Cedar Mesa

North Fork of Road Canyon on Cedar Mesa

Located in Southeast Utah, the North Fork of Road Canyon comes off Cedar Mesa and joins Road Canyon running east toward Comb Wash. Road Canyon is a popular place to find backcountry Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) sites and there are many possibilities for hikes into and around Road Canyon. Most of the guide books have extensive coverage of hiking in Road Canyon. On the other hand, the North Fork of Road Canyon is rarely visited and most of the available guidebooks say little if anything about the canyon.

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There is good hiking in and around the canyon but it’s up to you to find it. There are no developed trails in the canyon and you have to find your own places to park and hike. You need to have good maps and know how to use them!

Note: This is not hiking for beginners. There are no developed trails 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 North Fork Road Canyon.

The best way to access the North Fork Road Canyon is from the Snow Flat Road (SJ237). This dirt road descends from the top of Cedar Mesa to Comb Wash far below to the east. For hiking in North Fork Road, you can leave the road early to enter the canyon as it forms. Alternately, you can drop into the canyon by parking further down the road and hiking to the north rim.

Inspecting a ruin in North Fork Road Canyon

The story of a North Fork Road Canyon hike

Rather than my usual description of a hike, I thought I’d use a journal entry of mine. This is from a hike I took into the North Fork Road Canyon with the late Stan Clements.

The North Fork of Road Canyon lies south of the Snow Flat Road. Our plan was to find a good parking area along the road and hike until we hit the canyon rim. There we would find a place to drop in and hike until it seemed time to return. All of the roads on Cedar Mesa can be challenging but Snow Flat Road was very rough this trip. We drove slowly and carefully until we came to a steep downhill section carved into the cliff wall. About halfway down this treacherous slope there was a giant boulder in the middle of the road.

A quick look showed no way to pass between the rock and the cliff wall to the right. However, it might be possible to squeeze by on the left. Of course, if there wasn’t enough room on this side we would discover it by plummeting down the cliff.

Fortunately, my companion can be fearless at times. He told me to walk ahead and give him hand signals as to how much clearance he had on either side of the truck. The road was wide enough and after creeping by the rock I reentered the truck and we continued on.

After driving about 7 miles we parked by the side of the road and headed off to find the canyon. We walked just about due south and soon hit the canyon edge. It was easy to find a place to drop down to a large ledge and we began to hike down-canyon. This was a fairly tight canyon and we were on a good ledge.

Small ruins in N. Fk Road Canyon
Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) ruins in North Fork Road Canyon.

After only a few minutes we discovered a small set of ruins that were easy to inspect. Several of the rooms were well preserved while others were quite deteriorated. However, there were a few interesting structures, including a small round granary that would have been inside a larger building and a very tight little granary perched high on the wall above.

Inaccessible granary tucked into cliffside
This inaccessible granary is tucked deep under the ledge above keeping it very sheltered and in good condition.

We continued to follow the ledge down-canyon and soon we were treated to the sight of the junction of two canyons joining together (South and North Forks of North Fork Canyon?). I was much intrigued by this area as the south-facing wall of the South Fork looked like it had all of the right attributes for Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) occupation.

Unfortunately, from where we were standing we could only speculate as to what that canyon may hold. To find out we would need to descend to the canyon bottom and cross to the other side to get a better idea of the area. While this day we were unable to discover what is in this canyon, it gives us a good reason to go back. Since this is a tough place to access I suspect that few hikers regularly explore this remote part of Cedar Mesa.

Soon after reaching to point opposite the junction of the two canyons, we decided to climb up to the rim and began to search for an easy exit route. Of course, there were none so we did it the hard way and gradually worked our way up the steep canyon and out onto the rim. Here we were treated to great views of North Fork of Road Canyon twisting away below us, heading toward Comb Ridge visible in the distance.

two forks ofd North Road Canyon joining

After taking a brief rest to enjoy the view off we went, hiking across the Mesa top heading toward the truck. Back at the truck, a check of the GPS shows that we traveled about 6 miles this day.

Here are some nearby hiking opportunities: