Camping Gear

3-Minute Read: Backpacking Utah’s Dark Canyon Wilderness

Posted On June 15, 2017 at 3:01 am by / Comments Off on 3-Minute Read: Backpacking Utah’s Dark Canyon Wilderness

By Michael Lanza

About five miles down Woodenshoe Canyon, in southeast Utah’s Dark Canyon Wilderness, David stops on the trail ahead of me and points to a barely distinguishable feature in the cliffs above us. We drop our backpacks and follow a faint path in the sand and up onto sandstone slabs, scrambling and zigzagging our way up onto a wide ledge below an overhanging cliff face. In the shaded alcove below that overhang, we stop before the ruins of a tiny, one-room stone structure perhaps large enough for two people to lie down inside, built centuries before Columbus arrived in the New World.

With Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument in the news so much, I decided to finally get to a corner of that new monument—designated by President Barack Obama last December, and now the target of efforts by some politicians eager to see that designation revoked by President Donald Trump—that I’ve long wanted to explore: the Dark Canyon Wilderness. So in May, my friend David Gordon and I backpacked a 40-mile loop down Woodenshoe Canyon, up a stretch of Dark Canyon, and returning up Peavine Canyon.

As you’ll see in the photo gallery below, we found some of what we expected to see there as well as some surprises. We got close-up looks at a couple of ruins of stone dwellings constructed by Ancestral Puebloan people several hundred years ago. We saw natural arches eroded into soaring, castellated walls of Cedar Mesa sandstone, and hanging gardens where water seeped from cracks in those walls. Starting and finishing our hike at over 8,000 feet in the Manti-La Sal National Forest, we hiked through beautiful aspen groves that stretched for miles and forests of thick, old-growth ponderosa pines that contrasted against the red canyon walls.


The Big Outside is proud to partner with sponsors and Visit North Carolina, who support the stories you read at this blog. Find out more about them and how to sponsor my blog at my sponsors page at The Big Outside. Click on the ad below for the best prices on great gear.



Over the course of three sunny, pleasant days of backpacking during a peak season for hiking in this remote, sparsely populated corner of Utah, we encountered just nine other people in the Dark Canyon Wilderness, which protects more than 45,000 acres of the 1.35 million acres comprising the Bears Ears National Monument.

One of those people happened to be the wilderness manager for the Manti-La Sal National Forest, out doing field work with a volunteer and a mule team. We spoke for a bit, mostly listening to him gush about the wonders and beauty of this place. “We keep discovering new archeological sites that aren’t catalogued yet,” he told us.


The Bears Ears.

Ancestral Puebloan ruins, Woodenshoe Canyon, Utah.
Woodenshoe Canyon, Utah.
Woodenshoe Canyon, Utah.
Woodenshoe Canyon, Utah.
Woodenshoe Canyon, Utah.
Dark Canyon, Utah.
Ancestral Puebloan ruins, Dark Canyon, Utah.
Peavine Canyon Trail, Dark Canyon Wilderness, Utah.

I’ll write a feature-length story about our backpacking trip in the Dark Canyon Wilderness later at this blog. Meanwhile, read a description of the route we backpacked at, and find out more about the effort to maintain protection of Bears Ears National Monument at


Tell me what you think.

I spent a lot of time writing this story, so if you enjoyed it, please consider giving it a share using one of the buttons below, and leave a comment or question at the bottom of this story. I’d really appreciate it.


See all of my stories about hiking and backpacking in southern Utah at The Big Outside.


I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life. Find out more here.


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, the creator of The Big Outside, recognized as a top outdoors blog by USA Today and others. I invite you to get email updates about new stories and gear giveaways by entering your email address in the box in the left sidebar, at the bottom of this post, or on my About page, and follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


This blog and website is my full-time job and I rely on the support of readers. If you like what you see here, please help me continue producing The Big Outside by making a donation using the Support button in the left sidebar or below. Thank you for your support.


from The Big Outside

Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Google PlusVisit Us On Youtube