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  • Utahand39;s Incredible Backcountry Trails  by David Day

    Utah's Incredible Backcountry Trails

    by David Day (Rincon Publishing)
    Utahand39;s Incredible Backcountry Trails  by David Day
    The diversity of Utah's backcountry is legendary. Situated as it is in the heart of the American West, it combines the rugged splendor of the Rocky Mountains with the colorful sandstone canyons of the Colorado Plateau and the remote deserts of the Great Basin. Add to this the prehistory of the Anasazi and Fremont Indians that lived here a thousand years ago and the historic trails and homesteads of the early Mormon pioneers and you being to understand why the state is so special. Utah's most popular hiking trails are generally located in her five national parks, and they are discussed here in detail. But there are also many fantastic trails in the state's fifteen wilderness areas and other less protected places. Utah's Incredible Backcountry Trails will take you there - up the highest peaks, through the redrock canyons, under the natural arches, and past the Anasazi cliff dwellings.

    © 2006 David Day/Rincon Publishing. All Rights Reserved.

    Trails from the "Utah's Incredible Backcountry Trails" Guide Book
    88 Trail Guides

    Easily accessible from Salt Lake City, the hike to Amethyst Lake and Basin is probably the most popular hike into the rugged, north-slope drainages of the High Uintas. The Uinta Mountains are bisected by a long, winding spine of Precambrian rock that runs for about a hundred miles in an east-west direction across northern Utah. The north and south facing slopes of this ridge are punctuated by a dozen or so glacier-carved valleys which end abruptly against the quartzite cliffs of the central spine. It is in the back of one of these glaciated valleys, the Stillwater Drainage, that Amethyst Basin and Amethyst Lake, are located. There are several other alpine lakes within the Stillwater Drainage, but Amethyst Lake is the largest.
    Kamas, UT - Hiking - Trail Length: 13.2
    Before you begin this hike, pause to examine the small pond near the car parking area. The pond is an oasis in the middle of a largely waterless tableland. Although it was constructed originally by local ranchers for the purpose of watering their cattle, it has since become a haven for birds, deer, and coyotes. If you arrived too late in the day to begin your hike, the pond is a delightful place to spend the night. When you see the pictograph panel it will become obvious why it was named Big Man. The central focus of the art is two life size human figures, one of which appears to be a woman and the other obviously a man. There is also a pictograph of a woman carrying a baby. But for me the most interesting part of the artwork is the signature handprints of the artists. Many pictographs of the Southwest include such handprints. The Big Man Pictographs were probably made by the Anasazi people who resided in Grand Gulch between 200 and 1300 A.D., but they could have been made much earlier than that. Archeologists have long been frustrated by the fact that no method now exists for accurately dating such art.
    Mexican Hat, UT - Hiking - Trail Length: 10.6
    This hike is perfect for fishing enthusiasts looking for an extended trip into a high alpine wilderness area. The trail passes by no fewer than nine good fishing lakes, with short side trips leading to at least ten more. The route circles Brown Duck Mountain (11,866 ft.), passing through Brown Duck Basin, East Basin, and Squaw Basin, and features many fine views of the mountain’s rocky peaks and cold, clear lakes. Most of the lakes lie at elevations of around 10,400 feet. The highest point is at the top of Cleveland Pass where the trail climbs out of East Basin and drops down into Squaw Basin. Cleveland Lake, frozen most of the year, lies near the top of the pass at an elevation of 11,172 feet. Brown Duck Mountain is a favorite destination for horseback riders, so if you are put off by piles of horse manure along the trail and in the meadows then this is not the best hike for you. The most popular location for campers with pack animals is East Basin (day 2), a lush, green area with gorgeous meadows and a half dozen small lakes. It is not unusual to see twenty or thirty horses and mules grazing in the meadows beside the East Basin lakes. Fortunately there are other off-trail places to camp in the basin that are just as pretty, but without the livestock.
    Duchesne, UT - Hiking - Trail Length: 33.5
    Buckskin Gulch is alleged by many veteran hikers to be the longest, narrowest slot canyon in the world. There are many other narrows hikes on the Colorado Plateau, but Buckskin is exceptional because of its length. The Buckskin narrows extend almost uninterrupted for over 12 miles with the width of the canyon seldom exceeding 20 feet. The walk through the dark, narrow canyon is truly a unique hiking experience. The key consideration in planning a trip through Buckskin Gulch is water. How much water and mud is there in the canyon? And what is the probability that it will rain while you are inside it? The canyon was created by water, and water continues to shape it and change its character. As you walk along the sandy bottom you will continually be confronted with evidence of previous floods. Dozens of logs have been wedged between the canyon walls, and piles of huge boulders have been jammed into narrow constrictions. The characteristics change from year to year. One can never predict what the last flood might have taken away or left behind.
    Page, UT - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 20.6
    The Calf Creek Trail is the highlight of Calf Creek Recreation Area, a delightful desert oasis maintained by the Bureau of Land Management. The canyon is a haven for birds, beaver, and other wildlife, and it was also once inhabited by the Fremont and Anasazi Indians. Take a booklet with you from the trailhead to help you spot some of the Indian pictographs and two granaries that were constructed by the Indians some 800-1000 years ago. Also, be sure to take a swimming suit with you for use in the pool at the bottom of Lower Calf Creek Falls.
    Escalante, UT - Hiking - Trail Length: 5.4
    The Candland Mountain Loop offers a fine combination of mountain and canyon hiking, with just enough elevation gain to let you know that you have been on a hike and not just a Sunday afternoon stroll. The final 4.2 miles of the hike are down the Left Fork Huntington Creek, an exceptionally pretty stream, on a designated National Recreation Trail.
    Huntington, UT - Hiking - Trail Length: 9.1 miles
    If you can stand the high desert temperatures, the Needles District of Canyonlands is a hiker's paradise. The needles themselves are the main attraction. Carved by the wind and the rain from the multicolored Cedar Mesa Sandstone, they present a startling array of spires and pinnacles that rise from the slickrock like a forest of sandstone trees. Some parts of the trail wind torturously through the stone towers and canyons, forcing hikers to negotiate one obstacle after another. Deep inside the rugged needles country lies an unexpected refuge of gentle grassland. This is Chesler Park-a flat, circular-shaped meadow about a mile in diameter, almost completely surrounded by the sandstone needles. There are three designated camping areas on the perimeter of the meadow, and one could hardly ask for a more beautiful place to spend a night or two. There are also several other interesting things to see within an easy walk of Chesler Park, including an impressive natural arch and a small Anasazi Indian ruin. The one drawback that prevents Chesler from being a perfect hiking destination is the unavailability of water. The nearest reliable spring is two miles away in Elephant Canyon, so you will have to carry most of your water with you.
    Moab, UT - Hiking - Trail Length: 17
    Chimney Rock Canyon is a long, narrow desert drainage on the northwestern side of Capital Reef National Park. It begins just outside the park on the eastern slopes of Thousand Lakes Mountain and meanders for some 15 miles through the Waterpocket Fold before draining into the Fremont River. This hike intersects the canyon at its midpoint and follows it for its last six miles. The hike is particularly interesting from a geological point of view because it passes through so many different geologic strata. The route begins in the Moenkopi Formation, then passes through the Shinarump, Chinle, Wingate, and Kayenta Formations, and finally ends in the center of the Waterpocket Fold at the base of the Navajo Sandstone.
    Torrey, UT - Hiking - Trail Length: 9.7
    There are literally thousands of mountain lakes in and around the High Uintas. On the 55-square-mile Mirror Lake Quadrangle map alone there are 72 named lakes and several hundred unnamed ones. It is a fisherman’s paradise, although most of the lakes are so high they are frozen much of the year. The area surrounding Clyde Lake is particularly well endowed with lakes. The loop trail described here, though only 4.9 miles long, passes by no fewer than fifteen of them.
    Kamas, UT - Hiking - Trail Length: 5.7
    Sixty-five million years ago, while forces inside the earth were pushing up the Colorado Plateau, a 100-mile-long wrinkle in the earth's mantle was formed in southern Utah. Thousands of feet of subterranean sedimentary rock was forced upward as the fold developed, twisting and buckling to form a convoluted range of mountains we now call the Waterpocket Fold. Today, after a great deal of erosion, the mountains rise less than two thousand feet above the desert floor, but what remains is a fairyland of geologic sculpture. The ancient mountains, most of which are now part of Capitol Reef National Park, have been carved into a tangle of hidden canyons, monolithic spires, and towering cliffs. The hike described here starts in the Fremont River Valley, near the pioneer settlement of Fruita, and crosses a portion of the Capitol Reef to Grand Wash. It offers a good representation of the unique landscape of the Waterpocket Fold.
    Torrey, UT - Hiking - Trail Length: 7
    Canyonlands, the largest of Utah’s five national parks, is neatly split into thirds by the intersection of the Green and the Colorado Rivers. Both rivers have carved thousand-foot-deep canyons through the high surrounding desert, and the view of their confluence at the center of the park is one of Canyonlands’ most impressive sights. Both of the famous rivers have now been largely tamed by a series of dams built over the last sixty years, but from this prospective one can still see the same wild scene that John Wesley Powell saw during his historical voyage down the Green and Colorado Rivers in 1869. In July of that year, while his party was camped on the north side of the confluence, Powell and one of his men climbed above the rivers to a point just south of the present day overlook trail. In the following passage, first printed in Scribner’s Monthly in 1875, Powell describes what he saw: "From the north-west came the Green in a narrow, winding gorge. From the north-east came the Grand [Colorado] through a canyon that seemed, from where we stood, bottomless.... Wherever we looked there was a wilderness of rocks- deep gorges where the rivers are lost below cliffs, and towers, and pinnacles, and ten thousand strangely carved forms in every direction, and beyond them mountains blending with the clouds." (The Canyons of the Colorado, reprinted by Outbooks, Golden, Colorado, 1981)
    Moab, UT - Hiking - Trail Length: 10.4
    The Escalante River and its tributaries provide many of the most interesting hikes into the desert canyonlands of southern Utah. Unfortunately the last 30 miles of the Escalante was flooded by Lake Powell after the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam in 1964, but enough attractions still remain to make the Escalante drainage a very special place for outdoor enthusiasts. Coyote Gulch, a side canyon of the lower Escalante, is one of the most popular hikes in the vicinity. With its impressive natural bridge, two arches, and Anasazi artifacts, it is a particularly good place to sample the wonders of the Escalante drainage. There are at least five ways to get in and out of Coyote Gulch; hence a number of variations of this hike are possible. Most people begin and end their hike at either Hurricane Wash Trailhead or Red Well Trailhead. The hike down Coyote Gulch to the Escalante River and back from either one of these trailheads makes a very pleasant, if somewhat long, backpacking trip for the whole family. If you are the adventurous type, however, you will probably prefer the route described here. It does require a modicum of rock climbing ability, so if that makes you uncomfortable I suggest you end your hike at Hurricane Wash Trailhead rather than Jacob Hamblin Arch Trailhead.
    Escalante, UT - Hiking - Trail Length: 11.8
    One can hardly visit this remarkable canyon without wondering about the dozens of other similar tributaries of Glen Canyon that were flooded by Lake Powell in 1964. Dark Canyon is more than 200 river miles upstream from Glen Canyon Dam, and consequently it was spared most of the destruction of the lower canyons. The hike described here touches only a few miles of Dark Canyon, the section just above Lake Powell. There is a reliable stream here, and the greenery contrasts sharply with the pink sandstone and shale in the canyon walls. Near the bottom of the canyon is a fascinating layer of Honaker Trail limestone that is chock full of well preserved 300-million-year-old fossils. Beneath that the picturesque creek flows for several miles across a layer of smooth limestone, adorned with a series of idyllic swimming holes and water slides. Dark Canyon is over thirty miles long, and there are many other hiking opportunities along its length. The upper part of the canyon is part of the Manti-La Sal National Forest, and since 1984 it has been protected as the Dark Canyon Wilderness Area. The lower part, unfortunately, is on BLM land and is not within the boundaries of the wilderness area.
    Blanding, UT - Hiking - Trail Length: 16
    This is one of those special hikes that has something for almost everyone. The first part of the route follows the old Boulder Mail Trail, a historical trail characterized by wide vistas of slickrock desert with stunning views into Sand Creek Canyon and Death Hollow. The second part of the trail descends through the lower half of Death Hollow, a deep, wild, and watery canyon with scenery that is often spectacular. Finally, the trail leaves Death Hollow to follow a more serene section of the Escalante River, past two natural arches and an Anasazi cliff dwelling, to the trailhead near Calf Creek.
    Escalante, UT - Backpacking,Hiking - Trail Length: 20.4
    Most of the western side of Utah is occupied by an interesting geographical area known as the Great Basin. The Great Basin is a vast, semiarid desert that extends from the Wasatch Front, across Nevada, to the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. The desert is not unbroken, though. It contains a number of narrow, isolated mountain ranges, running mostly in a north-south direction and separated by long desert valleys. The mountain ranges of the Great Basin are of great interest to evolutionary biologists because of their isolation. Life has developed in slightly different ways in each of the secluded ranges, making them ideal natural laboratories for the study of evolution. In Utah the best known and most accessible of the Great Basin mountain ranges is the Stansbury Range, in which Deseret Peak is the highest point. The Stansbury Mountains are almost the only Great Basin range in Utah with a good system of hiking trails. The uniqueness of the mountains was recognized in 1984, when a 25,500-acre area, including Deseret Peak, was selected for the creation of the Deseret Peak Wilderness Area.
    Salt Lake City, UT - Hiking - Trail Length: 8.4
    Desolation Lake is a popular destination for mountain bikers, so you are bound to see a few of them on this hike. But don’t expect all of them to be riding-there is a 2,000-foot elevation gain from the trailhead to the lake, and riding a bike uphill is much harder than walking. The lake itself is located at the bottom of what, at first glance, looks like an old volcanic crater. The 550-foot-deep crater is actually a large bowl that was scooped out at the head of Mill D North Fork Canyon by a glacier during the last ice age. The view from the crater rim can be quite spectacular, especially in early September when the aspen trees on the northwest side of the lake are displaying their fall colors. On weekends one can often see fifteen or twenty mountain bikers parked on the trail above the lake, pausing to enjoy the view before their long downhill ride back to Big Cottonwood Canyon.
    Salt Lake City, UT - Hiking - Trail Length: 8.2
    If the strange and wonderful rock formations of southern Utah interest you, you will love this hike. Devils Garden contains eight of the best known sandstone arches in Arches National Park, including Landscape Arch, the park's longest span. The area is a particularly good place to study the life cycle of natural arches. You will see many spans of different ages as you wander through the jumbled canyons of stone. On the return portion of the loop you will pass through a giant maze of long vertical sandstone fins, all parallel to one another with narrow canyons between. These fins are the raw materials from which future arches are being made. In another million years, when all of the present arches are gone, there will be many new ones in these canyons to replace them. Some of the new arches might even be more spectacular than the present ones. Although we mortals are allowed only a fleeting glimpse of her current display, Nature is continually modifying and replacing her artwork.
    Moab, UT - Hiking - Trail Length: 7.6
    The prettiest part of the Dog Lake loop is probably the first two miles of the hike, along Butler Fork. Butler Fork meanders northward through a narrow canyon filled with dense groves of quaking aspen, eventually emerging into a more open forest of Engelmann spruce and Douglas fir along the ridge above Mill Creek Canyon. Although Dog Lake itself lies outside the Wilderness boundary, Butler Fork is part of the Mount Olympus Wilderness Area. It is not uncommon to see moose along this part of the trail. Look for their hoof tracks along the path-similar to deer tracks, but two to three times larger. The Lake itself is located in a shallow, heavily forested basin just south of the ridge that separates Mill Creek Canyon from Big Cottonwood Canyon. It is aptly named, since it is very popular among hikers who like to bring their dogs with them. Although Big Cottonwood Canyon is an important water catchment area for Salt Lake City, Dog Lake has no surface outlet; hence there are no rules against dogs.
    Salt Lake City, UT - Hiking - Trail Length: 6
    Zion National Park is probably the best all around hiking area in the state of Utah. The trails here are very popular, so if it is solitude you are looking for this is the wrong place. But you will certainly find plenty of breathtaking scenery and interesting geological formations. The East Rim Trail, especially when walked in the direction suggested here, is a very pleasant way to sample what Zion has to offer. Very little climbing is required, the temperatures are not extreme, and the scenery just keeps getting better and better all the way to the end.
    Cedar City, UT - Hiking - Trail Length: 16.4
    Among Utah’s serious hikers, the 85-mile-long Escalante River is well known. The small desert river and its dozens of side canyons contain some of the wildest, most scenic desert wilderness in the United States. It is a region of redrock canyons, sandstone arches, and Anasazi Indian ruins. The Escalante badlands contain hidden natural treasures guaranteed to give pause to even the most unenthusiastic of hikers. Sadly, none of the BLM managed Escalante drainage has yet been give the protection of a designated wilderness area, but in 1996 it was included in President Clinton's new Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
    Escalante, UT - Hiking - Trail Length: 14.3

    State Log Book

    Jun 2019