DARK CANYON INSTANT STUDY AREA COMPLEX
This WSA is a complex of fragments of the Dark Canyon Plateau and seven deep, meandering canyons that drain into Cataract Canyon of the Colorado River, northwest of the WSA. An unusual feature in the Canyonlands country is the 10 miles of perennial stream that flow through the northern portion of the WSA in a series of plunge pools and waterfalls. Limestone ledges, with red chert nodule inclusions and cockleshell and crinoids stem fossils, make deep and narrow lower Dark Canyon, an especially scenic canyon due to their waterfall producing effect. Ancestral Puebloan occupation seems to have been somewhat sparse compared to canyons further south, such as Grand Gulch. Cliff dwellings, granaries, petroglyphs, and lithic scatters do exist within the area. These features enhance the primitive recreation values present and add to the feeling of timelessness in these rugged and remote canyons.
Located in San Juan County, about 30 miles west of Monticello, UT. The Sundance Trail is the primary access route into the lower portion of Dark Canyon. The Sundance Trail can be reached from highway U- 95 by a series of dirt roads. These roads may at times require a vehicle with up to six inches of clearance. Four wheel drive vehicles are recommended. Roads may be muddy or impassable during and after rains. 1. From the turnoff to Natural Bridges National Monument, travel west on U-95 for approximately 35 miles to the sign marking Glen Canyon National Recreation Area boundary. Drive about 1.4 miles further on U-95 and turn right onto the first dirt road after the White Canyon Bridge (just before milepost 53 on U-95). Travel 5 miles on San Juan County (SJC) road 2731 to a Y intersection with SJC 2081. Turn right onto SJC 2081. 2. If coming from Lake Powell on U-95, travel about one mile east from the Hite Marina turnoff. Turn left onto a dirt road directly across from milepost 49. this road is marked SJC 2081. Travel about four miles to a Y-intersection with SJC 2731. Stay on SJC 2081. This is where the two routes meet, so from either direction travel about 3.4 miles where you will come to a Y-intersection. Do not turn, but this road becomes SJC 256. Stay on 256 for 3.5 miles until you see a wooden BLM sign for the Sundance Trailhead. Continue to the parking lot. Walk the two track road from the parking lot to the trailhead and to the edge of the canyon. From here, the trail descends a 50% talus slope and 1,120 vertical feet into Dark Canyon.
Visitors should come prepared for backcountry conditions and adequately prepare for their trip. Knowledge of weather, terrain, and physical conditions can help ensure safety. This area is also home to black bears, please keep camps clean of food scraps, and properly store scented items and food in bear proof containers or hang properly out of reach. This will help protect the bears from becoming habituated to human food. Visit our Know Before You Go page for more information.