Cedar Mesa/Bears Ears National Monument
Cedar Mesa in southeastern Utah is an amazing area of deep sandstone canyons, desert mesas, and forested highlands that is now part of the new 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears National Monument. This region encompasses one of most significant cultural landscapes in the United States, with thousands of archaeological sites and important areas of spiritual significance. There are lots of things to explore here including rock art, ancient cliff dwellings, and archaeological wonders that make hiking here truly exciting.
The size and diversity of the new National Monument makes it a challenging place to visit. It is likely that you will make multiple visits because it will be difficult to absorb the magnitude of the region in one trip. Cedar Mesa is a network of canyons that contain numerous prehistoric ruins and rock art panels. Each hike and drive within the region will be a new and exciting adventure. We’ll first explain how to get to the region and then provide some ideas for getting the most from your visit.
Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa are located in a remote area of southern Utah which is tough to access. It is bordered by the Needles District of Canyonlands NP to the north, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area to the west, the Abajo Mountains and Manti-La Sal forest to the northeast, and Monument Valley to the south. When coming from the east you will travel on Highway 191 through Bluff and Blanding. Highway 163 coming from Monument Valley will connect to Highway 191 just south of Bluff. Highway 95 intersects with Highway 191 just south of Blanding and then takes you into the inner parts of the region. Highway 261 runs from Highway 95 south to Highway 163 near Mexican Hat and Goosenecks State Park. Many of the popular trails in the Monument are accessed from this road.
Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa is vast which means you need to plan your visit. It is essential that you know where you are going and have a map of the area together with trail descriptions. Make sure that you have a full tank of gas, extra food, clothing, and water. Our rule is don’t hike or travel in this country alone and utilizing two or more vehicles is always the best option.
The roads within the Monument are mostly dirt, clay, or gravel. Road surfaces are subject to flooding and can be impassable when wet. High clearance four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended. Because of possible issues with road conditions it is highly suggested that you check with the visitor centers to get the latest update.
The Kane Gulch Ranger Station is located on Highway 261 four miles south of its junction with Highway 95 and is open during business hours from March 1st to June 15th and from September 1st to October 31st. Notices and alerts will be posted at the ranger station. There is limited water at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station which is open during business hours. The other access to water is at the Natural Bridges National Monument. Daily and weekly permits are required to hike in Cedar Mesa. Also, please leave gates open or closed as you find them and respect private property.
Cedar Mesa is a difficult place to hike and explore so it might be a good idea to start with shorter and easier hikes until you become familiar with the area. Planning your hiking activity in Cedar Mesa is essential. We started hiking in Natural Bridges National Monument and then started to extend to more manageable hikes from there. We also learned that is not a good idea to hike alone in this area. We think taking two vehicles and having at least 3 people in your hiking group is a smart option.
We have hiked most of the trails leading into Grand Gulch. Also, we have hiked many of the trails off Comb Ridge which are accessed from Highway 262 which runs parallel to the ridge. Our exploration in the region is ongoing and we’ll post new information as we continue hiking and seeking adventure within this vast area.
A word of caution regarding hiking in Cedar Mesa is that the hikes are long and you will frequently need to navigate around pour offs and scramble over and around boulders. It is essential to obtain maps of the area and the trails you are hiking. GPS devices are great tools but there is no substitute for a good compass and a map combined with the skill and knowledge on how to use them.
Our Adventure Guide provides a list of hikes to consider so you can benefit from our experiences.