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Pets allowed
No
Elevation Gain
?
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
7.90 mi (12.71 km)
Please respect the outdoors and leave no trace. One tip how to dispose of waste properly: Pack out toilet paper and hygiene products. For more information, visit https://lnt.org/learn/7-principles

The Barrier Canyon style of Native American rock art is so distinctive, so beautiful, and so evocative that it is widely regarded as the pinnacle of North American pre-historic art. The Barrier Canyon that this style of art is named for is now called Horseshoe Canyon, and it is located in a tiny and remote unit of Canyonlands National Park in central Utah. The long dirt road drive to the trailhead and the length of the hike itself is daunting to many, but this should definitely be on the short list of high-priority Utah adventures. It is worth every bit of the effort to get here.

First of all, while the graded dirt road to Horseshoe Canyon is fairly long, definitely remote, and becomes impassible after a heavy rain, the road is generally quite good, and passenger cars can easily average 35 mph when the road is in good condition. The route is scenic in places and has signs at the few important junctions. There are a couple of very primitive campsites at the trailhead, and there is generally a park volunteer camping there with radio equipment should an emergency arise. The volunteers also help protect the archeological sites from vandalism and help educate visitors about the art.

The park signs claim the hike is 6 miles round-trip, but it is actually nearly 4 miles one-way to the Great Gallery. There is a steady but manageable drop of about 500 feet to the canyon floor and an additional 100 foot drop as you hike through the canyon. The way back can feel long, and in summer it is exposed and brutally hot. The views going down are marvelous, and the walk through the canyon is very beautiful. Make sure you look for the dinosaur tracks along the trail about 0.2 miles from the trailhead.

It would be a great hike even without the rock art, but the art is really magnificent. There is something unsettling about the abstractly human, other-worldly figures populating the galleries that is hard to describe. These images are believed to be between 2,000 and 3,000 years old. Some of the figures are between 6 and 7 feet tall, and the Great Gallery is over 120 feet long. It is easy to see why this is considered one of the finest rock art sites in North America.

There are four main galleries of art, each distinctive and interesting. The first is the High Gallery, which is reached about twenty minutes after the mile-long descent, and the second is not much farther along on the other side of the canyon. The third gallery at the back of a huge alcove is very interesting for the early 20th-century grafitti that is mixed in with the ancient images, and this is a nice cool place to rest before the 1.25-mile trek to the end. Save time to linger at the Great Gallery and wonder, as many others have, whether the figures are shamans, spirit guides, or space aliens.

Note: Horseshoe Canyon is a low risk for flash flooding, but it is very remote. Bring plenty of water, especially in summer, and check the weather forecast before embarking on the adventure.

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)

Winter
Spring
Fall

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

Not Required

Pros

Spectacular rock art. Beautiful canyon views. Very remote.

Cons

Long dirt road drive. Far from anywhere.

Trailhead Elevation

5,403.00 ft (1,646.83 m)

Net Elevation Gain

600.00 ft (182.88 m)

Address

Unnamed Road
UT
United States

Features

Historically significant
Big vistas
Wildflowers
Geologically significant

Typically multi-day

No

Location

Field Guide

Nearby Adventures

Nearby Lodging + Camping

Comments

01.24.17
Horseshoe Canyon is absolutely marvelous. The rock art is incredible, you get tingles thinking about how old it is. Be careful attempting in winter, wet roads make it incredibly tough for 2WD vehicles. If it has rained the day before or the day of your hike, make sure you have a car that can handle a few inches of mud!
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