloped archeological sites in wild settings and Grand Gulch offers amazing canyon-hiking and Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) explorations. Kane Gulch is the most up-canyon entry point for exploring Grand Gulch and the majority of backpack trips into Grand Gulch use the Kane Gulch trail.

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The Kane Gulch trail is a great hike that I highly recommend. The trail is mostly easy to follow and not too steep or rugged. Kane Gulch is an interesting and scenic canyon with some Anasazi sites in the canyon. It’s an easy access to Grand Gulch and provides access to Junction and Turkey Pen ruins. If you want to try this hike here is what you need to know.

Kane Gulch Ranger Station

Hiking in Kane Gulch begins at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station which is on UT 261, 4 miles south of the intersection with UT 95. The station is well-signed and there is a large paved parking area. There are vault toilets but water is not available so be sure to bring all you might need. The Kane Gulch Ranger Station operates with limited hours and seasons and may not be open when you visit. If the station is staffed you can get the latest information about trails, roads, and water availability in the canyons. 

All of Cedar Mesa is BLM land and you need a pass to hike in Kane Gulch and you need a backcountry permit if you are backpacking. Passes and permits are available at the ranger station but you need to do your homework to make sure you can get the permits and passes you need. Take the time to read the Complete Guide to Bear’s Ears, Cedar Mesa, and Comb Ridge Passes and Permits.

Hiking the Kane Gulch trail

From the parking area head west and cross UT 261. Watch carefully for traffic as it can approach faster than you think. On the other side of the road, the trail is obvious as you start off across the broad sagebrush flat. The trail is well maintained and easy to follow. In fact, at one time the trail was improved to provide horseback entrance to Grand Gulch.

granary ruin in Kane Gulch
It’s easy to miss this small structure sitting atop a rock. Be sure to carefully study the cliff walls and alcoves for signs of the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi).

Kane Gulch quickly becomes a more defined canyon and is a very scenic hike. After about a mile watch for Aspen trees tucked into the shadows along the left (south) side of the canyon. Aspen are a rarity in desert canyons and this is the only place on Cedar Mesa where they are found. Continuing on, Kane Gulch rapidly cuts through layers of Cedar Mesa sandstone and becomes a deeply incised canyon.

Most of the trail is in the canyon bottom and easy hiking. However, there is a section of the canyon about two miles from the trailhead that is narrow, rough, and boulder-strewn. Hiking through this section is tough and not recommended. Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid this stretch by following a well-developed detour. Watch for the trail that climbs above the canyon bottom on the north side of the canyon (right side looking down canyon). This trail is well marked so keep your eyes peeled and you should be fine. If you miss the detour you can make it through the boulder garden and you’ll encounter the trail again after you slowly make your way through. the tough stretch.

Watch for Ancestral Remains

All of Cedar Mesa was well used by the Ancestral Puebloans and the Grand Gulch area is filled with the remains of what they once created. Although Kane Gulch itself is not rich with dramatic sites, the observant hiker will find spots of interest.

pictograph of snake in Kane Gulch
This large “snake” pictograph can be seen from quite a distance. Look high on the north wall of the canyon not too far up Kane Gulch from the junction

Watch the canyon walls for ledges and alcoves where you may find ruins. Rock art can be almost anywhere so always keep looking. There is a large snake pictograph that you can see from the trail high above on the north side of the canyon. There are major ruins in Grand Gulch beginning at the junction which comes soon after you see the snake.

Grand Gulch Junction

You reach the intersection with Grand Gulch after hiking about 3.8 miles. There is a delightful grove of cottonwoods covering the bottom of Grand Gulch where the canyons intersect and Junction Ruin is easily spotted just upstream and opposite of Kane Gulch.

Distinctive rock formation in Kane Gulch
This distinctive rock formation marks the junction of Kane Gulch and Grand Gulch. If you’re hiking down and see this you know you are close. This same formation is obvious from within Grand Gulch and can serve as a landmark.

The junction is a really neat area and many people spend time here before turning around to retrace the path. However, Turkey Pen Ruin is about a half-mile further, and just past Turkey Pen are views of Stimpler Arch. If you hike from the Kane Gulch Ranger Station to the point where you can view the arch and return it’s just about a 10 mile trip with an elevation change of about 600 ft – a perfect day hike for many.

Stimper Arch in Grand Gulch
Stimper Arch in Grand Gulch is short distance beyond Turkey Pen Ruin.

Kane Gulch is the most popular access into Grand Gulch for a reason. It is an easy trail that runs into Grand Gulch at a great place. The trail can be a day hike or turned into a multi-day backpack trip. There are some very interesting Anasazi sites and the scenery is fantastic. Kane Gulch is a trip that I highly recommend to everyone.

When is the Kane Gulch Ranger Station open to visitors?

The Kane Gulch Ranger Station has very limited hours it is open from 8:00 – 12:00 daily during the “high use” seasons of March 1 – June 15, & Sept. 1 – Oct. 31

How long is the Kane Gulch Trail?

It’s a 4-mile hike on the Kane Gulch Trail to reach Grand Gulch and the Junction Ruin

Do I need a permit to hike the Kane Gulch Trail?

All hikers in Kane Gulch need a pass and backpackers need a backcountry permit. There is no limit on day passes but backcountry permits should be reserved in advance. See Complete Guide to Bear’s Ears, Cedar Mesa, and Comb Ridge Passes and Permits.

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