is a long and complex canyon system that originates on Cedar Mesa and
the south end of the Mesa to the San Juan River. John's Canyon is not a
destination for most hikers which is a shame as it offers some great
hiking opportunities. John's Canyon seems to be at the edge of ancient
are fewer ruins than in most Cedar Mesa canyons. There are three
sections of John's Canyon. The upper section is typical Cedar Mesa
terrain. The middle stretch gets broad and flat and the lower canyon
As yo approach John's Canyon the canyon drops dramatically
large pour-over. Suddenly the shallow drainage you are following
becomes a serious canyon.
John's Canyon has three forks at
the head of the main
and there are two forks in West John's Canyon, all of which
popular John's Canyon hike enters into the main fork of the upper
canyon and heads
down to western fork which you follow up and out, making a great loop
can make this hike in either direction and you can park at either end
hike. To hike the main fork, park along Highway 261 just north of the
Dugway. There is a large parking area immediately adjacent to
mile 17.3. This is right at the junction where San Juan County road
off to the west. If
you park here, the
trail begins a couple hundred yards down SJ 2211. The other option is
on SJ 2211 about .6 mile to an intersection with a track that heads
road ends at an old drill hole right on the rim of the western fork.
where you will exit if you begin your hike in the main fork as
Looking back toward the entry to John's Canyon,
you can see the
dramatic pour-over that defines the beginning of the canyon. From about
the point where this photo was taken you need to pick your way downward
to get to the ledge you are seeking.
well-established hiker trails in John's Canyon but the trail into the
begins right at the BLM register which is roadside about a hundred
Hwy 261. Right by the BLM register is the beginning of a small creek
you need to follow downward. The terrain is typical for the absolute
any canyon on Cedar Mesa. Bland and shallow, it entrenched gradually as
drops. Soon, it becomes slickrock and you will be hiking down numerous
pour-overs. None are more than a foot or two in height so it is easy
the creek bottom. Looking ahead you will see a much larger deeper
and you soon reach a big pour-over into that canyon.
an impassable pour-over and here you need to begin picking out the
want to follow. Upper John's Canyon is very much a layered canyon with
cliff bands and large ledges. The best way to navigate the canyon is to
these ledges and hike them as far as they go. In fact, from here a
lower ledge goes
all the way around the corner and up into the next fork of the canyon
the ledge you need. Actually, ledge is not the best description as it
broad that there are well developed soils
Looking across John;s Canyon at one of the small canyons that
from the east. This is a main branch of Upper John's that can be hiked
on the same level as the hike described..
and trees. When
pour-over you need to get to the west (right looking down canyon) side
canyon and look for a way to climb down to the large
flat ledge that
is not too
hard to find a route down to this ledge and once there, the hiking is
Head down canyon and after about a mile, the upper fork entering from
is dominates the view on the other side of the canyon. This fork is one
several short forks that enter John's Canyon enters from the east and
accessed from Hwy. 261. However, on this hike you will only look into
canyon from a distance
Continue hiking down canyon
on the ledge. Since
it is so
broad, it has developed a thick layer of crypto-biotic soils and all of
vegetation associated with them. One feature of crypto-biotic soils is
they show footprints and how easily hiker trails become established.
indicative of how few hikers John's Canyon sees that there are few if
obvious hiker trails in the soil of this ledge. This isunusual for the
on Cedar Mesa as most of them receive a lot of foot traffic.
This alcove holds a badly eroded ruin, one of several
ruins you will find on this hike.
Continue to hike down canyon and you
corner where the ledge turns to the right and begins to head up the
fork of Upper John's. Hiking down the main fork you will not see any
the Anasazi but as you hike up this branch you will find some scattered
One you will soon spot is in an alcove a bit below your ledge. The hike
easy any you will find a small site tucked into the alcove.
From here, just continue up the canyon
on the same
you have been hiking. As they do, the ledge soon climbs up into the
and vanishes into the cliff side. From here it is time to climb out.
no trail and you need to pick your way up the north side at the head of
canyon. The canyon bottom itself becomes impossibly steep and
the way out is obvious; straight up and out on the right hand side as
up canyon. This is a typical canyon exit - climbing, scrambling and
ways through various cliff bands until you reach the top.
When you gain the Mesa top,
search for the
road that was cut to the drill hole near the rim of John's Canyon. Once
pick up the road its three quarters of a mile of easy hiking back to
parking area. Of course, if you parked here to begin your hike you are
go. The hike as described here is no more than about 7 miles and makes
These ruins ae high on the canyon wall in the Western fork
John's Canyon. Click to enlarge and you will see that the doorways
still have their flat rock doors in place.
hiking in Upper John's Canyon. I love the canyon geology which is very
to that of Lime Canyon. This is one of the least used canyons on Cedar
if you want to try a hike in some wild country this is a great place
rarely visited canyon.
There are a number of books with good accounts of hiking John's
Canyon. The most detailed hiking instructions are found in Cedar
by Jim Beard
A good description of John's Canyon can also be found
Hiking Guide To Cedar Mesa