Backpacking The Dark Canyon Wilderness

Dark Canyon is a popular backpacking area in southern Utah, east of the Colorado River upstream from Hite. The area is big, rugged and remote and so it offers great opportunity for extended backpack trips in pristine land where you can find solitude.

The Dark Canyon drainage is large and starts high in the mountains north of Natural Bridges National Monument. The upper end is forested and the canyons shelter spectacular Anasazi ruins. Downstream, the canyons become deep and narrow, as forest gives way to desert terrain. A small perennial stream flows through the main canyon. On the lower end, the stream tumbles down beautiful waterfalls before flowing into the Colorado River.

The upper portion of the drainage has been designated the Dark Canyon Wilderness and hiking conditions are usually good from late-May through October. The lower portion is called the Dark Canyon Primitive Area. It is hotter and drier and can be hiked year-round, though temperatures are most pleasant in spring and fall. (Summers can be very hot. Some winter days are mild but some are cold. Snow and ice may hamper hikers winter hikers during stormy periods.)

When Lake Powell is at a high level it backs up and floods the mouth of Dark Canyon. At that time you can boat to the canyon mouth but debris and silt make it difficult to proceed far into the canyon. When the lake is low it may end miles below Dark Canyon.

Most hikers enter and exit the Dark Canyon area via a series of trails found in the upper and middle portions of the complex. One popular loop runs for 42 miles between the Woodenshoe and Peavine trailheads. Out-and-back hikes can be shorter, ranging from overnight to several days.

Detailed hiking information is beyond the scope of this article. Hikers here need good route finding skills and they should carry detailed topo maps. Water sources vary from year to year. In some areas you may need to hike 5 or more miles between water sources.

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