Every October, Stuart and I celebrate our anniversary, and the beautiful fall weather, with a hiking trip. In addition to our Colorado trip earlier in the month, we did a backpacking trip in Southern Utah this year to kick off a goal of going on monthly backpacks. Southern Utah is a frequent destination for our late October trips because the weather is generally perfect and the cottonwoods are turning beautiful autumn gold.
Our destination was Arch Canyon in the Cedar Mesa area west of Blanding. There’s a fantastic ruin at the mouth of the canyon we’d visited on a previous trip, and made a note to return for a longer hike up the canyon. We drove up Friday morning and hit the trail around noon.
The lower few miles of the trail are a multi-use two-track in the BLM, following an creek that appears to have regular springs providing regular water intermittently along its length. The canyon is gorgeous, full of interesting spires and rock formations.
There are several ruins scattered through the lower part of the canyon, some easily visible from the main trail.
Given our late start at this time of year, we hit our cut-off time for the day, and not knowing what was ahead, we camped about a mile below Texas Canyon, where the two-track ends at the BLM boundary.
The second day, we headed up the canyon. The forest turns to ponderosa pine as the trail approaches Texas Canyon, with a few good spots to camp near water. At the BLM boundary, the trail enters the Monti-La Sal National Forest and turns to a hiking trail (no motorized vehicles allowed). Cathedral Arch is visible from the end of the two-track, and Angel Arch is 15 or 20 minutes up the trail from there.
The trail continues wandering up the canyon among the ponderosa pines. Lazy, oversleeping bums that we are, we hit the trail pretty late. We made it as far as the junction with Butts Canyon, where we had lunch before heading back to camp. We didn’t make it to Keystone Arch, which is another two or three miles up Arch Canyon from Butts.
We packed up camp and headed back Sunday. While this isn’t a particularly long trail, there is so much to explore, I believe the trail guides’ claims that one could spend a week in this canyon. With lots of ruins and several side canyons, there is lots to see. We certainly plan to do a longer trip in the future and taking more time to explore.
See all our Arch Canyon photos from this trip on flickr.
- USFS: Arch Canyon Trail
- BLM Monticello Field Office: Hiking and Backpacking
- Book: Non-Technical Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau, Mike Kelsey
- Book: Utah’s Incredible Backcountry Trails, David Day
- Book: A Hiking Guide To Cedar Mesa, Peter Francis Tassoni
- Map: Grand Gulch, Cedar Mesa Plateau [BLM – Monticello Field Office] (National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map)