Trail Canyon

Round Trip Distance: 8.6 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 5351 - 6246 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 5 hrs. 45 mins.
Trailhead: BLM Rd. #114.2
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic canyon, granary

Trail Canyon is a branch of Horseshoe Canyon in the Horseshoe Canyon Wilderness Study Area. A large spillover pond and spring make it one of only a few places in these high desert canyons that always seems to have some water available. Judging from the name 'Trail Canyon', and the location of a mesa top granary, one might assume that there has always been a route down into the canyon. At some point it appears that dynamite was used to create a makeshift road down to the spring which may have obliterated any trail that was there originally.

From Hanksville drive 16 miles north on Highway 24 and turn right, just before reaching the Goblin Valley turnoff, at the sign for Horseshoe Canyon and follow the directions toward the Hans Flat Ranger Station.

There is 41 miles of dirt roads, that can be very washboardy at times, but it is generally passable by regular highway vehicles although the wind at times blows sand dunes across the road. After turning off of Highway 24 continue for 24.1 miles and turn right at the sign for Hans Flat. Continue for another 16 miles and turn left onto BLM # 114.2. After 1 more mile you will come to a corral where there is plenty of room to turn around a vehicle pulling a trailer. At times you might find one or two of the local cowboys camped near the corral. You can also enter the Hans Flat Ranger Station in your driving app for turn by turn directions. Just remember that you will be turning onto 114.2 about 5 miles before Hans Flat.

Finding your way from here might be a little difficult without a GPS but basically what you want to do is hike through the pinon and juniper trees in a northerly direction until you reach the wash that drains into Trail Canyon. Ironically enough there isn't a trail that leads to Trail Canyon. There is an old 4wd road somewhere west of the corral that has been reclaimed if you can find it. Most of the road shows up pretty well on Google satellite view. (We are planning to take that route on our next trip.)

The wash is easy enough to follow once it is reached but there are a few spillovers to hike around. On our trip we simply found a suitable looking burro trail to follow around the spillovers whenever we came to one.

Somewhere around the 1 mile point you will need to leave the wash on the left and hike in the direction of the drop in point to the canyon. We had entered a waypoint into our GPS beforehand by zooming in on Google Maps satellite view and picking the coordinates of the drop in point. Without that we would have had to rely solely on on our topo map and route finding skills. Fortunately our route led us right by a granary that sits out on a point between two branches of the wash. We thought it was a giant cairn until we got a closer look and could see some of the original cement and such.

From the granary you have to cross the short hill on the left side of the wash which at this point is getting a lot deeper. In the process you should be able to pick up the old 4wd road where you will actually start seeing a few cairns.

As you come around the corner to the drop in you might notice a trail camera that is secured to one of the trees. Even if you don't notice it it has probably noticed you. We're thinking the camera was put there to capture photos of livestock entering the canyon as there is at least one more camera near a water hole in the main branch of Horseshoe Canyon. The drop in is a little ledgy in places and does require some very minor scrambling.

There is a lot of pipe and fencing materials near the spring as though someone had a grand project in mind.

The route heads down a sandy hill from the spillover before it reaches the wash in the floor of the canyon. From there it is easy hiking downstream. About a quarter mile from the spring there is a side canyon on the right that we didn't explore even though it seemed to be begging us to do so. Staying to the left in the main branch of the canyon there is a drift fence with a ladder that was erected to allow hikers access and keep cattle from going any further. If cattle could get past this point they would be able to stray all the way down to the world famous Horseshoe Canyon pictograph sites. Everyone can do their part to ensure the fence remains in tact to do the job for which it was designed.

There is a nice bench that runs along the west side of Trail Canyon that makes for some easy hiking once you cross the drift fence. A little before reaching the main fork of Horseshoe Canyon there are several routes down the sandy slopes that enter the wash. We explored a little in both directions before turning around without finding anything more than scenic canyon walls.

There are 2 accessible alcoves that look promising on the west side of Trail Canyon. Through binoculars the one on the right has some logs visible showing signs of habitation.

It would be very easy to become hopelessly lost in the Horseshoe Canyon WSA. There isn't any cellphone service in any of the canyons. The wind can quickly erase any tracks that you make in the sand, and of course, you will be leaving no tracks at all when traveling over slickrock. A GPS device with extra batteries is strongly recommended. It is best if you can either download our GPX files to your device or make your own if you are planning to follow a different route. Be sure to include waypoints at the various forks in the canyons and things like the trailhead. Take along a map for a good overall view of the area and if you are looking for anything particular like some rock art or an alcove take pictures along of what you are looking for. Besides printing out pictures and maps beforehand I usually also send them to my phone so I can view them offline. That helps for those times when I leave the printed material in my vehicle. The entire area is fun to explore with the cooler months in winter, spring and fall being the best times. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.