U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
 
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Visitor Activities

You may encounter archeological ruins. Please treat them with respect so that future generations can enjoy them.

Dark Canyon is a rugged backcountry area with trails that are excellent for backpacking. The canyon bottoms offer opportunities for primitive camping.

Trailheads are available at various points around the canyon. The Sundance Trail is the primary access route into the lower portion of Dark Canyon.

Fable Valley is part of the BLM’s Dark Canyon Primitive Area. The valley is approximately eight miles long and can be reached by one of two trailheads. The southern trailhead from Dark Canyon Plateau is more easily accessible; the northern trailhead from Beef Basin is very hard to reach. Fable Valley does not get extensive back country use. It has been historically used by cattle; currently livestock do not graze here on a regular basis.

Primitive camping is allowed in the canyon or on the rims. Lodging is available in the towns of Blanding or Monticello.

Accessibility

Visiting Dark Canyon is a wilderness experience. There are no accessible facilities. The Woodenshoe Road does access spectacular views into the canyon from the rim. Graded roads on the Dark Canyon Plateau could provide views from the rims after a short walk, but be aware that there are no trails from the road to the rim.

Access and Directions

The Dark Canyon SRMA/Primitive Area may be accessed from the southwest, or the middle, north, and south parts of the area may be accessed from main county roads to the east. Detailed maps showing road and trail access are available at the office of the U.S. Forest Service and the BLM in Monticello, at the Monticello Multi-Agency Visitor Center, and at Canyonlands Natural History Association.

From the southwest, the Sundance Trailhead is accessed from a road that leaves State Highway 95 east of Hite. This is a graded road which may require up to six inches of clearance depending on road conditions. High clearance is recommended but which may be accessible by regular passenger cars in dry weather.

The Woodenshoe Road accesses the southeastern part of the area. It offers trailhead access into Dark Canyon on Forest Service land. Farther to the west on BLM land are spectacular views into the canyon. This is a graded road which may require up to six inches of clearance depending on road conditions.  High clearance is recommended but the road may be accessible by regular passenger cars in dry weather.This road is accessed from a road that leaves State Highway 95 just east of Natural Bridges National Monument.

The North Long Point Road accesses the Dark Canyon Plateau in the middle part of the area, and offers trailheads into Fable Valley on BLM land and into Dark Canyon on Forest Service land. This is a graded road which may require up to six inches of clearance depending on road conditions. High clearance is recommended but the road may be accessible by regular passenger cars in dry weather. This road is accessed from the South Cottonwood Road which leaves State Highway 95 west of Blanding or from the North Cottonwood Road which leaves the Needles Road west of Newspaper Rock.

The Beef Basin Road offers access to the northern part of the area, including a trailhead into Fable Valley. The Beef Basin Road should be attempted by high clearance vehicles only, and four wheel drive is recommended. This road is accessed from the North Cottonwood Road which leaves the Needles Road west of Newspaper Rock. 

Permits, Fees and Regulations

No permits or fees are required to hike, backpack, or camp in Dark Canyon. Group size is limited to 18 people in the canyons of the SRMA. Group size on the mesa tops outside the SRMA is not limited. Campfires are allowed on the mesa tops but not in the canyons. Cook stoves are allowed in the canyons.

Preparedness and Safety

Dark Canyon is a very rugged area, and many of the trails are very strenuous. Visitors should be well prepared for extreme conditions.

The lower elevation trailheads in Dark Canyon are extremely hot in summer; spring and fall are the preferred times to travel. Upper trailheads, often inaccessible in spring due to snow or mud, are pleasant to hike in the summer, but the lower one hikes into the canyon, the more oppressive temperatures become. Seasonal rains come from mid-July to September, which may cause flash flooding and lightning. Road conditions vary greatly with the weather. Generally, roads are slippery when wet. High clearance vehicles are recommended and slick road conditions may require four wheel drive, but most trails are accessible by regular passenger cars under dry road conditions. Elk Ridge reaches 8,800 feet and the road is generally open only from May through October. Certain portions of the road are in shade and snow melt comes late. Check first with the Forest Service and BLM before using these roads.

Wildlife

Dark Canyon has many interesting wildlife species. At upper elevation black bear, deer, elk and mountain lions may occasionally be seen. In the lower elevations there are desert bighorn sheep, ringtail cats and bobcats. Coyotes are found at all elevations, as there are many species of birds. Livestock use of the BLM administered Dark Canyon Primitive Area is very limited because of the extremely rugged terrain. Grazing occurs primarily in Fable Valley and on mesas above the canyons. A cattle trail through Fable Valley is used each year to move livestock between Beef Basin and Dark Canyon Plateau.

Grazing

Grazing use is restricted to winter and spring. Lower Dark Canyon is not grazed by livestock.

Geology

Dark Canyon Plateau is part of a regional uplift that began millions of years ago. These rocks were once below sea level. The canyons have been eroded by the streams which flow through them; and most erosion occurs during times of high water. Dark Canyon itself has formed partly along small fault lines which have weakened the rock.

The mesa tops and the upper part of the canyons are sandstones and shales of the Permian Cutler Group. The canyons have eroded into the Rico Formation, and the deeper canyon bottoms are cut into Pennsylvanian age rocks of the Hermosa Group. Quaternary age stream terraces are formed along the wider canyon bottoms, and windblown Quaternary eolian deposits are present in some areas on the mesas.

Additional Information

  • Food and supplies can be purchased in the towns of Blanding or Monticello.
  • There are no first aid stations in Dark Canyon. Hospitals and clinics are found in the towns of Blanding and Monticello. Emergency services may be obtained by dialing 911, however, cell phone service may be very limited.
  • Preserve the area for future generations through Minimum Impact Practices.

 
Last updated: 06-28-2011