Arch Canyon

A quick trip or full day hike to an unusually verdant canyon containing Anasazi ruins.

★★★

Wow factor

★★★

Overall rating

★★

Difficulty

★★★

Access road

★★

Crowds

I’ve noticed that many serious Cedar Mesa hikers head for Grand Gulch and the cachet of hiking one of the best-known canyons in the southwest. But it’s a fact that some of the trailheads can only be accessed on bumpy, sometimes 4WD, roads, followed by a hike across the mesa just to reach the rim. Far fewer make it to Arch Canyon in the northeastern corner of the mesa, despite the fact that access is relatively easy and suitable for most cars in the dry. Arch Canyon contains a perennial stream that allows plenty of greenery so there are lots of shade and picnic opportunities.

NOTE: The canyon is also a playground for off-roaders. Avoid at weekends when it can be noisy!

 

Drive west from Blanding along UT95, a wonderfully scenic road, passing through the deep cutting in Comb Ridge. The road descends rapidly from here and at the bottom just after mile marker 107 you turn right on Comb Wash Road to a junction by some corrals after about 2 miles. Do not wander off this dirt road as the land on both sides belongs to the Ute Reservation and the numerous warning signs tell you how serious they.are. You continue north (right) for a few hundred yards where you come to another junction. The left fork, which is where you want to head, is for high-clearance (preferably 4WD) vehicles only so you may want to park near here if you’re in a car and walk in to the canyon. Note most cars can get within a few yards of the signed ruins.

 

Soon after you enter the canyon you’ll see some fenced off ruins on the right hand wall. Check out the pictographs concentric circle petroglyphs on the wall behind. None of the other ruins are fenced so please respect them and avoid climbing over or entering the structures. From here you can choose to follow the road and spot other distant ruins (binoculars are handy) or just hike freestyle. There are plenty of ruins here but you’ll need to clamber up onto ledges to access them. Most are in a poor condition. Like most hikes to ruins there’s a lot of scrambling up and down here so you could find yourself spending more than a few hours in the lower canyon. Some hike the length of the canyon to view Angel Arch and Cathedral Arch. That’s 7 miles one way from the trailhead.

 

Although Arch Canyon is (controversially) popular with the ORV crowd I’ve never seen anyone else in the canyon on my visits. The canyon is unusually full of wildlife and, at the right time of year, the whole place is buzzing with butterflies – not something you see too much of in the rest of Cedar Mesa.

At the far end of this very long canyon is Lewis Lodge – a collection of ruins on a vertigo-inducing narrow ledge. These can only be accessed from Elk Ridge.

© 2015-2020 Bob Palmer.