San Juan County, Utah
View this on the Utah Trailheads Map
Trail Type: Network
Nearby Towns: Moab, Monticello
Nearby Trails: Lavender Canyon, Devil's Lane
Season: Year Round
Trail Length: 61.9 miles
Elevation: 5,233 to 8,262 feet
This long and scenic trail is a fun diversion in the Canyonlands National Park. You won't see much slickrock, but you will see lots of wide open spaces and some ruins of dwellings from a long time ago. You even get to climb up and over through the mountains, and that offers a great break from the heat.
The trail starts off of the paved road that takes you to the Canyonlands National Park Visitor Center and the park in general. You'll see signs to Beef Basin, and the there is a pit toilet at the trailhead. There is plenty of room to air down.
The trail starts as an easy and dusty dirt road, and much of the trail looks exactly like this. Though you could do large portions of the trail in a passenger car, there are some sections that might be a bit too rough.
There is one left turn along this area, a short spur that leads downhill to join the Stevens Canyon trail. If you want to do the first, fun part of Stevens Canyon before doing the rest of Beef Basin then you can connect the two trails here.
The trail runs alongside the Bridger Jack Mesa for quite awhile, and soon you can see Cathedral Butte approaching. You are right next to the butte at about 16.5 miles from the trailhead, and you should be able to spot a right turn off of the trail. This is an optional and scenic spur to Cathedral Point.
The spur is the roughest part of the entire trail, but it isn't too rough or particularly long. There are some small ledges to climb here and there, but most vehicles will have no issues at all. The spur is a long, skinny loop that goes out to Cathedral Point and back. You can run the loop in either direction, and it's impossible to get lost because the loop takes you to both sides of a very narrow butte that sticks out into Salt Creek Canyon and the Big Pocket. There are quite a few arches in the canyon but you will probably need binoculars and a topo map to be able to spot them. When you are on the northeast side of the loop you are looking into Lavender Canyon where another 4x4 trail exists (though there is no connection point between the two trails).
Take the narrow loop back to the main trail and continue on. You soon begin your climb up into the Manti-La Sal National Forest around Horse Mountain. If the road is wet, this part could be impassable, as it gets very muddy. There are many blind curves, so watch for oncoming traffic.
You come to an intersection at the highest point in the mountain section at an intersection. Turn right here to continue along the trail, and you start going back down to the sand and out of the trees.
Continue to follow the wide and easy trail and House Park Butte approaches on your left. There is a short spur to the left that will take you to some cliff dwellings.
When you get to the first intersection you have a choice. The biggest ruins, the Tower Ruin and the Farmhouse Ruin, are a short trip to the right. However, additional and smaller ruins are in Beef Basin to your left along with a relaxing trek through the area. Turn left at the intersection to do the entire trail (you'll come back to this intersection later).
Work your way south and continue straight through the next intersection. You'll come to yet another intersection right away, with watering troughs to mark the place. The Stanrod Cemetery was here but traces of it seem to have vanished.
If you turn left at this intersection you can work your way out to see additional cliff dwellings, but these are difficult to spot without doing some hiking. However, this part of the trail is not as well-used or maintained so it can offer a bit more fun than the rest of the trail.
Return back to the intersection and turn left to continue along the trail. You'll most likely see cows somewhere in the Beef Basin, so watch for them in the trail.
When you see a small track leaving the main trail to the left it most likely goes to viewings of additional ruins. There are at least two of these ruins along the loop. The loop is very big. Stay on the main trail and you'll come all the way back around to an intersection you've visited before. Turn left here and drive a short section of trail that you've driven before but in the opposite direction.
When you get to the next intersection you'll be back where you were when you first got to Beef Basin. Turn left here to work your way out the short distance to Tower Ruin. You can see it off to the left of the road, and it's definitely worth the stop. The rocks still build a straight and strong tower on a hill.
Continue along and you'll find another track to the left. This passes a small ruin and then you go around a corner to find the Farmhouse Ruin. This ruin is quite big and it's very interesting to explore. There is ample parking at both of these ruins and helpful signs at the Farmhouse Ruin.
The Farmhouse Ruin marks the end of the Beef Basin trail. You can return the way you came in (turn left at the main intersection for the shorter way out), or you can continue along the main trail past the Farmhouse Ruin to do the Devil's Lane trail. This trail is quite a bit more difficult but the views are amazing and it take you out to the Elephant Hill trail and pavement that way.
Be sure to have plenty of gas before you get started.
Information last updated on May 30th, 2009.
From Moab take Main Street south on Highway 191. Go about 40 miles to the turn to Canyonlands National Park (this is NOT the initial turn to Needles, follow signs to Canyonlands instead). Drive along this paved road for about 20 miles to find the trailhead on the left at a pit toilet and large staging area.
Meet in Moab or at the trailhead.