Ding and Dang Canyons
San Rafael Swell Trail Guide created by Dave
  • Overview

    These two typically dry sister canyons cut through the teeth of the San Rafael Reef, giving hikers access to some short narrows and non-technical challenges including chockstone obstacles and a large dryfall. Ding and Dang Canyons are most often hiked as a loop, connecting on the back side by way of a short trail that crosses below the oddly-named Ding Dang Dome.

    Ding and Dang Canyons sit just a couple of miles west of the extremely popular Little Wild Horse Canyon and while they do not receive the traffic that LWHC does, seclusion can be difficult to find here on busy weekends or holidays.


    Ding and Dang Canyons are accessed by way of Utah State Route 24, following much of the same path to Goblin Valley State Park.

    Drivers will leave SR 24 at Temple Mountain Road, following it north-west. The Goblin Valley Road splits off to the left (west) at a signed intersection 5.2 miles later. Follow the Goblin Valley Road for another 6 miles to the base of Wild Horse Butte. The state park sits just to the south, but depart the pavement before reaching the park boundary and head west on the well maintained gravel road skirting the north end of the butte. About 5.3 miles later the road will reach an obvious parking area at the mouth of Little Wild Horse Canyon (38.582610,-110.802886). There will likely be vehicles parked here. However, Ding and Canyon Canyons sit yet farther west.

    From the Little Wild Horse Canyon parking area, drop into the wash (38.582392,-110.805148). The wash bottom is sand and gravel, narrow in places but generally passable by most vehicles in good weather. Follow the wash 1.3 miles to a prominent turn to the south (38.576660,-110.822367). This is the starting point for the Ding and Dang routes. Pull out of the wash, taking care to park far enough up the bank that your vehicle will not be swamped or swept away in case of flash flooding.

    The Hike

    The hike begins and ends at the confluence of two dry washes: the first leading out of Little Wild Horse Canyon (the one driven along to reach the parking area) and the second running out from Ding and Dang Canyons. In order to reach Ding and Dang, begin hiking up the smaller wash to the north. Social trails will climb in and out of the wash to avoid sand but hikers should generally stick to the wash.

    The Ding/Dang fork

    At 38.579897,-110.827388 another small wash will join from the north. This is a red herring. Ignore this path and stick to the larger path as it begins to bend to the west along the foot of the San Rafael Reef. It will wind around to the north again and reach a fork at 38.579701,-110.835584. The right (east) fork leads to Ding Canyon, while the left (west) fork leads to Dang Canyon. The loop can be completed in either direction, but ascending Ding and descending Dang is the most common and most simple approach.

    A short, minor scramble near 38.582015,-110.835415 leads hikers to the mouth of Ding. Here the walls will rise and the canyon will narrow significantly. The Ding Canyon narrows have a distinctive V shape which can be quite pretty when the sky above provides bright blue contrast to the pale stone. Obstacles in Ding are generally minor, only occasionally needing both hands and feet to cross. The canyon floor is mostly flat but some pockets of water could exist depending on recent weather conditions.

    Potholes in the Ding water park

    Beyond the narrows Ding opens to a large water park of sorts. Terrain will steepen and hikers will have to ascend some low-degree slickrock pitches. Toward the top of the canyon water has carved a series of large potholes which may or may not contain stagnant water. Continue to follow the path of least resistance uphill as the canyon veers gradually to the west.

    At 38.596816,-110.844082 hikers pass through the back of the San Rafael Reef and are presented with an expansive view of the open desert. A tall pyramid-shaped rock formation sits directly to the left (west). This is Ding Dang Dome, a contender for most oddly named formation in Utah.

    Ding Dang Dome

    An infrequently used 4x4 trail sits directly ahead down a small hill. Avoid the temptation to join this road and instead turn toward Ding Dang Dome on a well-beaten trail. It will climb toward and then cross a minor saddle just south of DDD, hugging the back end of the reef. The cross-over behind DDD marks the high point of the route at about 5,50 feet ASL.

    At 38.596077,-110.852649 the trail will join yet another wash leading downhill into Dang Canyon. The canyon is generally open for the first .6 mile, with only a few small obstacles to be navigated. All can be easily bypassed along the slickrock benches . However when the walls start to climb, you are close to the first major obstacle of the hike. It is a large dryfall. Many guides suggest bypassing this using the ledges to the right (west) but that route many not be evident from the top of the obstacle. The ledges are also narrow and present some exposure. Thankfully, there is often a rope or webbing attached to a bolt mid-way down the dryfall. Hikers can carefully shimmy their way down the slope to the rope and use it as a hand line for negotiating an undercut lip on the dryfall (though take caution to test the bolt and knots before trusting life and limb to this assist). From the top this lip might appear intimidating but there is adequate footing about a leg's-length below it.

    The Dang Canyon dryfall and handline

    Below the dryfall a series of chockstones create interesting obstacles. Knee to waist-deep pools might be gathered in the undercuts beneath the stones or along the narrow space between them.

    Negotiating the chockstones is much easier with a party of two or more. A short length of rope or webbing can also come in handy for lowering packs or providing a hand line during the down climbs. If water levels are low, it is often possible to stem over the pools. At about 38.584916,-110.843045 the Dang Canyon narrows will abruptly end. From this point, follow the wash downstream until it reaches the fork and rejoins the wash from Ding. The return to the trailhead follows the same path as the approach.

    Permits & Regulations

    Access is free but Ding and Dang Canyons sit within a wilderness study area. Practice proper backcountry etiquette and leave no trace. At-large camping is available nearby on BLM land. Established campgrounds are also available at nearby Goblin Valley State Park though availability may be limited.

    Nearly all of the route described involves following normally dry washes. These waterways can and do flow with water. The entirety of the drainage is not apparent from any one point on the trail thus it is important to use good judgement when examining weather conditions. If in doubt, do not enter the washes or canyons.

    Relevant Books & Maps

    USGS Little Wild Horse Mesa 7.5 minute quadrangle map
Tammy B, steve, Michael and 5 others like this.
  1. steve
    Great guide. Here's a little video of when we went in 2012. Hopefully it helps people see what to expect.

  2. PureLightImages
    Just a caution for those that may rely on it that the rope mentioned in Dang may not be there at all. It was when I went about 7 years ago but wasn't when I went in March 2013. If you aren't comfortable with exposure (ledges on canyon right), you may want to bring a rope along for this section.
    sixstringsteve, Nick and ashergrey like this.
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