Bullet Canyon

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 12-14 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 5455 - 6410 feet
Elevation gain: 3,379 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 8 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Bullet Canyon
Fee: $2/person, $5-$8/camping
Attractions: Perfect Kiva, Jailhouse Ruin




Bullet Canyon is located in the Grand Gulch Primitive Area of Cedar Mesa west of Blanding, Utah. Beginning on the mesa top the trail descends the rugged Bullet Canyon for 7 miles to where it connects to the Grand Gulch. Large boulders and spillovers are among the obstacles that add to the required effort for hiking in the canyon. The effort is rewarded by the scenic canyon and multiple archaeological sites which include the Perfect Kiva, Jailhouse Ruin and others.


The Bullet Canyon trailhead is about 37 miles from the town of Blanding, Utah. To get there drive south on US Highway 191 for about 4 miles and turn west onto UT-95 toward Natural Bridges National Monument. Follow UT-95 for 28.4 miles and turn left onto UT-261. Continue south for 11 miles and turn right at the sign in this photo onto San Juan County Road 251. After turning onto UT-261 you will pass the Kane Gulch Ranger Station where there is a small Visitor Center and restrooms that are accessible 24 hours. 


After turning onto CR 251 it is about 1 more mile to the trailhead. The road should be good enough for most any vehicle with moderate to high clearance during dry weather. Along the road and at the trailhead there are several primitive campsites.


From the trailhead the route cuts across the mesa where after a little more than a quarter mile it drops over the rim and into the upper area of Bullet Canyon. Some minor scrambling is required that is a good warmup for things to come.


Hiking in the upper part of the wash is pretty easy. At the 3/4 mile point there are some pictographs under an overhang on the north side of the wash. There are a few pictures of them included in the slideshow at the end of this post.


Just under the 1 mile point there is a square tower ruin located on the northside rim. Off to the right under an overhang there is also another structure which is either a large room or granary. (We didn't hike up to get a better look.)


Before the trail reaches the 2 mile point the canyon has gotten a lot deeper and more confined. A slickrock spillover comes up at this point. During dry times it is a cinch to hike right down the gut. There is a route  on the right that leads around the point of the cliff to a side drainage that drops down into the wash. We checked out both routes and found the direct approach to be the easiest.


Another slickrock spillway with a longer cascade comes up shortly after the first. This one is also kinda fun to take head on by going right down the gut.


As things progress the going gets a lot slower. The base of the canyon becomes clogged with boulders of all sizes.


The trail ends up following a ledge route where the going gets a little easier until it gets to the point where it drops back down into the base of the canyon. The trail at that point is like hiking down a slide of loose rocks.


Parts of the canyons wash have thick growths of brush, reed grass and horsetails that grow higher than a person. Between thickets like this and areas of tall grass where your socks can end up full of seeds hikers might find wearing a pair of long pants is a good idea even during hot weather.


Eventually the hiking gets a little easier and a little faster until up ahead the alcove appears that houses the Perfect Kiva site. If you want to get a good look at it you will have to climb the loose dirt and talus slope to get up to it.


It is without a doubt worth hiking up to the Perfect Kiva. The kiva and the room behind it have been reconstructed. For a lot of these reconstructions they will employ Native Americans to do the job and the materials and workmanship will closely resemble the original structure. There is a piece of plywood showing through the dirt on the Perfect Kiva so that doesn't seem to be the case at this site. Other than that it is still pretty cool and you can also climb down the ladder to see the inside of the kiva.


Continuing down canyon to the next point leads the the Jailhouse Ruin. It also sits off from the main trail a short distance. The ruin has several levels and above the top one there are 3 large shield pictographs on the face of the cliff.


The ruin gets its name from an exposed wooden thatch where the cement and stucco has fallen away giving it the appearance of a jailhouse window. For this post we turned around at Jailhouse Ruin and headed back to the trailhead.


A little after getting above the first spillway we were pelted with hail and lots of rain from a thunderstorm that seemed to park itself overhead. We didn't take a whole lot of pictures from that point on. One thing to note is that the guide books and maps that include Bullet Canyon don't mention the extra distance that is required to hike up to the Perfect Kiva or the Jailhouse Ruin from the trail. To get a closeup look at both of them will add more than a mile to the hiking distances that they indicate. Even more distance will accrue if you hike up to any of the the rock art or other sites. Bullet Canyon is a big workout of hikers and an even bigger one for backpackers but it has its redeeming points and can be fun if you are prepared for it. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.