Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Day Hikes
Gorp.com

Perhaps the two best backcountry areas for backpacking are the remote Escalante and Orange Cliffs areas. However, you don't have to travel to the backside of yonder to walk in some beautiful desert. Here are two options...

Horseshoe Bend View

This short hike takes you to a spectacular view of Horseshoe Bend and the Colorado River from high atop the canyon rim.

Getting There: Approximately five miles (8 km) south of Carl Hayden Visitor Center on U.S. Hwy. 89, just south of highway marker 545, turn west on the dirt road which ascends the small hill. You may drive a short distance west on the dirt road and park at the base of the hill. Or you may prefer to park your car in the wide pull-off by the highway, for the dirt road has some soft, sandy spots and some rocky places. Vehicles are prohibited beyond the end of the parking lot at the base of the hill.

The Hike: From the top of the short hill, it is 0.4 mile (0.65 km) to the viewpoint. The wide, sandy trail winds past sage, blackbrush, yucca, and ether desert plants. There is no shade. Take water with you.

The view of Horseshoe Bend from the rim of the canyon is extraordinary. (You'll need a wide-angle lens to get the entire scene in your photographs.) Below you, the Colorado River makes a wide sweep around a sandstone escarpment. Long ago, as the river meandered southward, it always chose the most downward slope. This downward journey did not always occur in a straight line, and sometimes the river made wide circles around higher spines of rock. Here at Horseshoe Bend, the Colorado River did just that, and as the river cut down through the layers of sandstone, it created a horseshoe-shaped bend in the canyon.

Conceivably, at some time far in the future, the river could erode through the narrow neck of rock, creating a natural bridge and abandoning the horseshoe-shaped channel around the rock.

Wiregrass Canyon

This longer, more strenuous hike takes you into Wiregrass Canyon, a steep-sided wash that leads down to Lake Powell. The hike through the wash provides views of colorful cliffs, balanced rocks, alcoves, and natural bridges.

Getting There: From Page or Wahweap, drive north on U.S. Hwy. 89 to Big Water, Utah. Between mileposts 7 and 8, turn right. (There is a sign on the highway indicating "Big Water City.") Turn right 0.3 mile (0.5 km) from the junction. (There is a sign that reads "Glen Canyon National Recreation Area - State Highway 12" and which indicates the road.) Drive 4.6 miles (7.5 km) to Wiregrass Canyon Back Country Use Area. Park in the pullout provided.

The dirt road to Wiregrass Canyon is accessible to two-wheel-drive vehicles when the road is dry. Wet weather, however, can make the road impassable for even four-wheel-drive vehicles. Ask a park ranger for current weather and road conditions.

The Hike: Wiregrass Canyon extends for approximately 3 miles (5 km) from the road to Lake Powell. There is no trail as such, but it is easy to follow the wash. In some places it will be necessary to climb out of the wash and detour around pour-offs (drop-offs where waterfalls flow during flash floods). Narrow footpaths around these pour-offs have been created by hikers. Cairns (small piles of rocks) help to mark the main canyon.

About 1 mile (1.6 km) from the road, you will find a small natural bridge, formed when flood waters from the canyon paralleling Wiregrass Canyon finally cut through the narrow canyon wall. Flood waters now rush through this natural bridge into Wiregrass Canyon, and the periodic streams have abandoned the lower part of the parallel canyon. As you continue down the wash, you will see balanced rocks, small arches high in the canyon walls, and side canyons that you are welcome to explore. Near Lake Powell, but still in the wash, you will see a second natural bridge.

The USGS 7.5 minute Lone Rock Quadrangle may be helpful—buy it at the Carl Hayden Visitor Center.

Wiregrass Canyon provides little shade, and the rocks reflect the sun's heat. Fall, winter, and spring are the best times for this hike. If hiking in the summer, start as early in the morning as possible.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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