Southern UT in April: Cedar Mesa, Capitol Reef, GSENM


Oct 27, 2013
I need help planning hikes for a massive roadtrip! I'm tentatively planning on spending about a week each in the Cedar Mesa, Capitol Reef, and GSENM areas, starting in early April (so, leaving in a week or two from now), though my times and destinations are very fluid at the moment. I'm looking for recommendations of your favorite hikes, though not necessarily limited to just these three areas if it's in the nearby region.

My criteria:
-combination of dayhiking and backpacking, though overall more heavily weighted towards dayhikes
-I'll be doing them solo, though company is welcome if you want to invite yourself along! I'll even share my Oreos. :D
-only non-technical routes; I'm comfortable with scrambling up semi-steep slopes and chimneying & stemming in slot canyons, but rope work is beyond my abilities
-I'll have a high(ish)-clearance vehicle (Toyota Rav-4), but regular street tires and no 4WD
-I love multi-colored sandstone and crazy geology

Here's what I'm thinking so far:
-Cedar Mesa: I want to see the "famous" ruins (House on Fire, Fallen Roof Ruin, Moon House), but there are tons of other possibilities too (The Citadel, Yellow House Ruin, Monarch Cave, etc) and I'm having trouble narrowing down the options.

-Capitol Reef: I've read glowing reports here on Upper & Lower Muley Twist and Halls Creek, so those are at the top of my list. I'd like to enjoy the great views of the Waterpocket Fold; what hikes are best for that?

-GSENM: I've already done several of the well-known dayhikes (Bighorn, Zebra/Tunnel, Red Breaks, the Cosmic Navel/Volcano, Peek-A-Boo/Brimstone, Golden Cathedral, Phipps Arch, Lower Calf Creek Falls). Broken Bow Arch/Willow Gulch are on my must-see list this time around, maybe Fiftymile and Davis Canyons too. More exploration from the Spencer Flats Road (Spencer Canyon?), maybe revisit Bighorn Canyon. If I'm not tired of driving, head over to Willis Creek/Bull Valley Gorge Area

Here's my tentative idea for my destinations, done either counterclockwise (start with Cedar Mesa then head west) or clockwise (start with GSENM, loop back to the east). Anything else you'd recommend I either add in or remove?
Many thanks in advance!
In Grand Gulch:
If you are at house on fire, you should continue up Mule 3 or 4 miles, spectacular ruin a short distance up a side canyon on your right, fantastic pools for swimming. Good car camping immediately past the bridge over north Mule.
Yellow house ruin is in upper Sheiks Canyon, not worth the trip, but that's just my opinion. If you do Sheiks to Yellow House you can continue down to Green Mask Ruin. Sheiks is a beautiful canyon that is very fun on a day hike, not so much with a full pack.
The citadel is a must see, and you can check out 7 Kivas down below after, and maybe drive over to Moon House too. There is good car camping in the area.
I would venture out the Government Trail to see Big Man Panel, and some very cool ruins are in the vicinity.
You can also access Polly's Canyon from Government trail head and go down Polly's, see Big Man and go back via the Government trail. One of my favorite loop hikes, a very long day.
You can day hike to Junction Ruin in Grand Gulch, 8 miles round trip. Definitely worth it.
In lower Grand Gulch, via Collins Springs is a good day hike to Banister Ruin (9 miles round trip), it has a very nice kiva. Some good rock art in the area, especially around the Collins/Gulch junction.
This just scratches the surface though.
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I did lower muley twist last year..hope to do so in a couple weeks..coming down burr tr rd from 12 i hadnt seen the fold...view of the fold after climbing up from wash to the ridge was really something else. Actually about 360 degrees of amazing sights..bridges..colors..massive juts and contortions
Thanks @gnwatts. I've found so much information on Cedar Mesa that I'm having trouble prioritizing what to see first! I'll have to add the Polly's loop hike to the top of my list.

@PeeGee I was debating whether I want to do Lower Muley Twist or Halls Creek, but I'm leaning towards LMT for that spectacular view.
Cant go wrong in whole region..really all good. You could spend a long time exhausting that part of Utah.
Chaco Canyon, in the vicinity of the Bisti Badlands is definitely worth some of your time. I'm not sure about access from the west though.

I've been to Chaco Canyon once before, about 8 years ago. I debated visiting it again, but then I miss out on seeing something new! I may still end up adding it back to my itinerary.

What do you know think about Hovenweep or Canyons of the Ancients National Monuments? Would my time be better spent skipping these in order to spend more time in Cedar Mesa?
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