Backpacking Cedar Mesa - Suggestions?


Aug 9, 2007
I've been pouring over maps, trying to figure out a good first backpacking trip into the Cedar Mesa area this fall. I'd kind of like to get into Grand Gulch but I'm having a tough time identifying where I should go first. Would anyone like to offer any recommendations? I'd love to do a loop or a point-to-point but it's pretty unlikely that I'll have a second car handy.

Government Trail is a good starting place for loop hikes with 1 car. Try entering Pollys canyon from the trail head, venture down pollys (plenty to see here, ruins and rock art, side canyons are great) to the gulch, set up camp, explore big man and the plethora of ruins and rock art (check out the rincon behind Pollys island). You could stay here a couple of days exploring, and then head back up the government trail to your car, or head down canyon a few miles to Deer Canyon, exit and cross country back to your car at Government trail. Other single car loops that come to mind: Sheiks canyon loop, park at the Sheiks canyon trailhead (past the Bullet canyon trail head), go down Sheiks and camp at Green Mask ruin maybe (a couple of fine camp spots here), head to the gulch and down to the intersection with Bullet. There is one of my favorite ruins about a mile down the gulch from here, and green house canyon, with one of my favorite pools (about a mile up). Head up Bullet to Jail House ruin, great camp spot in the alcove to the upper right (if you are facing the ruin), big beautiful cave here that also serves as the access out. From the back of the cave you can switchback up and out of the canyon, when you reach the ledge below the rim you kind of have to search for the final 20', with a little patience it is easy to get up on to the meas, cross country back to the Sheiks Canyon trail head. Sheiks is my favorite loop in the Gulch, the hike is not easy with a full pack, takes some thought to route find but is the most fun IMO. Step/Pine canyon loop is great too, completely different vibe here. I have done 2 loop hikes from Todie. Park and enter at Todie, down the gulch to Coyote and then up Coyote and cross country back to your car, or continue down the gulch to Bullet, up Bullet and cross country back to your car at Todie, Muy Macho!
Another vote here for the Sheiks loop. Awesome way to go. Can't really go wrong in the gulch. Even doing a down and back down Kane Gulch is worthwhile. The canyon rewards those who move slowly and with a contemplative mindset. Truly a special place and hope that whatever you do you have a great trip!
I've got the lower portion of Grand Gulch on my bucket list. Entering in Collins Canyon and going down all the way to the confluence with the San Juan. It's a down and back trip. Tons and tons of ruins and rock art down there and a lot less traffic than the upper portion. Slickhorn Canyon would be an option for a loop. Start at the top, backpack down and then come out one of the arms to the East and then across the mesa top back to the car. You could also a make a loop out of Fish, Owl, Road, or most any other canyons in that area.
I have never been without water in Grand Gulch. I can't say it has always been enjoyable to drink, but it has always been there to find. I have not been there this summer so i can't relate how the water is now.
I drove to the fish canyon trailhead in my Miata a few years ago. Don't know about now.
If you are interested outside of Grand Gulch might I suggest North and South Mule canyon loop, higher in elevation, great ruins, a very challenging exit of North mule and descent of South. Very scenic.
Fun to think of all the loop hikes. A real fun one is parking and camping at the old Moon House parking area off of Snow flat Road. Head SW directly over to a nice canyon, not sure of it's name, head down canyon and then up Road Canyon, past 7 Kivas then exit the canyon and cross country back to Snow Flat.
Point Lookout is a hidden gem, found at the end of the road that leads to all of the Slickhorn Canyon trail heads, just keep on going and it ends at a cow tank, and the head of Point Lookout. Beautiful ruins, you can hike down to the San Juan (a good hard day) and then up to Slickhorn, Swim in it's opulent pools and head up the canyon that ends at the corral, I forget which # the trailhead is. You end up pretty close to where you parked.
@Nick, did you follow through with this trip? Which trailhead did you end up going in from? I am looking for a CM backpacking trip myself.
@Nick, did you follow through with this trip? Which trailhead did you end up going in from? I am looking for a CM backpacking trip myself.

Nope, still haven't done it, but perhaps others can chime in with more suggestions. It's still high on my list.
Jared and I did Bullet to Gov't this spring. I think I posted a TR on it here.

Go for the entire length..... Kane to the River........ :D