Trip Number: 13044A
Staff: Rick Russman
- Spend a week hiking in classic canyon country
- Explore side canyons accented with wildflowers
- Enjoy refreshing plunge pools, waterfalls, and streams
- Round-trip transportation between the trailheads and Bluff, Utah
- All meals and cooking equipment
- Permits, fees, and experienced guides
Photo: Phil Snyder
Mysterious, remote Dark Canyon -- narrow, deep, and colorful -- invites exploration.
By the time Lake Powell finished filling in 1980, it had flooded many of the
most spectacular canyons in southern Utah. Only a few of the region's most dramatic
canyons -- canyons with 2,000-foot walls -- were left. Of these few, Dark Canyon
may be the wildest. The upper half of Dark Canyon is already designated wilderness
and the lower half has been proposed for inclusion. Dark Canyon and its side
canyons are the epitome of classic canyon-country hiking. Canyons don't get
any better than this.
Dark Canyon is carved out of the 300-million-year-old Honaker Trail Formation,
one of the oldest rock layers exposed in southern Utah. Consisting of mixed
limestone, shale, and sandstones, the Honaker Trail Formation produces spectacular
cliffs and talus slopes. Home for many years to the Ancestral Puebloan, the
canyon has protected many of its archaeological treasures. The area is rich
with many lush trees, wildflowers, and colorful cacti.
There are a few long days, but there is plenty of time to explore side canyons
and to swim in deep plunge pools, some with small waterfalls. Water in the canyon
can vary from year to year, but the wading and swimming opportunities have been
amazing in recent years. The weather will likely be dry and cool at the start
of the trip (70s during the day and 40s at night), becoming warmer as we descend
into the lower reaches of Dark Canyon (low 90s during the day and 60s at night).
Photo: Phil Snyder
Day 1: The hike begins on Elks Ridge, an 8,000-foot-high forest
of aspen and Douglas fir. We slowly descend into Woodenshoe Canyon for about
seven miles. We will stop at an Ancestral Puebloan dwelling for a view.
Day 2: As we continue our descent into the sagebrush, juniper,
and pinion pine life zones, we'll have an opportunity to admire the canyon on
today's seven-mile hike.
Day 3: An early start will take us six miles through Slot
Rock to our next camp at Black Steer Canyon by midday. Part of the afternoon
is reserved for exploring Black Steer Canyon without packs.
Day 4: A few hours into today's four-mile hike to Young's
Canyon, we'll reach a stream that will be our companion for the remainder of
our time in Dark Canyon. We will camp at a sandy bench under cottonwood trees
and enjoy wading in a canyon pool.
Day 5: Our journey continues down Dark Canyon with ever-changing
scenery, including towering canyon walls. Today’s seven- mile hike will
take us past Lost Canyon on our way toward Cataract Canyon. At this point, we've
descended about 4,500 feet from the trailhead so the weather will probably be
hot and any wading opportunities will be welcome.
Day 6: On this layover day, hikers can choose a hike toward
Cataract Canyon and the Colorado River. Or we can spend several hours enjoying
another swimming hole.
Day 7: On our last day we will climb the steep Sundance Trail
about 1,500 feet and hike about seven miles to meet the bus to return to Blanding
Photo: Phil Snyder
We will meet in Blanding, Utah on Saturday, May 25th for a pre-trip dinner
meeting, and the trip will officially start at 8 a.m. on Sunday, May 26th. Commercial
flights are available to Durango, Colorado (2 1/4-hour drive to Bluff), Grand
Junction, Colorado (3-hour drive), Albuquerque, New Mexico (5 3/4-hour drive),
or Salt Lake City (5 1/4-hour drive). The leaders will facilitate sharing rides
and car rentals to get to and from Blanding and destination airports.
Accommodations and Food
Our first trip meal will be lunch on our first day and the last meal will be
lunch on our final day. Trip meals will include some meat but vegetarians can
be accommodated. We try to bring enough food so everyone is full while keeping
our packs relatively light. The food is appetizing but fairly simple to make,
and our experience is that everyone seems to be satisfied with the menu. Trip
participants share in meal preparation and clean up.
Photo: Phil Snyder
The trip is rated moderate (M), but there are strenuous portions. This is
not a beginner's trip, nor is it a trip for those interested in hiking at a
fast pace. There is no official, maintained trail in the canyon. Hiking in Dark
Canyon is not an exercise in mathematical precision. Our hiking will include
narrow forest footpaths, talus slopes, slick-rock ledges, boulder-strewn streambeds,
mud and sand, and a few spots that may require handholds and footholds. You
should be comfortable hiking nine miles a day with a 45-pound pack over rocks
at two miles per hour in order to enjoy this trip.
Equipment and Clothing
We bring the pots, stoves, cups, and food. We will distribute about 12-14
lbs. of group food and gear for each participant to carry at the beginning of
the trip. Group water will be purified with Micropur chlorine tablets, boiling
water, and water filters. We will distribute Micropur tablets to participants
for purification of personal drinking water. Bring enough water containers to
carry six quarts of water and have three of them filled when we meet on day
one. We strongly discourage anyone from bringing a heavy pack. This trip will
be much easier and more pleasant if you keep your weight to the minimum. The
leaders will start the trip with about 40 pounds, including water, 12-14 lbs.
of group food and gear, and all personal gear (sleeping bag, clothes, camera,
A very specific equipment list will be sent to you after you have signed up
for the trip.
- U.S.G.S. 7.5-minute maps: Black Steer Canyon, Bowdie Canyon West, Indian
Head Pass, Warren Canyon and Woodenshoe Buttes.
- Trails Illustrated: "Trails: Manti-LaSal National Forest." A contour
map showing the whole Dark Canyon area. A good general hiking map, but lacks
- Reisner, Marc, Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing
Water. 1993. An excellent book about the history of the politics of water.
- House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American
Southwest. 2007. A recent book about the Ancestral Puebloan culture.
Photo: Phil Snyder
When hiking in the Southwest, you develop a heightened awareness of the role
water plays in your life. We will talk about the changing attitude toward high
dams and water impoundment. What have we gained with these dams, and what has
been lost? And what will happen as the population centers of the West continue
to grow and the demand for water for urban areas increases? Currently, agriculture
gets first priority for water, and population centers come second. If anything
is left over, nature gets a share. We will discuss the implications of this
Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate
under permits from the Bureau of Land Management and Manti-La Sal National Forest.
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
Rick Russman is a recently retired trial attorney and former New Hampshire state senator. His major passion is environmental policy. He is a co-founder of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators and chairs Conservation New Hampshire. In his free time, Rick can be found in the White Mountains enjoying the outdoors. He has backpacked, skied or kayaked in every area of the United States. Rick is a certified Wilderness First Responder.
Shelly Eberly has loved hiking and backpacking since being old enough to walk, and she has finally balanced work and play enough to have time to share that passion with others. She has led backpacking trips in the ecologically rich Appalachians of North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia, in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming, and in the deserts of Utah and Arizona. Regardless of where she is backpacking, Shelly looks forward to sharing the rejuvenating power of the natural world with you. She is a certified Wilderness First Responder.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips