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Wilderness Watch: Dark Canyon Wilderness, UT

Cliffs in the Dark Canyon Wilderness

Photo: Sandstone cliffs within the Dark Canyon Wilderness (Manti-La Sal National Forest, Public Domain).

Southeastern Utah is a land of endless change. Endlessly carved by the Colorado and San Juan rivers and uplifted by the Colorado Plateau, the immense scale of the "canyon country" spans from areas as well-known as Canyonlands and Zion national parks to the wildernesses of the Manti-La Sal National Forest. One of the most inaccessible (yet most rewarding) of these areas is Dark Canyon.

Adjoining the Manti-Las Sal National Forest, Canyonlands National Park, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the Dark Canyon Wilderness (managed by the Forest Service) covers nearly 50,000 acres of undulating canyons and eroded landscapes. Wildlife flock to this area for its seclusion and forest shade; among the species found here are great horned owls, bobcats, kestrels and other raptors, a wide variety of reptiles (like the Hopi rattlesnake below!), and the desert bighorn sheep, for whom the wilderness is a yearlong habitat.

In pre-colonial times, Native peoples were drawn to the abundant water flowing from (now-defunct) springs and seeps in the canyon bottoms. The Ancestral Puebloans settled in, and built an impressive array of towers, cliff-dwellings, and other permanent structures throughout the landscape. The wildness of the landscape has played a hand in preserving these structures over the years. In 1986 (only two years after its designation as a wilderness), the BLM noted that "because of the inaccessibility of Dark canyon, this [wilderness] potentially contains numerous pristine cultural resources."

Today, any adventurers seeking an escape from the bustle and high traffic of Utah's national parks can find it in spades in Dark Canyon, provided they are prepared for a landscape that is often harsh and rarely forgiving.

Find out more about the origins of Dark Canyon Wilderness from WildernessConnect.

Find current conditions, trails, and recommendations from the Manti-La Sal National Forest.


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