Fort Bottom Ruin

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 4.8 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 3943 - 4320 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 3 hrs.
Trailhead: Fort Bottom
Fee: $30/vehicle + free permit
Attractions: Pueblo ruin, pioneer cabin




The Fort Bottom Ruin is located off of the White Rim Road in the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah. Beginning at the top of the Hard Scrabble section of the White Rim Road the trail travels out on a peninsula that was formed by a hairpin meander in the Green River. Sitting atop a butte at the end of the peninsula is an Ancestral Puebloan ruin that has a commanding view of the surrounding area while below the ruin in the bottoms along the Green River is an old pioneer cabin. NOTE: A permit is required for backcountry camping and to drive on the White Rim Road. The permit can be obtained for free from the Visitor Center or online.


Getting to the trailhead on the White Rim Road requires a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle with an experienced off road driver at the wheel. That said, most any 4-wheel drive vehicle can get within a couple miles of the trailhead while backpackers can also reach it via Upheaval Canyon. To drive there follow the Mineral Bottom Road from where it begins off of Highway 313


About 14 miles from the highway there is a trailhead at the point where the road makes a plunge down a steep winding road into Mineral Bottom. During good conditions the road is passable with a regular clearance 2-wheel drive vehicle. A regular clearance vehicle can also probably make it all the way to the boundary of Canyonlands National Park which is another 5 miles away. The question is whether a 2-wheel drive can handle the steep climb back out of Mineral Bottom.


Once in Mineral Bottom the road splits where the right fork heads to the boat launch and the left fork continues to Canyonlands. As the road enters Canyonlands it begins to become more primitive in nature with little sign of maintenance. At one point it crosses a narrow shelf that was cut out of the side of the mountain. The road is barely wide enough for a full sized truck. As slipping off of the road means ending up in the river most people will find the spot to be very memorable.


Measuring from the parks boundary the White Rim Road passes the Labyrinth Campground at the mouth of Taylor Canyon around the 2.5 mile point, the Upheaval Canyon trailhead at 3.3 miles and the Hardscrabble Campground at 4.6 miles. From there the road climbs out of the bottoms to cross a ridge. The Fort Bottom trailhead is located on the crest of the ridge. The trailhead is 6.6 miles from the parks boundary and about 26.4 miles from Highway 313.


The trail starts out heading onto the peninsula where it travels around the south side of the hill. As the trail progresses around the hill the first views of Fort Bottom begin appearing.


The trail proves to be as crooked as the river as it keeps wrapping around the hill on a small mesa until it is headed back the other way where it finds a spot that takes it down to a lower bench.


For the next hundred yards or so the sometimes narrow trail hugs the side of the hill high above the lazy waters of the Green River.


The trail ends up on an adobe ridge as it continues to work its way out on the peninsula. From here you can look down at the river on both sides of the trail.


Near the middle of the trek the trail drops down to a saddle in the ridge where all the dirt has eroded away revealing a layer of rocks that form a narrow broken bridge to cross. A big gust of wind made it a very exhilarating experience for a few brief moments on our first crossing.


The trail continues to work its way across another narrow ridge or two and around the hilly knobs of the peninsula until it reaches the butte that sits at the end of the peninsula above Fort Bottom. On top of the butte are the Fort Bottom Ruins. To get up there the trail travels all the way around to the backside of the butte.


On the back side of the butte the trail makes a steep climb that leads up to a notch in the 6 to 10 foot high rim. A few rocks have been placed to form some steps to start off on but to get all the way on top requires an awkward scramble that is made easier without backpacks and other gear hanging off your body.


The ruin consists of what looks like a tower with an adjoining room. Also located around the top of the butte are the remnants of at least 2 or 3 other structures that are discernable by a keen eye. The very defensible site may have been quite impressive at the time it was occupied by those that built it more than 1,000 years ago. It appears to have a line of sight view with the ruins further down stream at Turks Head.


For us the view back up the peninsula toward the Island in the Sky was incredible enough to make the trip completely worthwhile even if the ruin hadn't also been there.


The hike can be extended by continuing all the way down to Fort Bottom to a quaint pioneer cabin that sits on the bluff just above the river. The cabin looks to be the typical 12'x14' size that was required by the Homestead Act. Some visitors might find parts of the Fort Bottom trail too challenging for their personal abilities or comfort level but for river rats on the Green and those traveling the 100 mile long White Rim Road it is well worth the effort to stop and find out. The only thing that kept us from giving this a 5 star rating was the accessibility of the trailhead. There is no question at all whether the scenery and the trails destination are worthy of the highest rating. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.