Round Trip Distance: 8-12 miles
Difficulty: Moderate +
Elevation: 5771 - 6430 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 6 hrs.
Trailhead: Kane Gulch Ranger Station
Fee: $2/person, $5 if camping
Attractions: cliff dwelling, granaries, rock art
Kane Gulch is located in the Cedar Mesa/Grand Gulch Primitive Area west of Blanding, Utah. Kane Gulch is a tributary of the well known Grand Gulch. The area hosts numerous archaeological sites containing such things as cliff dwellings and granaries. For the most part the trails in the area are primitive in nature with little to no development. Popular routes are usually marked with cairns. Other than that hikers have the canyon walls and hopefully a good map to serve as their guides.
The Kane Gulch trailhead is about 36 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 just under 4 miles to the Kane Gulch Ranger Station where there is a small Visitor Center and restrooms that are accessible 24 hours.
The trail begins on the west side of the parking area that is on the north side of the Visitor Center. Before setting out there is a self service pay station. The fee is $2/person per day or $5/person for 1 week. If you are paying the weekly fee it is good for anywhere in the Cedar Mesa area. The fee for backpackers that plan on camping within any of the fee areas is $5/person per day.
From the trailhead the route crosses the highway and travels through the sagebrush flats where it passes through a green gate.
The next stretch of the trail works its way down a shallow wash that feeds into Kane Gulch. Route finding can briefly become a bit more challenging in places but as long as you stay in the wash the obvious trail soon appears. The popularity of the Kane Gulch trail where many pairs of boots plod its course is probably the only trail maintenance that occurs. It is just enough to keep a good trail through the lush vegetation in many places.
As the wash gets deeper it passes through a narrow joint where the adventure and mystique of Kane Gulch seems to really begin.
By the time the trail has passed the 1 mile point the wash or gully has transformed into a true gulch with a V shape and steep sides.
Just past the 2 mile point the trail enters a Wilderness Study Area. In places where spillovers and boulders make hiking in the bottom of the ravine too difficult the trail courses its way along ledges and benches.
Just past the 2.3 mile point you can look up and spot a granary tucked beneath an overhang on the south side of the canyon.
Near the 2.9 mile point the trail drops down to an area of slickrock and crosses to the south side of the canyon to get around a spillover. Up on the right side of the canyon at the base of the cliff is the remains of a tower that was built on top of a boulder. If you have really good eyes or a pair of binoculars you might be able to also spot some rock art on the cliff face.
The trail continues working its way down Kane Gulch until it eventually reaches its junction with Grand Gulch. There are several nice primitive campsites in this area that don't seem to show any signs of flash flooding. Normally only tenderfoots camp in washes but here the dry streambed is fairly wide and the banks are apparently high enough to make these spots safe.
Junction Ruin sits in an alcove to the right of where Kane Gulch makes its entrance. There are also some ruins below the alcove that are worth walking over to.
At the base of the cliff there is a large kiva that still has some plaster showing as well as a few granaries, lots of potsherds, corncobs, a boulder with several metates and a few petroglyphs, hand pictographs on the cliff and several other masonry rooms.
To experience a little more of Grand Gulch there is the option to continue downstream for about another mile to Turkey Pen Ruin. There is quite a bit to see here including the remains of the turkey pen from which it gets is name.
There are a few structures that are still in pretty good shape and that will remain in good shape as long as visitors don't climb on them or try to enter them. Besides these there are also ruins higher up in another layer of the alcove, numerous pictographs and petroglyphs, a kiva and various other structures.
Among the pictographs are some curious images that at first look a bit ghostly. We were left to wonder whether they represent personages or something like a meteor shower.