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"Vistas open up all around you, with vibrant red earth tones and
vegetation in all different shades of green. Explore the park's 15,313 acres
and examine cliffs and ravines for a close-up look at geology in action."
~ from the park interpretive guide

For context about the trail loop I'll describe in this entry, here's a mini version of the park map again:

The Upper Canyon Trail loop is in the upper left corner of the map. Click on this link for a pdf. version of the map that is large enough to read.

I highlighted the loop in gold and red on this more detailed map section:

I'll explain more about the red dashes in a minute.

Today I accomplished my goal of hiking clockwise around this 8+-mile loop, all of which was new to me except a couple miles on the Canyon Loop Trail (D) and northeastern end of the Upper Canyon Trail (C).

The red X is where I parked. Since the trail is not a closed loop, I had to walk the last mile on the park road between the North and South Prong parking areas. The main reason I chose to go clockwise is that road -- it's more downhill going west at the end of the hike. I could have parked in either parking lot and gone either direction on the loop.

I still haven't done the bisecting Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail (Trail B) but that's only because I didn't have time this trip. It gives me something to look forward to the next time we're here! I talked to a hiker who verified that the views are great along that ridge and the trail is easy -- once you're up there. It's just very tough getting up and down at either end.

View of the first canyon from the South Prong parking area.  Upper Canyon Trail A
winds 'way back through the bottomlands below Haynes Ridge, which is to the right.

The Upper Canyon Trail is the most difficult trail in this park. There are very good reasons why bikes and horses aren't allowed on most of this loop. That doesn't mean everyone obeys the signs, however.

Note the two places marked "extremely steep and rugged." I marked the worst parts in red dashes on the loop in the map above.

That warning is definitely accurate for the section of trail just north of the South Prong primitive camping area. The section near Fern Cave isn't as bad. I lucked out choosing the clockwise direction; it was easier on my knees to go up the steepest and roughest section rather than come down it.

I had no clue what I was getting myself into when I ventured out on this trail. I never talked to anyone who was familiar with it. I wasn't sure if Cody or I could get up and down those two sections safely. I figured if the first one was too rough for either of us, I'd turn around and try it from the other direction. That's an advantage of a loop.

Looking back at the long canyon through which I hiked. I was part way up the first mountain  
marked "extremely steep and rugged" when I took this photo. Note the trail far below.

Not to worry. The killer climb was a little hairy but we did it! The views (such as the photo above) were absolutely worth the work and adrenaline expended. It's one of those things that's kinda scary when you do it . . . but you can't wait to do it all over again.

Note: if you have a fear of heights, do NOT do this section of trail much beyond (north of) the South Prong primitive camping area if you're going clockwise. If you come in from the east and north on the Upper Canyon Trail (CCW on the loop), acrophobia is much less likely -- as long as you turn around at the Haynes Ridge intersection and go back the way you came. I don't have a fear of heights but it was still a little freaky on some of the ledges where the footing was poor.

I took more photos during this hike than I care to admit. In order to include a fair sampling, this entry is four pages long. Enjoy the views! Most of the pictures are in chronological order as I hiked the loop.


I drove to the end of the park road early this morning and left the truck at the South Prong tent camping area parking lot. There is a covered interpretive area here and beautiful views west and north into the canyon:

The photo at the top of this entry shows a wide view of the entire canyon.

The trailhead is a few yards from the kiosk:

Soon one of the more impressive rock walls comes into view:


Last year I walked down the trail to this spot, took some pictures, and turned around for lack of time to explore the canyon. I knew I had to come back again.

This time I kept on going and was rewarded with one great view after another. The canyon walls on both sides of the trail fascinated me. That's why I took so many pictures!



The first 1 miles of this trail undulate in and out of the streams that flow through this canyon. Only two or three of the creek beds had any water in them this week:



Sometimes the trail follows a stream bed for a few yards, then climbs back out onto the footpath:


The trail surface is mostly smooth, wide, and hard-packed. The dry creek beds have more sand and rocks and are harder to walk through.

Continuing along the trail northbound . . .









In a little over a mile the trail enters a little green grassy area with a side trail to the South Prong primitive camping area:

That's just the first 1 miles of the Upper Canyon Trail (A). It gets even better the farther you go into the canyon.

I think this is the prettiest trail in the whole park, and they're all scenic. If you have only a limited time in this park, I recommend you choose this trail through the canyon and back.

Continued on next pagephotos from South Prong primitive camping area to Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil