To-Ko-Chi Canyon

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 2-4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 5845 - 6090 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 2 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Highway 95 MM 82.7
Fee: none
Attractions: Ruins, scenic canyon




To-Ko-Chi Canyon is located in the backcountry area of Natural Bridges National Monument west of Blanding, Utah. The canyon stretches for about 2.2 miles from Highway 95 to Armstrong Canyon which runs from Owachomo Bridge to Kachina Bridge. A big spillover that is more than 100 feet high near the 2 mile point from Highway 95 prevents one from hiking the full length of the canyon. Besides the scenic nature of the canyon the location of a probable pithouse near Highway 95 and a ruin just past the 1 mile point from the highway make the upper portion of the canyon interesting to explore.


The hike begins outside of Natural Bridges National Monument. The easiest way to describe how to get to the unmarked and unofficial trailhead is to find your way to the junction of UT-95 and UT-276 about 38 miles from the junction of UT-95 and UT-191 just south of Blanding. Going left on UT-276 at this point would lead to Halls Crossing while continuing straight ahead on UT-95 is going toward Fry Canyon and Hite.


After passing the junction with UT-276 drive for another 0.8 miles where there are guardrails on both sides of the highway. There is a gap in the guardrail on the left side of the highway where the road that leads up to Moss Back begins. The best place to park is on the west side of the highway were there is a nice flat spot in the bar ditch. The hike begins near the end of the guardrail on the east side of the highway.


There isn't an official trail to follow but the general idea is to head through the cedars toward the wash.


If you stay just inside of the trees, rather than right next to the road, you should be able to start spotting an abundance of pottery shards before having gone more than 50 feet or so. There is a small rubble pile that looks more like a mound of dirt that may have been the site of a pithouse. It's hard telling what all was here before the highway was built but from the large variety of pottery represented it is obvious that at least one dwelling was very close.


Continuing toward the wash for another 50-100 feet there is a large scattering of tin cans rusting away beside the route. Once in the wash it is a simple matter to begin hiking in the downstream direction.


Before going very far down the wash there is a spillover that can be bypassed on the left. If there isn't a big pool of water at the bottom it might be just as easy to just hike right down the middle.


If you do go around the spillover on the left you should notice an ancient looking trail that travels along the bench just above the wash. We followed the trail on a previous hike for a little over a mile to where the ruins are located. The trail disappears in places and requires a bit of route finding skill to pick it up again. It is a little bit longer and somewhat more difficult to go that way but when we hiked it we noticed a few pottery shards here and there that made it interesting.


Right around the 1 mile point there is a swinging fence that crosses the wash that marks the boundary of Natural Bridges National Monument. The fence is easy enough to pass through by parting it between any 2 of the panels.


The ruins are very easy to miss because they aren't at all visible from the wash while hiking past them below. If you look downstream right after passing through the fence you will see an overhang above the wash on the left a hundred yards or so away. The easiest route up to the overhang is to climb out of the wash near this point and find your way around a slickrock bowl to the ruins. The alternative is to continue down the wash until you are right below the ruins and then scramble up the slickrock cliff. Our first time here we were hiking along the bench so we were already on the same level as the ruins. For this post we scrambled up the cliff from below just to see how feasible it was. If it looks like more than you feel comfortable doing then take the other route.


The ruins are interesting to study up close. Just be sure not to enter any of the rooms and be very careful not to lean on any of the walls as several of them look extremely fragile. Note the rows of chinking stones that are reminiscent of a style of architecture that is more common elsewhere than it is in the Cedar Mesa area. There is also a room that looks like it was intentionally burnt as one of its openings was sealed up and the interior is completely blackened. It wasn't uncommon for pithouses and ruins to be accidently burnt, and that may have been the case here, but the sealed entrance makes it look otherwise.


If you continue downstream for almost another mile you will come to a large impassable spillover. From this point you can see the Kachina Bridge trailhead as well as anyone driving past on Bridge View Drive. The hiking between the ruins and the spillover is probably easier than it is between the ruins and the highway if that helps you to decide whether to do that portion of the hike.


The hike comes out to just over 2 miles round trip if you travel down the wash and turn around at the ruins. If you take the bench route both ways it will be more like 2.5 miles round trip. There is a good chance that further exploration along the benches above To-Ko-Chi Canyon would reveal more things of interest as it is hard to go anywhere in the Cedar Mesa area without stumbling upon signs left by the ancient inhabitants of the region. As far as To-Ko-Chi Canyon goes if you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.