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False Kiva

Canyonlands National Park

Canyonlands + Abajo Mountains, Utah

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False Kiva

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  • The False Kiva has become an iconic site of the American Southwest.- False Kiva
  • Park at the Alcove Springs pull out.- False Kiva
  • Look for the heavily used trail behind the juniper branches.- False Kiva
  • Head down the drainage into the canyon below.- False Kiva
  • Follow the canyon down below the high alcove walls.- False Kiva
  • The alcove of the False Kiva is not readily visible from the trail, but it is located in a fold of the canyon at the center of this photograph.- False Kiva
  • The last part of the trail is a scramble over this rocky ledge.- False Kiva
  • The False Kiva.- False Kiva
  • Needle Butte in the distance.- False Kiva
  • Light breaking through the clouds on the False Kiva.- False Kiva
  • The view to the south on the hike out.- False Kiva
  • Sunset at the Green River Overlook a few miles from the False Kiva trailhead.- False Kiva
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Spectacular setting. Archealogical site.
Cons: 
Not well-marked. Primitive trail.
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Region:
Canyonlands + Abajo Mountains, UT
Congestion: 
Low
Pets allowed: 
No
Net Elevation Gain: 
800.00 ft (243.84 m)
Parking Pass: 
National Park Pass
Preferable Season(s):
Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
Total Distance: 
2.50 mi (4.02 km)
Trail type: 
There-and-back
Trailhead Elevation: 
5,874.00 ft (1,790.40 m)
Current Local Weather:
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Hike Description

Hike Description

Pro Contributor

The view of the False Kiva site, first popularized by the photographer Tom Till, has become an iconic image of the Southwest. The site is not on any park maps, but park rangers will provide directions to the site if asked. The trail is only moderately difficult, though it does require careful attention to rock cairns, traversing steep and loose rocky slopes and some steep climbing on the return. The rewards are huge as the site is magnificently scenic and has a spiritual aura that can be quite moving.

To find the trailhead, park at the Alcove Spring Trailhead parking area on Upheaval Dome Road and walk back south a few hundred yards to a curve with many juniper logs lined up on the west side of the road. Take the most obvious trail going straight toward the tall butte in the distance. Follow this trail as it winds toward and then down into the bottom of the small canyon. The trail follows the drainage and then drops into a much steeper section of stone steps and switchbacks. The trail levels out somewhat along the bottom of a huge alcove and follows a cut in the hillside at the bottom of huge canyon walls. This part of the trail is actually just below the kiva cave that remains out of sight. Keep an eye out for some rocks that block this trail and a switchback that slopes up and to the right toward the wall above. Stay high and right under the wall for the easiest traverse and follow this path until the trail goes up and over a short rock ledge. The alcove holding the site is invisible until literally the last minute, when the trail reaches the ledge.

The name False Kiva has nothing to do with issues of authenticity; rather, there is some uncertainty regarding the origins of the circular wall of stone. It is designated as a class II archeological site and is protected by the National Park Service.

There is a small metal box at the site to register with the BLM and a roped-off area that contains an archeological digging (and possibly a grave site) that should not be entered. The kiva itself also should be treated with respect and not entered or disturbed. The hike should take about an hour each way, and the best lighting for photography is often mid- to late-afternoon when the canyon in the distance is well lit. Sunset or night shots are also great, but finding the way back in the dark could be a challenge.

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Location + Directions

Nearby Camping + Lodging

(6 within a 30 mile radius)

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(48 within a 30 mile radius)

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