Horseshoe Canyon: Remote section of Utah’s Canyonlands offers great hiking |

Horseshoe Canyon: Remote section of Utah’s Canyonlands offers great hiking

Sharon Sullivan

Hiking in desert canyons where the cottonwoods grow, in October, when the trees’ leaves turn a brilliant gold — what more could anyone want?

Add deep blue sky, still-blooming flowers and cool autumn temperatures and you have a perfect day.

Horseshoe Canyon in Canyonlands National Park in Utah contains some of North America’s most significant rock art. Hike in about three-and-a-half miles and you’ll find well-preserved pictographs 3,000-4,000 years old.

My husband, John, and I had never been to this section of Canyonlands before — Horseshoe Canyon was added to Canyonlands in 1971; the area is remote and not contiguous with the rest of Canyonlands. Yet it seemed very familiar — Edward Abbey wrote about the area in his book, my favorite, “Desert Solitaire,” years ago.

According to the National Park Service website, artifacts found at area sites date back to 9,000-7,000 BC. The rock art is believed to have been painted as early as 2,000 BC to AD 500.

Nomadic groups of hunter-gatherers traveled 250 to 300 miles a year, making Horseshoe Canyon their seasonal home, we learned from a friendly park service volunteer who was out for his daily patrol.

The Grand Gallery — the most spectacular panel in the canyon includes both pictographs (paintings) and petroglyphs (carvings). The tapered figures lacking both arms and legs, often including intricate designs, are characteristic of the Barrier Canyon-style, according to the park service.


Horseshoe Canyon can be accessed from Green River, Utah, on 47 miles of dirt road — I recommend being back at the trailhead, and off the dirt road and onto pavement before dark! The drive from Grand Junction is about three hours to the trailhead.

Camping is not permitted in Horseshoe Canyon, but is allowed at the trailhead and on Bureau of Land Management land closer to the rim. There is no fee to enter this area of the national park.

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