Pets allowed
Allowed
Elevation Gain
4,000.00 ft (1,219.20 m)
Trail type
Loop
Distance
40.00 mi (64.37 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

The Dark Canyon Wilderness complex contains a large swath of land in far southeastern Utah. Relatively unknown compared to Utah's national parks and monuments, the Dark Canyon Wilderness contains an incredible amount of biodiversity and wildlife. Ranging from the harsh desert of the Colorado River all the way up to 9,000 feet, this wilderness area contains many different ecological zones, and is home to black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, elk, and so much more. On top of this, the Dark Canyon wilderness lies inside of Bears Ears National Monument. 

The Dark Canyon Wilderness loop hike can be done in either direction, but is typically done clockwise, starting in Woodenshoe Canyon and ending at the top of Peavine canyon. The distance between the two trailheads is just a few miles, so if you don't have a car shuttle this loop hike is definitely still possible. 

Start by hiking down Woodenshoe canyon. At first, the vegetation is lush and has an alpine feel to it, but eventually, you will hike down into a beautiful forest of occasional red rock and Ponderosa Pine trees. This area is unique for Utah's desert. While not as visually stunning as the slot canyons of Escalante or the towering cliffs of Canyonlands, Dark Canyon has a truly wild and unique feel about it. Woodenshoe canyon is fairly long and contains small pockets of water. Typically, backpackers will choose to camp towards the bottom few miles of the canyon where there is a natural spring. 

Woodenshoe canyon eventually meets up with Dark Canyon, which drains a huge area and runs into the Colorado River. Once you meet up with Dark Canyon, take a right (up canyon) and begin the very long and gradual ascent back up to 8,500 feet. There are many side canyons to explore as you hike up Dark Canyon, and keep your eyes peeled for native dwellings in the cliffs. Water is scarce in Dark Canyon, so make sure to plan your camp accordingly. 

Eventually, you will exit Dark Canyon and the trail turns into a 4X4 road, which you will have to walk to reach Peavine Canyon. This section of 4X4 road walking has some of the most picturesque terrain on the whole loop. After several miles, there will be a sign for the Peavine Canyon trail. This trial climbs out of the desert and into a lush aspen forest. The transition from desert to alpine is always fascinating. Take the Peavine canyon trail back up to the main road, which you can walk back to the Woodenshoe canyon trailhead if necessary. 

In total, this loop hike is just over 40 miles long. Most of the miles have deep sand, so the going is slow. This loop feels long for the mileage and should only be attempted by those who have experience with longer distance backpacking trips. 

 

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Fall

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

No

Open from

May 01 to November 01

Days

4

Pros

Solitude. Native artifacts.

Cons

Monotonous.

Trailhead Elevation

8,000.00 ft (2,438.40 m)

Highest point

8,500.00 ft (2,590.80 m)

Features

Backcountry camping
Big vistas
Native artifacts
Wildflowers

Typically multi-day

Yes

Permit required

No

Location

Nearby Adventures

Nearby Lodging + Camping

Comments

Have updates, photos, alerts, or just want to leave a comment?
Sign In and share them.