Hike in Horseshoe Canyon, Canyonlands NP

Utah Horseshoe Canyon Unit

  • Activities:

    Photography, Hiking

  • Skill Level:


  • Season:

    Spring, Autumn, Winter

  • Trail Type:


  • RT Distance:

    7.2 Miles

  • Elevation Gain:

    780 Feet


In this detached area of Canyonlands National Park you'll find some of the most significant and well-preserved rock art in the country. Hike along the canyon bottom to the Great Gallery and come face to face with life-sized pictographs and petroglyphs.

Formerly known as Barrier Canyon, this lesser-known and harder to reach corner of Canyonlands National Park is truly an incredible place. To get to the trailhead, it's helpful to have all-wheel or 4WD, though if conditions are favorable it is possible to make the 30 miles of dirt road in a 2WD. This hike is best completed in spring and fall when temperatures are cooler - hiking during summer is ill-advised given the extreme temperatures that can occur in this area and the lack of water anywhere nearby.

From the parking lot/camping area, start out on the trail on the canyon top. Hike on an old road and sections of slickrock, soon coming to an entrance gate for hikers. From here the trail descends steeply to the canyon bottom in a short distance. Once at the bottom the trail will turn to the right, taking you south/southwest along the wash, surrounded by massive sandstone walls. At about 2.0 miles in, look to your right for the Horseshoe Shelter Gallery, where a panel of pictographs hides underneath an overhang.

Continuing on you'll pass a natural amphitheater on your right with pictograph panels on the inside, known as the Alcove Gallery. This is a great spot to explore and to move out of the sun for a bit. Once you head back out, continue to follow the wash for another mile and a half before reaching the Great Gallery. This gallery is 200ft long and 15ft high, comprised of 20 life-sized figures and 80 images overall, and is believed to have been created 2,000-4,000 years ago. You can walk higher up to view the images up close or admire from the wash, but do not touch these or any other rock art paintings you see. Sometimes there is a park ranger here who can answer questions and provide insight to this special place.

When you're ready to pull yourself away, head back out the way you came in. Keep in mind your only elevation gain on this trip is the last mile and a half when you exit the canyon. Camping is not allowed in the park boundaries but there is a camping area at the parking lot (which is just outside the park on BLM land) that you can reserve ahead of time. If you do this, then you're already home for the evening! Otherwise the nearby Goblin Valley State Park is a great place to camp.

The closest town is Hanksville, population 219. It's a small spot but they have a gas station and convenience store carved into a giant rock, so it's certainly a unique spot to refuel and get some snacks!

Getting there: From Highway 24 turn west onto 1010, the 30 mile dirt road that leads to the Horseshoe Canyon Unit. As you approach the 30 mile mark, keep your eyes peeled for a sign to your right for Horseshoe Canyon - this can be a tricky right hand turn if the sand is deep. You'll find the parking lot shortly after this turn.

Pack List

  • Plenty of water: the NPS recommends one gallon/4 liters per person for this trail
  • Snacks/lunch
  • Camera
  • 10 essentials
  • Sunscreen/a hat for sun protection
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Overall rating: 

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Beautiful canyon! Best enjoyed leisuely with perhaps a little quiet reflection on how incredible (and old!) the images that you are seeing are! Beautiful photos!

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

There's really nothing like this spot. Standing face to face with a 7ft pictograph made thousands of years ago in the middle of the desert is a powerful thing. Please respect this area and don't contribute any of your own art to the galleries!

over 1 year ago
over 1 year ago

Are we missing something? Suggest an edit

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