Lower Fish Creek

Round Trip Distance: 9+ miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 4521 - 4727 feet
Cellphone: 0-1 bars
Time: 7 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Lower Cabin Trail
Fee: $2/person
Attractions: Cliff dwellings, granaries

Lower Fish Creek is an area of Cedar Mesa west of Blanding and Bluff, Utah where moderately easy hiking leads to a dozen or so ruins within a 5 mile stretch from the trailhead. The ruins include cliff dwellings, granaries and small single room structures built on hills and atop boulders that are similar to the Navajo pueblitos of northwestern New Mexico.

The Lower Fish Creek trailhead is at the end of a short spur road off of San Juan County Road 235, aka the Comb Wash Road. Access is easiest for 2wd passenger vehicles if approaching from UT-163, 7 miles west of Bluff, Utah. Higher clearance vehicles, and possibly with 4wd, would be preferable if coming from UT-95 due to several wash crossings and stretches of deep powdery sand. From UT-163 it is 9 miles to the turnoff and from UT-95 it is 9.4 miles.

There is a kiosk at the turnoff where you can pay the $2/person/day or $5/person/week fee that the BLM collects for hiking in the Cedar Mesa/Grand Gulch area.

From the turnoff it is another 6 tenths of a mile to the trailhead. This stretch of road is more primitive but under good conditions a careful driver in a passenger vehicle should do fine. If not you will have some extra distance to add to your hike. Those with horse trailers will find a suitable turn around loop at the trailhead.

The trail travels well above the wash for the first 3/4 of a mile or so where it is easy to make good time. Hikers will fare better with long pants and sleeves in the few spots where the brush is encroaching upon the trail.

The first cliff dwelling comes up at the 1.5 mile point from the trailhead on the north side of the wash. The ruin is easy to spot from the trail.

A few very well preserved shadowy hands decorate part of the small alcove behind the walls of the ruin.

The 2nd ruin is about a quarter mile past the first. This larger ruin is also easy to spot on the north side of the wash. The measurements on our map don't include the distance from the main trail to each ruin and back. Hiking over to the first 2 ruins can add about a half mile to the round trip distance.

Heading up canyon from the second ruin the trail rounds a bend along a ledge.

Within a couple hundred feet of the bend there is a granary tucked away beneath an overhang about 20 feet or so above the trail. There is also another small ruin that's easy to miss right at the base of the cliff a little closer to the bend. All that we noticed for the ruin at the base of the cliff were a few rocks that were still cemented together.

From the third site the trail continues along the cliff and right where it starts to make a turn to the left there is a large sand hill. A trail that is blocked off with a few sticks just before the hill leads into a dead end side canyon where there is another nice looking cliff dwelling. That cliff dwelling is hard to see from below but you can get a better view if you climb up the sand hill and then scramble up the cliff a ways further.

This is what the cliff dwelling looks like from across the canyon. If accessed from below they must have used a ladder. It would have been easier to get to from the left side above.

After the sand hill the trail drops down into a wash where there is a very small granary in a cavity of the cliff.

From there the trail climbs out of the wash, cuts across a bench and then crosses the wash again. After that it cuts across another bench where there is a big 'U' bend in the creek. Up on a ledge a little above the wash at the back of the bend there is another structure tucked away within a small cavity.

After a couple more crossings there is a ridge that juts out into the south side of the canyon that has a dwelling built up against the base of the cliff. With binoculars we could see some of the logs from part of its roof.

The next ruin is on top of a boulder high up above the south rim on the same point of the ridge above the last ruin but further in toward the mesa. From down here the ruin looks round but you can actually zoom in with Google satellite view and see that it is a large rectangle.

Another mile down the trail there is a ruin several hundred yards away in the north wall of the canyon. This ruin doesn't have an obvious trail leading to it. At first it looks like a couple of granaries but when you get right up to it there is a dwelling tucked away on the right that has a soot stained roof indicating that it must be much larger than it looks from below and that it was used as a living space.

There is another ruin that sits on top of a red dirt bench on the south side of the wash. We tried 3 different routes to get over there but ran into thick growths of salt cedar each time and had to go back. Our map shows that we should have come to another cliff dwelling if we would have kept going another half mile or so toward the junction of Fish Creek and Owl Creek.

The main trail might only be 9 miles round trip but we ended up hiking 12.5 miles with all our exploring around. We know for sure that we missed at least 2 ruins and some pictographs for which we have seen photos. The 7.5 minute USGS topo map that we are overlaying with all of our info also has a few sites marked on it that we didn't find. We found most of what we were expecting as well as a few that we weren't and I'm sure that we missed even more. We made this trip at the end of October and we are looking forward to going back sometime when the days are a little longer. If you would like to see all that Lower Fish Creek has to offer for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.