Round Trip Distance: 6.5+ miles
Elevation: 5860 - 6393 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 4 hrs.
Trailhead: Road Canyon
Fee: $2/person or $5/person if camping
Attractions: Fallen Roof/Ceiling House Ruin
Road Canyon is located in the Cedar Mesa area west of Blanding, Utah. Cedar Mesa has a great many archaeological sites dating back thousands of years. In the depths of most every canyon there are granaries, cliff dwellings and rock art panels for hikers to discover. The Grand Gulch is the most famous of the Cedar Mesa canyons but others include Kane Gulch, Owl and Fish canyons, Lime Canyon, Road Canyon, Todie Canyon, Bullet Canyon, Mule Canyon and a few others. This post covers the upper portion of Road Canyon.
The Road Canyon trailhead is about 49 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 13.6 miles and turn left onto Cigarette Springs Road. 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 the Cigarette Springs Road it is about 3.4 miles to the trailhead which will be on the left side of the dirt road.
Before getting to the trailhead the road passes through a gate where there is a self service fee station. There is a $2 per person fee for day use or $5 per person if camping overnight. There is also a $5 per person permit that is available that is good for a week and covers all of the Cedar Mesa area.
There isn't a sign at the trailhead that says Road Canyon. Once you turn off of the Cigarette Springs Road you will see several primitive camping spots. In the back of the area there is a marker that points out the trail. These first couple of markers are the only official markers or acknowledgements of any kind that there is a trail here. None of the signs say Road Canyon on them so you pretty much need a map and a little foreknowledge around here to find your way around.
The route cuts across the juniper flats of the mesa for a little over a quarter mile before reaching a branch of Road Canyon and beginning its descent. There are a few switchbacks as the trail drops off of the rim. For the rest of the time in the canyon the trail is very primitive in nature with nothing official to use as a guide. By the time the trail is a half mile from the trailhead it is well within the confines of the canyon.
Near the 0.7 mile point the canyon begins getting clogged with choke stones. There is a cairn higher up on the left that seems to suggest a route to follow.
If you follow the cairns the route will climb up to a bench that travels around a spillover in a side canyon and then on around to where it rejoins the main canyon. After going both ways it is our opinion that the boulder route is easier and a lot shorter. If you hike around the side canyon you will be left with a somewhat precarious descent back down into the main canyon. We didn't see any archaeological sites in the side canyon that would make that route more attractive but we did see a deep pothole full of water that curiously enough had 3 frogs in it. The boulder route also has a few helpful cairns if you choose to go that route.
As the route continues down the main branch of Road Canyon it passes a hoodoo that is on the left and shortly after that there are some granaries tucked away under an overhang that are well worth hiking up to. This site is a popular destination that is known as Fallen Roof or Ceiling House Ruin. To help preserve the granaries don't try to enter them. Remember that it is illegal to do anything that would damage an archaeological site and it is also illegal to dig, excavate or remove anything at all. To help protect the archaeological resources of the Cedar Mesa area for generations to come be sure to report any suspicious activity to the rangers.
Continuing on down the canyon there are more granaries to be found. The two in this picture are high up on the side of the canyon and would be very difficult to reach. The one on the right has a flat rock covering the opening. We have noticed quite a few granaries in the Cedar Mesa area that still had the slabs that once sealed their openings lying nearby even though the granaries themselves were empty. If you follow the overhang to the left on around the canyon there are a couple of smaller granaries that can be spotted.
Even further down the canyon there is at least one more granary to be found that also sits high up on the left under an overhang. This one would also be very difficult to climb up to. The geology of the canyon favors overhangs on one side of the canyon more than it does on the other. Everything of interest that we came across was on the left side of the canyon.
Around the 3 mile point the canyon became so choked with vegetation that we were becoming a bloody mess trying to fight our way through it so we turned around and headed back.
On the return trip we hiked up through the boulders. It required a little bit of scrambling in places but it still seemed better than the long way around.