Southern Utah late March - early April


leftneck ramblegeek
Jan 5, 2015
Hi folks; I have a trip coming up soon to take my 81-year-old mom on a big jaunt 'round southern Utah and the 4 corners area. We have done most all the big parks and such several times before (Arches, CanyIslands, Bryce, Zion, both rims GC, parts of GSENM, Hovenweep, etc) but this time we are driving my Jeep & camping a lot, whereas before it was only rentals & lodgings. Therefore, I'm planning to hit several areas that really are better done in your own 4x4, but nothing too extreme as we have to get back home to NC at the end. Tentative routing is something like this : NM/Chaco-->SE Colorado/CotA-->Cedar Mesa-->Maze (just the overlook area)-->HoleintheRock Rd-->?Goblin Valley?-->Beef Basin-->Moab .

Here's where I'd like to ask for some help: trail selection, based on real-world experience not just guidebooks. Online reports vary in the level of detail on many of them, and I'm running out of time to read. If any of you are on Expedition Portal, you may have seen my posts over there about my initial planning for this trip plus about special issues of camping with an elderly person. I love that my mom is still able and willing to approach life with such a spirit of adventure, so I'm trying to honor that by giving her as much adventure as is safely (and financially) possible.

Mom is really fascinated by slot canyons, and I'd like to take her to several, but at 81 she's not going to be able to take up technical canyoneering as a leisurely venture. She can probably out-hike me endurance-wise if we are on even terrain, so a bit of distance isn't an issue - it's more about the severity of terrain. Old knees and hips make for wobble on uneven ground, which can cause falls (very bad!). Which of the many slots are going to be easiest? LWH cleary, but what about the ones down HITR? If I can get to the Happy Canyon road, how difficult is the hike down to the river? Are there others I should consider?

She also really likes unusual rock formations/geology - for example, she'd love to see the Wave but I'm not sure enough of my route-finding skills to do that without someone else around who's been before (even if we could get a permit). That's part of why I was planning to go out to the Maze Overlook, GV, and down to Devils Garden on HITR. However, if there are other interesting places that are more off the beaten path but still reasonably accessible, I'm all ears.

I on the other hand enjoy ruins and rock art, and if it were just me I'd probably spend the whole trip poking around the back edges of Cedar Mesa and CotA... but for this trip I need to confine my hunts to places that are, again, more accessible. Considering I've already done many of the well-known easier spots on Cedar Mesa, I'm at a loss as to what to try. For example: Is the Citadel hike too exposed for someone with bad balance? Does it require any scrambles that might not work for her? I can't really tell from online reports. Does getting to Moon House involve too much straight-down-ledges stuff? How hard is the drop in to the canyon for Seven Kivas?

I know that's a lot in one post so I'm going to stop now. I would be deeply appreciative of whatever bits and pieces you might be willing to share - especially photos of trails, as that will do more to inform me than anything. Thanks, and I look forward to posting up some pics myself when we get back.
Happy Canyon - The route down to the river is steep and loose. I'm not sure it would be something your mom would do?

The Citadel - I don't think it's too exposed, but there is some steeper slickrock that needs to be traversed, which will require balance.

Moonhouse - There is one bigger ledge that can be tricky to get up and down.

Seven Kivas - No big ledges on this route, but some boulder scrambling in places.
Thanks for the reply, IntrepidXJ.

Steep & loose does not sound good. We did a lot of hiking about 2 years ago in the Sedona/Flagstaff area, and while she was fine on sand and most slickrock, I recall that she declined to make the "off-trail" steep & loose climb up to the "hidden" Fay Canyon arch. I think she didn't feel nimble enough to compensate for sudden shifts if the loose stuff slid. Happy Canyon is off the list for this trip *sniff*.

Citadel we may try, as I said she has done pretty well on rock and she is willing to stop if she feels like it's too much. Moon House I may decide once I see if we are able to meet up with some friends out there, if there's more than just the two of us to help on the ledge we might try that, but otherwise probably not.

What exactly do you mean by "boulder scrambling"? Like, lots of small boulders on the ground to worm your way thru, like Bullet Canyon, or Watson Lake near Prescott? Or actual scrambling up boulders?
noting your question marks, in my opinion there's no good reason not to stop by goblin valley.
What exactly do you mean by "boulder scrambling"? Like, lots of small boulders on the ground to worm your way thru, like Bullet Canyon, or Watson Lake near Prescott? Or actual scrambling up boulders?

I'd say similar to Bullet Canyon.
Mule Canyon on Cedar Mesa is fun, pretty easy. 3 or 4 miles to a big pool and ruin. House on Fire ruin is about a mile from the car. That's where I would go I think. And there is good car camping at the bridge over North Mule.
Moonhouse requires down climbing into the canyon, and unless they have improved the access It would be pretty sketchy I think.
From Mule you could swing over to cave towers...they are interesting.
Down on east side Comb ridge.....maybe Cold springs or Monarch ruins? Wolfman panel? If I remember the trails weren't too bad and about a mile.
Moonhouse has steep and loose sections....don't think I'd do that one. Citadel not a bad trail.

Natural Bridges.....
#Ben_Cowan, the question marks were more about schedule than interest :) I think Little Wild Horse and GV are for sure on the list now that I'm eliminating some others. Moon House is sounding less & less do-able.

Part of what's making this tricky is that I didn't want to repeat too many things that *I've* done, which would eliminate Mule Canyon/Cave Towers, Ballroom Cave, River House, NBNM, and several others from the "easier stuff" collection of Cedar Mesa. I've *not* done much in GSENM, nor in the BLM lands or GCNRA areas south and west of Canyonlands. I've also *not* done any easier hikes that require a 4x4 to reach the trailhead. These are actually what I'd prefer to concentrate on finding, since I'll have the Jeep this time which is a rare occurrence...
Hey all, I was on researching for our upcoming spring trip this year and realized I'd never followed up on this post. Wanted to say thanks to everyone who responded. I posted a trip report over on Expedition Portal if anyone is interested:
Not sure what the etiquette is for here - should I link that report into the Trip Reports section here? Or do another report? ( I have more photos! lots more! :-D )
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