Dry Fork

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 4.2 - 6.2 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 9,610 - 11,531 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 3 hrs. 15 mins.
Trailhead: Warner Campground
Fee: none (camping $10)
Attractions: Forest hike, bears




The Dry Fork trail is located in the La Sal Mountains near Moab, Utah. The lower end of the trail begins at a junction with the Burro Pass trail. From there it climbs the Dry Fork of Mill Creek to the ridge between Mt. Waas (12,331 feet) and Manns Peak (12,272). For this post we turned around at the pass but the trail can be continued down into Beaver Basin for another mile. There is also an option to hike south along the ridge to Manns Peak and Burro Pass.


To get the Warner Campground from Moab drive south on Highway 191, measuring from Center and Main, for 7.8 miles and turn left onto the Old Airport Road. Follow the signs for the La Sal Mtn. Loop Road for another 15 miles and turn right onto Forest Road 0063, the Warner Lake Road. It is about 5 miles along a graveled road to the Warner Campground after turning off of the La Sal Mtn. Loop Road.


It is a 2 mile hike from the Warner Campground to where the Dry Fork trail begins. That will add an additional 4 miles to the round trip distance making the hike to the pass a total of 8.2 miles round trip and Beaver Basin 10.2 miles. We included pictures in the slideshow at the end of this post that shows the trail between the campground and the beginning of the Dry Fork trail. For a description and even more photos check out the post for Burro Pass.


As the trail enters the Dry Fork of Mill Creek it begins with a little switchback after which it begins the moderate slope that it maintains for the next mile or so.


From there the trail heads up the gulch where it crosses a lush open area. There is a seep at this point the makes a 50 foot stretch of the trail a bit marshy. How wet it is will depend on the time of year and how much precipitation there has been. It can be avoided by walking along the side of the hill above it if need be.


After crossing the meadow the trail enters the aspen forest where there is a trail sign pointing to the left. The correct route to follow at this point leads right past the remains of an old cabin. The Dry Fork trail gets much less use than the Burro Pass trail which is open to mountain bikers and is also part of the very popular Whole Enchilada trail that runs from the La Sals down to the town of Moab. The lower amount of usage makes the trail less obvious in places.


The trail breaks out into several more meadows as it continues. While traveling through the trees the trail is easy to see but each time it enters an open area the grass and wildflowers mask its location. There are a few cairns in the open areas but the general flow of the trail is to continue working its way up the gulch to the basin below the pass. We didn't have any trouble following the trail ourselves but we were carrying two maps and two GPS devices just in case.


The aspen trees give way to pine and spruce as the elevation increases. North facing slopes tend to favor conifers while south facing slopes provide the extra sunlight that aspen trees seem to need. This part of the trail is climbing along the south side of the basin where the side of the mountain faces north.


The trail passes the remains of another cabin and as it nears the basin it crosses below an avalanche chute where a whole swath of trees have been flattened by a snow slide. At the time of this post there hadn't been anyone up here with a chainsaw to take care of trees that were laying across the trail so there were several that had to be hiked around or over. There are a few cairns through here that help with the route finding. If in doubt continue straight up the gulch without getting too far up the slope on the left or all the way down into the low area on the right.


As the trail approaches the head of the basin it passes by a picturesque grove of pine trees and then begins climbing steeply up the north side of the valley. Numerous switchbacks make the climb a bit easier but as you can see from the photos the mountainside is very steep. The climbing has been moderate up to this point.


The last stretch of the trail that leads up to the ridge becomes rather pleasant as the climbing slackens off quite a bit.


It was the height of monsoon season when we hiked the Dry Fork for this post. Looking back down Dry Fork in the direction that we had come the valley was quickly becoming enveloped by the clouds of a passing storm. We had considered continuing over to Manns Peak but with the storm quickly approaching thought it would be wiser to abandon the treeless ridge and head back down the mountain. The one thing in our favor was that it was a drizzly rain and not a thunderstorm. When you consider the temperature was in the 90's down around Moab the conditions up here were an enjoyable contrast.


On the way up Dry Fork we had seen at least a half dozen fresh piles of bear scatt. Some of them were pretty substantial indicating that there were big bears in the area. As we were heading back down we could hear a bear nearby but we didn't see it until the clouds lifted and it turned out to be one of the big ones. It appeared that the bear had heard us coming and it was high tailing it up the other side of the valley. This picture was taken once the bear had settled down over a hundred yards from where we were standing. We carry the big cans of bear spray because you never know for sure whether they will run toward you or away from you. In our experience they usually run away unless it is a sow with a cub to protect.


The portion of the trail between the campground and Dry Fork is a nice enough hike. It does have a little elevation change to it and 3 substantial creek crossings where the water is normally only ankle deep if you can stay on the rocks. Once you get into Dry Fork you can look forward to a whole lot of solitude other than the company of wildlife. Besides the bears we had also followed the fresh tracks of a herd of elk that had crossed the ridge into Beaver Basin sometime during the night before. Their musky odor was still in the air and they too had left a trail of scat along the way. The Dry Fork trail is a bit more primitive than most of the other trails in the area. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.