Hidden Canyon & the Moab Rim
Hundreds of petroglyphs, stunning sandstone fins and solitude make this one of the great hikes in the Moab area.
If you’ve driven through Moab you’ll have noticed the imposing Moab Rim on the west side of the highway and perhaps wondered what was up on top. This trail takes you there in the shortest possible time. Despite the trailhead being only a few miles south of downtown, it’s surprisingly free of people. In fact, if you do meet someone on the trail, the chances are they’re locals.
What I’m about to describe is actually two hikes. The first section will take you to a pass at the top of Hidden Valley to view the petroglyphs. The second section takes you down to the Moab Rim OHV trail all the way to the Colorado River on the west side of Moab. The Hidden Valley section is 2-3 miles one way, depending on how much you explore, and the Moab Rim section is 3.5 miles from the Hidden Valley Pass to the river. If you’re hiking the entire route, and that’s recommended, you’ll need a second car. However, if you just have around 3 hours to spare just hike the Hidden Valley trail and return the same way. I’ve hiked to the first rock art panel in under an hour but you’ll need some time to look around. Ideally this is a hike for early morning when much of the trail up the Moab Rim is in the shade.
To access the trailhead, take US191 3 miles south of town and turn onto Angel Rock Road (watch out for the street sign beside the highway). Drive a couple of blocks and turn right onto Rimrock Road and continue to the large parking area at the end. If you’re doing the full one way hike, leave one car on Kane Creek Boulevard (accessed from the center of town) at the Moab Rim parking area, 2.6 miles east of US 191.
At first glance the rock face doesn’t look too promising – a jumble of boulders with little sign of a trail – but head up the obvious path to the base of the cliff and onto the constructed, but very rough, trail. You’ll climb 600 feet in just over ½ mile on tight switchbacks but you’ll want to stop periodically to enjoy the views over Spanish Valley and the La Sal mountains on the way. (If you think this part of the hike is tough, bear in mind I once saw a group of local fire fighters jogging up here with bricks in their backpacks, and then run down!) After a short, intimate section through rocks, pinions and junipers Hidden Valley opens up before you, bordered on the left hand side by a huge sandstone cliffs. The trail here is flat and gradually ascends through grasslands with many wildflowers towards a low divide.
Up here, I’ve startled deer, coyote and quails – or maybe it was the other way around. The trail continues through the second part of Hidden Valley towards a higher pass at the top of which are more high Wingate sandstone cliffs. At the top of the pass, to the left, are the fins of Behind-The-Rocks, inviting exploration on another day, and, in front of you, Island-in-the-Sky and Poison Spider Mesa, and you’ll see the jeep trail far below which is the second part of the hike.
Now look for a side trail leading up to the base of the cliffs to your right. The rock art is low on the wall and there are many glyphs as you walk down for a few hundred yards: deer, anthromorphs, bighorn sheep, elk, kokopellis, hunting scenes and many graphic symbols. If you have time, continue walking down beside the cliff face until you round a corner and into a small canyon. Then ascend to the opposite wall where you’ll find yet more rock art near a notch in the wall.
When you've finished exploring, locate the jeep trail below you and continue in a northwesterly direction. This is a very hot section of the hike as you are totally exposed to the sun. After a mile or so the jeep trail bears to the right and at one point hugs the Moab Rim with more scenic views over the town and Arches National Park. It then turns back on itself as you begin to approach the river. The views on this section are stunning as the Colorado comes into view. The gradient is steep as you walk on part sand, part slickrock benches, and it’s difficult to believe that you can drive any vehicle up here.
I’ve lost count of the number of photos and video footage I have for this hike, and still I return – sometimes I even hike up to the rock art before breakfast. A great way to start the day.