For quite some time, Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument has been sitting at the center of a national controversy, along with many other recently designated National Monuments.
The enormity of the Bears Ears region makes it one of the country’s best playgrounds, so if you’d like to take a peak before it’s (potentially) sold to the highest bidder, here are five epic hikes you might want to tackle.
The Sundance Trail
The Sundance Trail is an adventurous 1,200-foot journey down a talus slope that leads directly into the Dark Canyon. The path winds its way around cottonwood trees and chiseled pools all leading down to a basin full of waterfalls to explore. It’s not an easy hike, but the rewards are certainly worth the effort. It’s just one of several entryways into the abyss that is Dark Canyon, which starts out at the high point of Elk Ridge.
If you’re up for a serious challenge, make your way to the peak of Hotel Rock. The sweeping canyon vistas of the surrounding valley are more than enough to take your breath away, if you can reach them. Treacherous slick rock and dirt double-track make up 1,200 feet of winding climbs to the top. It’s popular among mountain bikers, so be heads up as you share the path.
One of the longest and most difficult hikes in Bears Ears lies in the heart of Cedar Mesa. Grand Gulch is a sweeping chasm filled with ruins and pictographs around nearly every corner. The hike is 30 miles long, covering multiple days, and not for the inexperienced. Water sources are few and far between, which is why permits are required and only approved on a limited basis.
Valley of the Gods Loop
Fans of Westworld might recognize the far-reaching red rock desert of Valley of the Gods. The 17-mile unpaved loop across the open desert is a dazzling showcase of towering spires and monuments that the Navajo believed were the immortalized remnants of ancient warriors. For the best views make your way of the Moki Dugway mesa for panoramic views of the surrounding landscape that’ll leave you in awe.
Owl Creek—Fish Creek Loop
For a multi-day adventure with an abundance of scenic beauty check out the Owl and Fish Creek Loop. The 17-mile trek is open in the spring and fall, though the wash bottom trail can become quite dangerous in the event of a rainstorm. Along the way the trail passes Puebloan cliff dwellings and pictographs as well as Nevill’s Arch. The trail winds its way along two slick rock canyons that are incredibly narrow, so pay attention to the weather before you go. The vegetation here is thick, with ponderosa pine and Manzanita groves dotting the landscape. You’ll need a pass before hitting the trail, so get yours early as spots are limited.