BLM Utah gets hands-on with Dry Fork Trailhead facelift

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Utah has completed construction of two new trailheads improving access to the Dry Fork slot canyons. The new trailheads for both Upper and Lower Dry Fork provide visitors with different recreation experiences and “are designed to disperse visitor use at the popular destination in Kane County,” said Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Outdoor Recreation Planner, Jabe Beal.The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has completed construction of two new trailheads improving access to the Dry Fork slot canyons. The new trailheads for both Upper and Lower Dry Fork provide visitors with different recreation experiences and “are designed to disperse visitor use at the popular destination in Kane County,” said Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Outdoor Recreation Planner, Jabe Beal.

Panoramic picture of Dry Fork Trailhead
Dry Fork Trailhead.  Photo by Jabe Beal.

The Dry Fork Slot Canyons have become one of the most visited locations in the region, second only to Calf Creek Recreation Area.   For this reason, the BLM completed environmental analysis in April 2018 to address the issues of the current trailhead location, visitor impacts, increased visitation, and impacts to the Scorpion Wilderness Study Area (WSA).

The project is designed to improve access, disperse recreational use within the WSA, reduce congestion and user impacts, and provide for improved public safety and protection of sensitive resources, in accordance with the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA). The law requires the BLM to manage all WSAs “so as not to impair the suitability of such areas for preservation as wilderness,” through future legislation.

“These slot canyons are very popular with the general public and receive intense use. Last year, we received more than 35,000 visitors in the Dry Fork Slot Canyons area,” said Beal. “Prior to the improvements, the trailhead was user-created, located in a WSA, and provided no facilities. The new trailheads moved the parking area outside of the WSA, as well as provide toilets and interpretive kiosks to address public health and safety.”

Completed in 2019, the Lower Dry Fork Trailhead remains the primary access to Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Slot canyons and replaces the old trailhead. The old parking area was located in the Scorpion WSA, which limited the BLM’s ability to improve or develop the site, due to the “non-impairment standard” within WSAs. Section 603(c) of FLPMA and BLM Manual 6330 directs the agency to protect wilderness characteristics within WSAs until such time as Congress either adds the area to the National Wilderness Preservation System or releases it for future multiple use; this management responsibility is referred to as the non-impairment standard.

Installing toilet near the trailhead
Toilet installation at Dry Fork Trailhead on the Paria River District.  Photo by Jabe Beal.

Upon relocation from its original location, the Lower Dry Fork now consists of 5.3 miles of trail developed to tie the new trailhead into the existing trail. This new section of trail was necessary to protect Monument resources, avoid the potential of social trails, and prevent impairment to the Scorpion WSA. The Lower trailhead now provides ample parking, toilets, informational kiosks to educate visitors on the area attractions, and an overflow parking area for use when the main parking area is full.

Completed in the spring of 2020, the Upper Dry Fork Trailhead is one mile south of Cat Pasture adjacent to the Hole-In-The-Rock Road. The Upper Dry Fork Trail focuses visitor-use in the Dry Fork Narrows and provides toilets, informational kiosks and a loop hike back from the parking area.

As a reminder, visitors planning to recreate at Dry Fork are asked to practice responsible outdoor ethics, more commonly referred to as, ‘Leave No Trace’ principles. Proper planning, consideration, and practice will help minimize human impacts when visiting your public lands and ensure future generations can continue to enjoy them. These outdoor ethics principles include: plan ahead and prepare, travel on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife, and be considerate of other visitors. For more information on outdoor ethics, please visit https://www.blm.gov/outdoorethics.

Additionally, the BLM is asking all visitors to hike Peek-A-Boo & Spooky slots canyons in a one-way direction, up Peek-A-Boo and down Spooky to help with the flow of hiker traffic and reduce unnecessary congestion. As a reminder, Dry Fork is hot and dry during summer months. The BLM recommends carrying four liters of water per person, hiking early or late in the day and resting in the shade. Always check the weather and never hike the slots if rain is forecasted or threatens; deadly flash floods can arrive unexpectedly within minutes. Dogs are strongly discouraged due to tight spaces, crowding, and heat.

Dry Fork parking lot and trailhead
Dry Fork Trailhead and Parking Lot.  Photo by Dave Barfuss.

Visitors are encouraged to contact the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center at 435-826-5499 for trailhead information, weather, and road conditions.

The BLM looks forward to the public enjoying the new facilities and asks that everyone practice and promote positive stewardship to protect public lands.