| Home | Warning | Gear | Books | Photography | Hikes | Links | Flora & Fauna | Etiquette | About Me | What's New |



Horseshoe Canyon - Canyonlands National Park

Summary: An out and back hike to some of the best pictograph panels anywhere. The hike has an elevation loss and gain of 750 feet and passes through the scenic drainage of Barrier Creek, which features sheer sandstone walls, alcoves and groves of cottonwood trees. Most of the pictographs found in the canyon were thought to have been painted between 2000 BC to 500 AD by groups of hunter-gatherers who pre-dated the Anasazi and Fremont cultures. The panels are painted in a style known as “Barrier Canyon” featuring dark, tapering, immobile human forms, painted in a dark red pigment. These figures are frequently ghostly in appearance, hovering in rows against a sandstone backdrop within alcoves.
The Rules: Pets are prohibited below the rim of Horseshoe Canyon. Group size is limited to 20 people. Don't touch the pictographs! Pack animals are allowed, and you'll see evidence to this effect.
Directions: From the town of Hanksville, drive north on Highway 24 for 19 miles to between mileposts 135-136 and turn right (Goblin Valley State Park is just north of this road). Drive 24 miles on this well graded dirt road (suitable for passenger car) to a fork in the road and information kiosk. Turn left heading towards Horseshoe Canyon and drive 5 miles to a sign pointing right to the Horseshoe Canyon Trailhead. Follow this somewhat rougher dirt road for about 2 miles to the trailhead, which features a restroom, information kiosk and a few campsites. 
Road Conditions: High Clearance Vehicle (when roads are dry), a Passenger Car will get you close (maybe all the way?)
Navigation: Easy
Length: 6.5 miles
Date Hiked: July, 2007
Weather Conditions: Hot and sunny
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the parking area, follow the well marked path as it descends over slick rock towards the canyon. Along the way you will pass a well preserved dinosaur footprint that is encircled in rocks (the footprint is located right in the trail a few hundred yards prior to reaching a water tank). The trail reaches a point that overlooks the canyon, then descends along a sandy arc to eventually enter Horseshoe Canyon. Turn right and begin walking up-canyon. Walking in Horseshoe Canyon alternates between firm sand, loose sand and rocks. Simply follow the foot prints and the main path as it winds its way along the canyon bottom. The path will take you right to each of the four pictograph panels, the first of which (the High Gallery) lies a short distance up-canyon high on the wall on the left. Just beyond on the right hand side is the Horseshoe Shelter panel, which contains several small abstract forms and a dog. Look for a use trail on the right that leads up to some additional panels which were drawn at a later date and feature a hunter with bow and arrow, elk and bison (the bow and arrow was introduced into the Canyonlands area around A.D. 400). Continue up-canyon another 3/4 of a mile to a large alcove on the right. There are several forms located in the northern part of the alcove, though they are not as well preserved as the others and exhibit some evidence of vandalism. Another mile or so up-canyon you will arrive at one of the largest pictograph panels in existence called the Great Gallery. This panel is located in a prominent alcove on the right. There are ammo cans that contain a register, informational papers and binoculars with which to better view the panels. After enjoying the scene, return the way you came.
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author and his wife completed the hike on a very hot day in July at a slow pace in about 6 hours lingering at each of the panels and taking an afternoon nap in the shade of the Great Gallery.
Maps: None used
Books: Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau - Michael Kelsey
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
Descending into Horseshoe Canyon. Scene from the High Gallery.
Scenes from the Horseshoe Shelter panel.
Hunting scene from the Horseshoe
Shelter panel.
A panorama photo of the Great Gallery.