Hole in the Rock Trail Information
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The Hole-in-the-Rock Trail was blazed by Mormon pioneers as they traversed the canyon country between Escalante and Bluff during the winter of 1879-1880. The San Juan region at that time was very isolated and extremely difficult to cross. The Mormons launched their expedition in an effort to establish a settlement in the area. They were interested in establishing peaceful relations with Native Americans, and in repelling a lawless element entrenched in the canyon country. The trail is very rugged, and the pioneers suffered much hardship.

A group of scouts in advance of the main company became lost in the snow on Christmas Day 1879.  They climbed a knoll and identified key landmarks that helped them find their way. That knoll is now known as Salvation Knoll. With its aid, the scouts were able to engineer a route for the road builders and the wagon train to follow.

Once clear of the Colorado River canyon system, the pioneers found solace camping at Pagahrit Lake in Lake Canyon before attempting the rest of the trip. They weaved their way through another maze of canyons to Clay Hill Pass, where they made a treacherous muddy descent, only to have their way blocked by Grand Gulch. They built a road through a dense cedar forest around the head of the gulch, and then worked their way down Cedar Mesa to a ridge that led off the east side. There they built a road known as The Twist, across which they descended to the bottom of Comb Wash.

Here their way was again blocked, this time by the massive obstacle of Comb Ridge. There was no way across, and the pioneers detoured south to the canyon of the San Juan River. The canyon cut through the ridge, but it was not completely passable. A route was found up the side that was named San Juan Hill. The pioneers and their teams were by this point exhausted, and the hill was extremely taxing. Once on top, the pioneers had to detour north to a point where they could cross Butler Wash. They then proceeded east to the valley where Bluff is now located, and, although still a day’s ride short of their initial goal, they stopped and planted their fields.

Visitor Activities, Access and Directions

Today it is possible to drive along many sections of the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail, or to follow auto or ATV tour routes that generally follow or parallel the trail. Some areas are suitable for hiking, as at San Juan Hill or Salvation Knoll. The following description traces the travel routes from east to west, which is the reverse of the pioneers’ travel direction. 

State Highway 163 (SR 163) generally follows the route of the trail from Bluff to Comb Wash. A rough road down Comb Wash accesses San Juan Hill, which may also be accessed by San Juan River float trips. Tracing the trail in the other direction up Comb Wash may be done on a good graded road, provided road conditions are dry.

The good Comb Wash Road accesses a rough four wheel drive road that climbs The Twist, or the Comb Wash Road may be followed upstream to SR 95. SR 95 climbs onto Cedar Mesa just as the road up The Twist does, and is a preferable auto tour route. SR 95 also accesses Salvation Knoll, which is a popular visitor destination along the trail.

From Salvation Knoll SR 95 may be followed to SR 261 at the head of Grand Gulch. SR 261 follows the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail roughly to the Kane Gulch Ranger Station and the west end of the road that climbs The Twist. The Kane Gulch Ranger Station is located at the point where the trail crossed Kane Gulch, and is a good place to stop for a break.

Returning to SR 95 and continuing west, the highway crosses Grand Gulch and follows the trail to the southwest. A very rough road recommended only for ATVs or high clearance four wheel drive vehicles follows the actual trail to Dripping Springs and connects to SR 276. For the auto tour route follow SR 95 to SR 276.

SR 276 follows the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail southwest to Clay Hill Pass, where there is a monument to the pioneers, and from there west to near Lake Canyon. Travel south from here along the trail is difficult. The casual visitor is directed either to follow the highway west to Lake Powell where boat trips may be arranged to visit other parts of the trail or to drive to Escalante to explore the trail’s western end.

The trail in the Lake Canyon area may be accessed on very rough roads recommended only for ATVs or high clearance four wheel drive vehicles. The portion of the trail from Lake Canyon to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and the Colorado River canyon system is extremely rugged with much exposed rock. This area is recommended for ATVs or specially equipped vehicles only, or for hikers. Take plenty of water, and don’t go alone. Those accessing this area should be well prepared and those using vehicles should be specially trained for extreme conditions. San Juan County has developed a brochure on a change in an access route.

Detailed maps showing road and other 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.

Camping is available at the Sand Island Campground or at the Comb Wash Campground. More information on camping is available on the Monticello Field Office Camping Webpage. Lodging is available in the towns of Blanding, Monticello, and Bluff.

Dispersed vehicle camping is not allowed east of Comb Wash or in the vicinity of Butler Wash, or along Comb Wash below SR 163. Vehicle camping is allowed on Cedar Mesa between Comb Wash and SR 276 in designated campsites only. Dispersed vehicle camping is allowed on BLM lands west of SR 276, and north of the portion of SR 95 west of Salvation Knoll, and along the San Juan River upstream of Comb Wash in previously disturbed areas within 150 feet of designated routes, but please camp well off the actual historic trail route. Campfires in the area east of SR 276 to San Juan Hill and along the river require a fire pan, except for the area north of the portion of SR 95 west of Salvation Knoll. Campers along the San Juan River must have carry out toilets.


Accessible facilities are available at Sand Island and at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station, but road surfaces are gravel. Accessible facilities are very limited.

Permits, Fees and Regulations

No permits or fees are required to hike the trail or to drive sections open to vehicles, or to drive auto and ATV tour routes that roughly follow the trail.

Points of Interest

Three locations on the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail within the BLM Monticello Field Office are popular destinations for visitors. These are San Juan Hill on the San Juan River, Salvation Knoll along the SR 95 Scenic Highway Corridor on Cedar Mesa, and Clay Hill Pass along the SR 276 Scenic Highway Corridor. 

Preparedness and Safety

The Hole-in-the-Rock Trail is in a desert environment. Some sections of the trail are at lower altitudes than other sections and desert heat may be more extreme. Temperatures here may exceed 100 degrees in the summertime. Bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat.

Sections of the trail at higher altitudes may accumulate deep snow. Other sections may become very muddy. The winter season is not recommended as a time to visit, due to severe conditions and to the potential for damage to the trail or natural resources. Spring and fall are the best times to visit.

Any use of the trail off the auto tour route will bring the visitor into contact with extreme conditions requiring special equipment or simply hiking. Depending on local conditions, the area you go into might require four wheel drive vehicles, ATVs, or specially equipped vehicles. Do not enter these areas unless you are properly equipped, well informed, and someone else knows of your plans.

Additional Information

  • Food and supplies can be purchased in the towns of Blanding, Monticello, and Bluff.
  • There are no first aid stations in the vicinity of the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail on BLM administered lands. 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.
  • More information on the Hole-in-the-Rock trek is on the Utah History to Go website maintained by the State of Utah and on the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area website and on a website maintained by the Hole in the Rock Foundation

Last updated: 08-03-2011