Arch Canyon is located in the Northeast section of Cedar Mesa. It drains into upper Comb Wash and offers a variety of hiking and exploring opportunities. As might be assumed given its name, several arches can be viewed in the Arch Canyon system. Lower Arch Canyon offers easy trails, Anasazi ruins and scenic hiking. Arch Canyon is accessed by driving north on the Upper Comb Wash road where it intersects with UT Highway 95 at about mile 107.5. The Comb Wash Road, county road #205, is very easy to find, as it is at the bottom of the long road up the side of Comb Ridge. The Comb Wash road south of the highway is county road # 235 and it runs parallel with Comb Ridge until it intersects with US 163 near Bluff, Utah. The Comb Wash road north of the highway is a good quality dirt road that runs basically North.
There are a number of good campsites along the Comb Wash road south of the highway where you will find outhouses but no water. Only a few campsites are on public land to the North of the UT 95. This is because much of the land that lies North of the highway is Ute Indian reservation land and trespassing is forbidden. It is important for all visitors to respect the property rights of the Utes and make sure to stick to the roads that are public travel through their lands.
About 2 miles north of the highway you will pass by a gated fence near some corrals. Keep driving through. The gate is usually open but is sometimes closed. If the gate is closed when you drive through make sure to close it behind you. (A general rule of thumb in the West is to always leave gates in the same state you find them.) A short distance from this point you will pass by a well signed picnic area which is privilege and off limits. Just past here turn to the West and soon you will spot the BLM sign & trail registry.
Several ruins are easily reached when hiking in Lower Arch Canyon.
From the parking area there are two options for moving forward. Most hikers will chose to park here and continue on foot. However, Arch Canyon is a very popular 4wd road and many choose to drive up the canyon. The road runs for about 7 1/2 miles and is a one way road. It is definitely a 4wd road and only high clearance vehicles with experienced drivers should drive this route. This can be a popular road for many 4wd enthusiasts so be aware that you may find traffic in Arch Canyon.
Hiking in Lower Arch Canyon is easy. Follow the road/trail heading up canyon from the trailhead. After only about a quarter of a mile you will encounter the Arch Canyon Ruin. Since so many people visit this site you will find the ruins are fenced off but there are areas to explore and there is some very interesting rock art, both petroglyph and pictographs. Be sure to make note of the cliff walls where there are holes carved into the rock that once served to hold the beams in place for a second and a third story to the building. This was a very large structure at one time.
In fact, at one time this was a very large ruin. There is evidence that there were a number of room blocks ranging from one to four stories tall along the cliff face. The standing walls show Mesa Verde construction techniques with loaf shaped building blocks held in place by mud plaster and Chacoan style construction with tablet shaped stones laid carefully in place. This site likely was
These concentric circle petroglyph are well preserved. Despite their easy access.
occupied during both the Pueblo 2 and Pueblo 3 periods. An interesting feature here is that most of the structures were torn down by the Anasazi themselves and most of the debris was moved to the front of the site. I have never heard a theory advanced as to why they might have done this.
Hiking continues to be fairly easy as you continue up canyon. it is about 7 miles to the junction of Arch Canyon and Texas Canyon. Here the road ends and you are treated to views of Angel Arch and Cathedral Arch, 2 of the arches that give the canyon its name. Look for both of these arches in the main Canyon just up canyon looking to the right (East). There is a large grove of Ponderosa Pines at the road end which makes a great picnic spot. This is the end of the road for all motorized vehicles.
Hikers can continue in either direction. Heading up Arch Canyon you will reach the junction with Butts Canyon. Butts, Texas and Upper Arch Canyons all offer exploration opportunities for the adventurous. It is possible to make a loop hike by exiting from one of these canyons and entering into another but be aware that this will be difficult route finding and hiking.
Most hikers will find that hiking from the trailhead to the Texas Canyon junction and back will make a full day. If you just have a short time and want to visit a ruin the Arch Canyon Ruin is easily accessed and is an interesting site. For more information about Arch Canyon refer to any of our three featured Cedar Mesa Hiking Guides