Pets allowed
Not Allowed
Elevation Gain
450.00 ft (137.16 m)
Trail type
2.50 mi (4.02 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 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.

Unfortunately, due to vandalism, the National Park Service closed the alcove that produced the iconic image in 2018. Hikers may still access the trail and view the alcove from a distance, but a sign blocks entry to the False Kiva site. The site is sacred or ceremonial to several of the Native American tribes in the area. Do not disturb the site.

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.

Recommended Gear

Before you head out on your next adventure, make sure you have the right gear! 

Here's a list of our go-to hiking essentials to get you started:

Backpack: Osprey AG Pack

Hip Belt, Adjustable Torso, Compression Straps, Raincover + Hydraulics LT 2.5L Water Reservoir Included

Men's Manta 28L • $98.93-107.25 • Osprey | Amazon | Backcountry | REI

Women's Mira 26L • $98.93-107.25 • Osprey | Amazon | Backcountry | REI


Hiking Shoes: Salomon X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Shoe 

Cushioned, GORE-TEX, High Traction Contagrip, 15.8 oz

Men's • $123.71-165.00 • Salomon | Amazon | Backcountry | REI

Women's • $124.93-165.00 • Salomon | Amazon | Backcountry | REI

Shirt: Mountain Hardwear Canyon Pro Long Sleeve Shirt 

Sun Protective, Moisture Wicking, Quick Drying, Roll-up Sleeves

Men's • $71.25-75.00 • Mountain Hardware | Amazon | Backcountry

Women's • $44.98-47.47 • Mountain Hardware | Amazon | Backcountry

GPS Watch: Garmin Forerunner 35 GPS Watch

Waterproof, Calorie Burn Tracker, GPS, Sleep Tracker, Shock Resistant, Speed Tracker, Lap Timer

$128.03-170.00 • Garmin | Amazon | Backcountry | REI

Trekking Poles: MSR DynaLock Explore Poles 

Aluminum, Adjustable with DynaLock Levers, Four-season Functionality, 20 oz.

$99.95 • Amazon | REI

Socks: Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion Sock 

Made in USA, Anti-bacterial, Merino Wool, Breathable, Fast-drying

Men's • $17-22 • Darn Tough | Amazon | Backcountry | REI

Women's • $12.19-22.00 • Darn Tough | Amazon | Backcountry | REI

Headlamp: Black Diamond Storm Headlamp 

LED, Waterproof, Maximum Beam Distance: 80 m, Takes AAA Batteries

$49.85-49.95 • Black Diamond | Amazon | REI

First Aid Kit: Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight and Watertight .5 Kit

Ultralight, Watertight, Group Size: 1 person, Trip Duration: 1-2 days

$16.95-19.47 • Adventure Medical Kits | Amazon | Backcountry | REI

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass

National Park Pass


Spectacular setting. Archealogical site.


Not well-marked. Primitive trail.

Trailhead Elevation

5,874.00 ft (1,790.40 m)


Historically significant
Big vistas
Geologically significant

Typically multi-day



Nearby Adventures


Thanks for the critical update, Dan. We are also aware of the closure and take these acts of vandalism seriously. The adventure is up to date.
As of August 2018, hiking up to the alcove is forbidden, in response to repeated incidents of vandalism. One can still hike up to near the kiva, but not into it.
It's in the Island in the Sky District, not The Maze, as stated on the main page.
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