Iron Wash

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 9 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 4850 - 5062 feet
Cellphone: 0-1 bars
Time: 5 hrs.
Trailhead: Iron Wash
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic canyon, pictographs, arches




Iron Wash is located between Old Woman Wash and Ernie Canyon in the San Rafael Swell between Green River and Hanksville, Utah. Within the winding canyon hikers are treated to several natural arches and some Barrier Canyon Style rock art. Wild burros also make use of the canyons easy passage where water springs to the surface in places as they migrate between the higher and lower elevations during the spring and fall months.


To get to the trailhead drive south on Utah Highway 24 from Interstate 70 for about 18 miles. Less than a half mile past mile marker 142 turn west on the unmarked Lost Spring Road. (There is a brown carsonite post with a Trail 923 tag just inside the gate.) Measuring from the gate the road will cross a wash just past the half mile point that requires a high clearance vehicle. At the 0.9 mile point take the left fork and continue for another 1.7 miles to where the road crosses Iron Wash.


We usually drive across the wash and park on higher ground on the left side. We have seen others park on the right side of the road before crossing wash. The road extends past Iron Wash all the way to the Temple Mountain Road. The next major canyon along the way is Old Woman Wash where there is also a 4wd road that runs out to Highway 24.


Some people also drive into the wash and follow it until they reach the fence that crosses the mouth of the canyon. We have also driven in the wash before and had to use 4wd to make it back through some deep dry sand that had bogged us down.


As you begin hiking into the canyon there is an arch high up on the left rim that can be hard to see from below but it looks pretty cool when the sun is shining through it just right. On the right hand side of the canyon there are several shallow caves that show signs of previous habitation in the way of burnt sandstone and soot covered roofs. Sandstone that has been in a fire has a very distinct red color. Further into the canyon there is a rockfall area where a section of the wingate cliff has calved off sending boulders all the way down to the edge of the wash. It is easy to spot because that portion of the cliff is much lighter in color. After passing that point watch for a panel of BCS pictographs on the right at the location in this photo.


The images are visible from the wash even in direct sunlight. We traced the faded images on the computer where we outlined 13 distinct characters. There is another lone faded image by itself not too far away from this spot.


Continuing on up Iron Wash the hiking remains pleasant as the canyon begins to narrow. Flowing water has sculpted the sandstone into an array of pleasing structures adding variety to the ever changing scene.


As the wash approaches a large bend in the canyon Iron Wash Arch comes into view high up near the point of the cliff.


After rounding the big bend the canyon begins getting wider once again. Water in the wash is mostly seasonal and varies according to recent moisture.


A little past the 4 mile point Lone Man Draw connects to Iron Wash on the right. Anyone with good route finding skills that is looking for a very long hike or backpacking adventure might consider combining Lone Man Draw with Iron Wash and Ernie Canyon to create a big loop.


For this post we turned around a little past the mouth of Lone Man Draw. It is our understanding that if you keep going you will eventually reach some large potholes where Iron Wash transitions into a canyoneering adventure.


While hiking in Iron Wash we came across an incredibly interesting specimen of petrified wood that was encased in a layer of charcoal. Petrified wood is very common in the San Rafael Swell but we have never seen anything like this before. We took a dozen or so photos and emailed some of them to someone at the Petrified Forest National Park after peaking their interest in the find and are currently awaiting their assessment.


Downstream a few hundred feet from where the road crosses the mouth of Iron Wash is another BCS pictograph site beneath an overhang that is a little above the wash. The images are well protected from sunlight and haven't faded as much as they would have otherwise. Remember that it is illegal to touch the images or deface them in any way and it is also illegal to dig around the site.


From arches to rock art to interesting geology Iron Wash has a lot for hikers to enjoy. By themselves none of these things are extraordinarily remarkable, except may the charcoal covered petrified wood, but taken together they all add up to a rewarding experience. Iron Wash is only a few miles from the highway but the need for a high clearance vehicle to get there probably keeps a lot of people way. We have also spoken with a few people who thought Iron Wash was only accessible to canyoneers and were unaware that you could hike it all the way through the reef. On past trips we have taken photos of antelope and bighorn sheep in the area so you never know what you might encounter. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.