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a VirtualTourist member from Milwaukee


Planning a backpacking trip to Southern Utah

OK, my boyfriend and I are starting to plan a trip: Utah at the end of August. We're planning to be there about a week.

Here's the plan so far: Fly in to Grand Junction and rent a car, drive to Moab, camp/hike in Canyonlands and Arches, other than that... who knows? Rugged wilderness abounds! Maybe Glen Canyon? Could we make it over to the western part of the state to see Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion and?

Other things we're interested in: Ancient Native American ruins & pictographs, hot springs, caves. We love anyplace that's good for a photo op, a quick swim, spectacular scenery, or a rewarding hike.

Any suggestions on itinerary or can't miss features?

11 Answers

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Apeldoorn

After visiting Moab (at least two days) you could make a loop drive:

Moab > Newspaper Rock (pictographs) > Foy Lake > Monticello > Valley of the Gods > > Mexican Hat.

Mexican Hat > Monument Valley > Mexican Hat

Mexican Hat > Goosenecks State Park > Moki Dugway > Muley Point > national Bridges > Hanksville (evt. with the ferry to Bullfrog)

Hanksville > Capitol Reef > Hanksville > Goblin Valley > Little Wild Horse Canyon > Greenriver Crystal Geyser > Moab

happy travels

answered by
a VirtualTourist member

When you are in the Arches area take a hike in Kane Creek for ruins and rock art. You would park at the ranger station.

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Cody

At the information center in Mohab(on Center and Main)you can pick up the self-guided "Moab Area Rock Art Auto Tour". Unfortunately, some of these have been vandalized, sporting modern day graffiti, but we still found the drive worth the effort. As you drive up the Kane Creek canyon toward the end of this driving exploration we came to a truly marvelous, up close experience with early man as we examined a huge boulder with unblemished rock art on all four sides.

In 1961 Newspaper Rock, one of the largest and best-known petroglyph panels in Utah, was designated a state park. It is located about 12 miles west of U.S. Highway 191 on the paved road that leads to the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park, where you will see a sign for Newspaper Rock. This little area is well worth the stop if you are interested in the early history of the area. Newspaper Rock is a rock surface with hundreds of petroglyphs etched into the rock surface.

Check out Aztec Butte in Island In the Sky area of Canyon lands. This area contains two trails, the first is an easy, 1mile/1.5km trail over loose sand with a 25 ft/8m elevation change. There is also a 1mile/1.5km spur trail that comes off of the easier trail, and will take you to the summit. This summit trail is rated strenuous as it will take you up along steep slickrock with a 200 ft/61m gain in the last quarter mile. At the top of one butte along this trail you will see a pair of almost twin Ancestral Puebloan Granaries that were in excellent condition, and to which you could climb completely up to, so that you could peak in through the small openings in the fronts.

Cave Springs, in the Needles District of Canyon Lands is a short loop trail of only six tenths of a mile. This is a primitive trail that will take you over slickrock, and has two pole ladders along the way so that you can climb the rocks to the next level. This area is called Cave Spring as there are alcoves carved out by seeping water which form cave like rooms with no front walls. In one of these cave like alcoves there were soot blackened ceilings and handprints painted on the walls as well as other figures from the ancestral Puebloan Indian period. Within this alcove was a boulder with grinding marks where something had been ground with a stone by these same ancient people. Check at the visitor center for information on this trail.

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from New Jersey

If possible, see the following:

Monument Valley (just across the Arizona border)

Goosenecks State Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Zion Canyon National Park

All have great scenery and a variety of hikes available.

If you want to get really far off the beaten path, spend a day exploring the dirt and gravel backroads of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (you will need a 4-wheel drive vehicle). Feel free to visit our various Utah pages (Bryce Canyon, Zion, Grand Staircase-Escalante, etc.) here on VT for photos, tips, and info.

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Lakewood

If you're in Arches, it may be worth the hike out to Tower Arch. We actually took the back roads and only had to hike in about 1/4 mile, but there is a hiking trail that will get you back there. I saw one other person while I was there, and we were both surprised to see anyone. It's a great spot...quiet and away from everyone else. It's gonna be hot there in August, so be careful.

On the western border of Arches, along Willow Flats road, there is an area of flat sandstone with amazing dinosaur tracks! There also dinosaur tracks on Potash Road, just by the entrance to the Poison Spider Mesa off-road trail.

Potash Road also has some wonderful petroglyphs. They are located about 20 feet above the road, so ther has been little vandalization on these...and thank goodness, it's a shame what people have done to these displays.

If you want to see some incredible Indian ruins, head just a little bit south of Moab to the Canyons of the Ancients and Hovenweep National Monument. It's an area strewn with old "villages". Hovenweep has a campground and one of the groups of ruins has an somewhat easy path around it. There are a number of other groups of ruins that you can hike out to...It was so incredible, I had to go back the next year we passed through. Check out their website... But the Canyons of the Ancients, which is actually maintained by the BLM, has a number of groups of ruins as well, my favorite was the Painted Hand Pueblo. Check my tips...they are filled with info and pictures.

And if you want to see some of the most amazing cliff dwellings, head over to Mesa Verde National Park. It wasn't on our plans the first your out there, but it fell into the schedule, and remains one the best sites I've ever visited.

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Phoenix

The reply you got from "KiKitC" was some good advice in my view: Mesa Verde National Park, 9 miles east of cortez, Colorado and an easy drive from Moab, has some of the greatest cliff-dwelling ruins in the world.
Also her advice to see Hovenweep National Monument was great. It's a little-known site (AND way less-crowded!) but as good in its way as Mesa Verde. Instead of the dwellings being in the cliffs they are down in the arroyos. It's a beautiful spot. We used to camp there sometimes. I would see BOTH if I were you guys.
I'm very familiar with both these locations, having lived in Cortez 10 years and visited both many times.
Also, the advice you got about seeing Newspaper Rock petroglyphs was good. It is right on the way to the Canyonlands campground, which is a great site. We camped in the furthest campsite once, and it was very cool.
Have a good time! - razorbacker

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Milwaukee

Wow, thanks so much for all of the great advice everyone! This gives me a lot to think about.

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Boston

Goblin Valley is awesome! It's really an off-the-beaten-path stop, but pretty amazing when you see it.

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Lakewood

Hope you have a great time...we sure did. And I look forward to seeing your tips, as I will be heading back there for a rally next year...

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from La Gouesnière


If you take the advice of Sonia(heywinks) above and visit Goblin Valley state park, almost opposite the turnoff for Goblin is the turn off for the trail that takes you to Horseshoe Canyon. A lovely hike down this canyon (actually part of Canyonlands N.P.) takes you to the Great Gallery, the biggest site of Barrier Canyon style of rock art in this area. The main gallery is about 50 metres long with some of the anthropomorphes more than 2m50 high. Unbelievable that these paintings are estimated at over 5000 years old. The whole hike can take you 5/6 hours there and back.

answered by
a VirtualTourist member from Boston

We didn't go to Horseshoe Canyon, but saw the turnoff to go there. Would have loved to go, esp after reading your description! Next time.... :)

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