Dark Canyon Wilderness

Area Status: Open
Deep canyon with high sandstone walls

The United States Congress designated the Dark Canyon Wilderness in 1984. Great stone arches, old-growth ponderosa pine, aspen groves, meadows, hanging gardens and high country deserts are found at Dark Canyon.  The only designated Wilderness in southeastern Utah, the 47,116-acre Dark Canyon Wilderness is located in a beautiful and remote section of the Colorado Plateau. Visitors are dwarfed by steep, sculpted and terraced sandstone walls that shade the canyon in morning and late afternoon -- hence the name. Ancestral Puebloan structures and rock art are tucked among the cliffs. Please leave these treasures undisturbed for others to experience.

General Trip Planning/ Water Sources Information:

One of the biggest concerns with backpacking on the Colorado Plateau, including the Dark Canyon Wilderness is the lack of water.
Always treat water by filtering, boiling or chemical treatment before using any water in the backcountry.
Below are the general descriptions for water in the Wilderness and the lower canyon. Remember conditions change. This is wild country so always pack enough water to make it several days in case your next water source turns out to be dry.

Woodenshoe Canyon:
Four miles down the trail you will run into Cherry Canyon coming in from the right (looking down canyon). In the spring there is usually water coming out of Cherry Canyon and running for a mile or more downstream. In the fall it stops running down canyon, but I have never seen the spring in Cherry Canyon dry up completely, although I have seen it running pretty low and muddy. The next water source is approximately 7 miles downstream (although in the spring it is not unusual to find water in other locations as well) at an area known as Wates Pond. There is a large pothole and spring that usually holds water year round. Approximately 1 mile below Wates Pond, you will come to the Hanging Garden Spring that flows out of the canyon wall on the right and usually has a pool beneath it.

Dark Canyon:
If you are coming from the Notch Trailhead, you will usually run into water around the mouth of Drift Trail Canyon. There is also water coming out of the pipe near the Scorup Cabin at the mouth of Horse Pasture Canyon, although this water can have a pretty bad taste. In the spring, the water often flows from here to the junction with Dark Canyon and then all the way to Rig Canyon and beyond in good water years. In the fall, most of this water dries up or gets fouled by livestock. The next possibility for water in Dark Canyon is approximately 5.5 miles downstream near the junction with Trail Canyon. There are springs in the vicinity that usually run, however we have received reports in the fall of 2019 of the Trail Canyon Springs being completely dry. Water has been found in Trail Canyon and Warren Canyon in the past but don't count on it. Below this, the canyon is dry for about two miles until the Black Steer Canyon junction in the Dark Canyon Primitive Area (WSA) on BLM managed lands.

Peavine Canyon:
Peavine Canyon often runs with water in the spring but dries up pretty quick in the summer. The only water in Peavine Canyon later in the year is usually located in a cattle trough about 3.5 miles below the Peavine Canyon Trailhead.

Lower Canyon (Dark Canyon Primitive Area):
About two miles below Black Steer Canyon, there is a stream that usually starts flowing year round.

We will try to update current conditions on this page below or call the Monticello USFS office at 435-587-2041.

At a Glance

Current Conditions: Updated Oct. 7, 2021. With the recent rains, there is water available in the canyons. Sources that may be available based on clockwise travel going down Woodenshoe & up Dark Canyon to the Peavine Trail:
  • Cherry Creek, 4 miles down Woodenshoe Canyon has water.
  • Starting about 2 miles above the confluence down to Hanging Garden Spring there is water.
  • Hanging Garden Spring is good.
  • The first side canyon above the confluence in Dark Canyon has water about ¼ mile up.
  • The spring about ½ mile above where Trail Canyon comes in has water.
  • About 2 miles up the Peavine Trail from the road a spring fed trough has water.
Permit Info: No permit is required for the Dark Canyon Wilderness area at this time.
Usage: Medium
Best Season: Spring, Fall
Closest Towns: Blanding, UT
Information Center:
  • Monticello Ranger District (USFS): 435-587-2041.
  • For additional information on the Sundance Trailhead on BLM lands, the Monticello BLM field office can be reached at 435-587-1500. The Sundance Trailhead is normally accessible except in heavy rain or snow which may make the dirt roads impassable. No fires are allowed on the BLM portion of the canyon at any time of year.

Recreation Map

Map showing recreational areas. Map Information

Recreation Areas

Recreation Activities


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  Elevation : 
5800' - 10,000'