Grand Gulch Information
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Please treat archeological ruins with respect so that future generations can enjoy them.

This area was occupied by Ancestral Puebloan Native Americans between 800 and 2,000 years ago. They grew primarily corn, beans, and squash, and made use of some wild foods as well. They made and used stone tools, pottery, and baskets. They pecked or painted rock art images on some cliff faces. They lived in permanent homes made of stone, wood, and mud. These may have been built on the surface of the ground, dug into the ground, or built in protected areas such as under overhangs and high in the cliffs. Many of the smaller structures in the cliffs are actually granaries where food was stored. More information about the Ancestral Puebloans and other cultural periods is available on Archeology webpage.

These structures are fragile and should never be entered. Please enjoy them from the outside. Let others enjoy the thrill of discovery, as well. Tell them about the area, but let them visit their own special places. Never post the location of a ruin on the internet. This can lead to too many people visiting a specific site, which can cause serious damage.

When you visit archeological sites, please take care not to harm them. Leave all artifacts in place; don’t make piles for pictures or take them home. Artifacts tell an important part of the story that makes these places special. If you visit a ruin with standing walls, please don’t climb on the walls and don’t enter rooms. Standing walls are fragile and can easily be damaged. Stay on the trails. Leave your backpack and your pets outside the site. Never touch or put chalk on rock art figures, and don’t write on the rocks. Take only pictures, and leave only footprints.

Please Stay Out of the Trash. The midden is sometimes thought of as a prehistoric trash mound. It is usually soft, charcoal-stained soil located immediately down slope of an alcove or cliff site. Middens contain valuable evidence of day to day activities revealing changing preferences in pottery, food, tools and even treatment of the dead. Please avoid creating or using trails through midden area, as trailing increases the natural erosion processes which eventually destroy these reservoirs of scientific information.

Would you want someone violating your ancestor's bones? If you come upon human bones, please leave them alone and notify a ranger as soon as it is possible. Keep in mind that burial sites are the remains of ancestors of present day Native Americans and should be treated with respect. Native people view burials as part of a cycle. Birth, life, and then death are all a stage of the cycle, as is the process of burial or the abandonment of a village. When a burial takes place it is not seen as a leaving, but is a state of being that should not be disturbed by anything but the forces of nature.

Bring those memories home with you, take a picture! One way to enjoy archaeological sites and rock art in a low impact manner is through photography. However, please be cautious when publishing captions. Avoid naming a site or offering its location. We know you want a good picture, but please never chalk rock art or light fires nearby to enhance the quality of a photograph.

Read more about Minimum Impact and Archeological Site Etiquette.

Visitor Activities

Visiting archeological sites and hiking or backpacking in Grand Gulch and tributary canyons are the dominant recreational uses of the area. There are limited interpretive displays at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station. Day hiking is popular as well. Several trailheads access Grand Gulch and its tributaries.

Points of Interest

Many people who visit Grand Gulch do so to see Ancestral Puebloan ruins and rock art, including these sites:

  • Junction Ruin
  • Turkey Pen Ruin
  • Split Level Ruin
  • Big Man Rock Art Panel
  • Bannister Ruin
  • Perfect Kiva Ruin


Accessible facilities are available at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station. Otherwise, accessible facilities are very limited.

Access and Directions

Access to the area is from State Highway 95 (SR 95) between Blanding and Hite, or on SR 261 between SR 95 and Mexican Hat. The Kane Gulch Ranger Station is on SR 261 about four miles south of the junction with SR 95. The trailhead is located adjacent to the Kane Gulch Ranger Station which has a paved parking lot and restroom. Dirt roads lead to many trailheads at the heads of canyons and at the mouths of some canyons draining off the east side of the mesa into Comb Wash. Many of these roads can be recommended only for high clearance vehicles. Detailed maps showing road access are available at the offices of the BLM or the U.S. Forest Service in Monticello, at the Blanding Visitor Center, the Monticello Multi-Agency Visitor Center or the Moab Information Center, and at the Canyonlands Natural History Association.

Permits, Fees and Regulations

Permits are required for hiking and backpacking in the canyons of Cedar Mesa, including Grand Gulch. Day use permits may be obtained at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station or at trailheads. During the spring and fall, overnight backpacking permits are only available at the ranger station, and must be obtained on the morning of the trip. They may be reserved up to 90 days in advance by calling 435-587-1510. During other seasons, these permits may be obtained from the Monticello Field Office.

Preparedness and Safety

Grand Gulch is in a desert environment. Temperatures here may exceed 100 degrees in the summertime. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat. Spring and fall are the best times to visit.


Grand Gulch has many interesting wildlife species, including deer, bobcats, and coyotes.


Most canyon areas have been closed to grazing. Livestock use the mesa tops.


Grand Gulch is the location where some of the earliest research into the Ancestral Puebloan civilization took place. Between 1890 and 1897 at least nine expeditions into the canyon took place, generally financed by museums in the East. Two of great importance were led by Richard Wetherill, a local rancher who made significant discoveries and helped to develop the fledgling science of archeology. His name has become intrinsically linked with Grand Gulch and the amazing ruins found here.


The San Juan River canyons are cut into the Colorado Plateau, which is 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. The strata that form Cedar Mesa gently slope to the south, and are deeply cut by Grand Gulch and its tributary canyons.

The upper canyon walls are sandstones and shales of the Permian Cutler Group. The deeper canyons have eroded into the Rico Formation and into Pennsylvanian age rocks of the Hermosa Group. Quaternary age stream terraces are formed along the wider canyon bottoms.

Additional Information

Last updated: 09-07-2011