Dark Canyon begins high on the edge of Elk Ridge (8,800 feet in elevation) and ends at 3,700 feet elevation in the desert environment of upper Lake Powell. The Dark Canyon drainage is primarily administered by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The Forest Service manages the upper end of the canyon as the 45,000 acre Dark Canyon Wilderness Area and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administers the lower end of the canyon as the 62,000 acre Dark Canyon Primitive Area /Wilderness Study Area (WSA) and as a Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA). The extreme lower end of Dark Canyon is within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, administered by the National Park Service.
The Dark Canyon SRMA/Primitive Area includes the side canyons of Dark Canyon and smaller canyons in the area. Fable Valley is a shallower canyon about eight miles long north of Dark Canyon that is part of this area. The Primitive Area/WSA also includes areas of the Dark Canyon Plateau between the canyons, which offers a canyon rim oriented visitor experience. North of Fable Valley is a smaller rugged area managed as the Dark Canyon Natural Area, which is a non-WSA area with Wilderness Characteristics.
Dark Canyon is a very rugged area, and many of the trails are very strenuous. Visitors should be well prepared for extreme conditions.