Photo via Greg Willis.
Photo via Greg Willis.

For past posts in my series on favorite hikes around the world, I’ve covered countryside rambles, jungle adventures, and alpine excursions. So it’s about time to include something from the desert — an incredible hike that follows a dried sandy stream bed. The hike is shaded by sheer sandstone cliffs and arched alcoves that are peppered with exquisite ancient pictographs and petroglyphs.

It’s a place called Horseshoe Canyon, and it’s in the southeastern desert of Utah, in Canyonlands National Park, United States.

Photo via
Photo via Ken Lund.

Horseshoe Canyon is remote, but well known.  During the heyday of the Wild West, Butch Cassidy and other outlaws used the maze-like network of canyons in this area to escape the law. More recently, many know it as the canyon Aron Ralston emerged and was rescued from. Ralston suffered from a solo rappelling accident in an adjacent canyon where he had been pinned down by a boulder for 127 hours. He only escaped by amputating his own arm with a dull pocketknife.

Photo via Ken Lund.
Photo via Ken Lund.

The Horseshoe Canyon Hike is also one of the best ancient Native American sites for seeing life-sized well-preserved petroglyphs and pictographs. The Great Gallery is the pay off, and it’s an easy linear hike-in hike-out trail.

Photo via John Fowler.
Photo via John Fowler.

I discovered this hike from an art professor one summer as a research assistant studying Native American pictographs and the art of collections. It was a fabulous summer spent combing the desserts across the western US.

Photo via Ken Lund.
Photo via Ken Lund.

If you go:

Horseshoe Canyon is part of Canyonlands National Park and it’s an easy addition to our ultimate southern Utah national parks road trip itinerary. The canyon is in a remote area cut off from the rest of the park and requires driving more than 30 miles on a dirt road to reach the trail head. The National Park Service has excellent basic information on the hike including directions on how to get there. To reduce some of the drive time and to get an earlier start on the hike, consider checking out the stunning alien landscapes of Goblin Valley the day before and spending the night at their state campgrounds.

Horseshoe Canyon hike is only seven miles roundtrip from the trailhead to the Great Gallery and back, however the dry heat and sand can make it feel more challenging than that. We hiked it in the spring and started early in the day to take advantage of the natural shade created from the steep canyon walls. Make sure to bring plenty of water — at least one gallon per person — and food to maintain energy and hydration. I recommend avoiding this hike in the summer.

— Laura Rowley


Written by Laura Rowley

I am an artist, flight attendant, and travel blogger.

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