Long Canyon, Moab, UT

Long Canyon is a fun way to the Island in the Sky mesa from Moab. A moderate offroad route just by virtue of the very top end, Long Canyon offers brilliant views of the La Sal Mountains framed by a canyon setting found nowhere else in the world than the Utah canyonlands.

Long Canyon is just another example of the gems you can find, simply by looking at a map and taking the road less traveled.

Access to Long Canyon Rd. from Moab is simple; north out of town on the main drag, just turn west (left) on Utah Route 279, signed as Potash. Route 279 follows the north bank of the Colorado River, as it winds through the canyon during the first segment. Long Canyon will be a right turn from UT-279, just after the Jug Handle Arch. There is parking to hike to the arch at the beginning of Long Canyon Rd., signed.

Heading up Long Canyon near the beginning. In late November, the steep canyon walls keep the sun from reaching the canyon floor until the afternoon. Photo above was taken around 11am. As you gain in elevation, as evident in the photo, the canyon opens up and the walls stop blocking the beautiful, warm sun.

The first few miles of Long Canyon are more or less an easy gravel road. In the spring, there is one potential creek crossing near the beginning, but it is wide and likely to be low. It is the desert, after all.

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Definitely the canyonlands.

Long Canyon to the top of the Island in the Sky mesa isn’t that far, only five miles. It is obviously slower going than the highway, but trust me, you will want to be going slow, taking your time, and enjoying the views.

Just over halfway through the canyon, the road starts climbing steeply in elevation, and also ahead are a series of switchbacks that will ultimately take you to the top. This part is still nice and at least one-and-a-half car wide gravel road the whole way until the very end.

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Here’s a map to give you an idea what the road is like. Only at the very, very end (in the image, far, far left, right near the edge) does Long Canyon get really narrow and possibly challenging.
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Looking into the canyon about halfway up from the top of a hill I hiked up.

There are a excellent views of the La Sal Mountains as you get further up the canyon. This is a certain photo opportunity. Heading up, you’re looking away from the La Sals, so if you turn around once you’re near the top, you’re in for quite the view. But even mid-way up, the La Sal mountains start peeking out.

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The La Sal mountains are quite strikingly framed for a unique-to-Moab photo. Mid-way up the canyon.

 

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Looking up the canyon from the north side. It opens up quite a bit mid-way.

Long Canyon is quite interesting. There are a lot of cool cliffs to be in awe at. Also, the canyon starts relatively narrow (see first image), and then opens up, before getting even more narrow near the very top.

 

 

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Cool cliffs to awe at.

Near the very top, you will essentially be less than 100′ in elevation with the top of the surrounding cliffs. Here you get the greatest views. There are plenty of pull-off spots as well as hiking opportunities, so be sure to take advantage of them while you’re here.

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Told you there are views. The La Sal mountains look so tiny from all the way up here.

Continuing onward, there is a quite famous rock that many Jeep/offroad rig photoshoots have taken place at under. I couldn’t help but join that club.

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Yup. Ol’ Ellie in her natural habitat. Even here, though, it’s not technical at all. It is bumpy, but a stock 4×4 can do this trail just fine.
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Coming up the narrowest portion near the very top. See the scale here? Like I said, narrow.

Just past the narrow point in the photo above there is sometimes a big rock that is often washed out. This is the only obstacle which will stop less equipped vehicles, and one which larger tires will certainly come in useful. In a stock clearance 4×4, you will need to choose a good line here to avoid slipping or undercarriage damage, so it should be considered a technical obstacle. If it were wet the whole road would be even more challenging, requiring good tires, experience with your vehicle, and possibly even low range in the steepest sections.

Long Canyon is certainly a great and fun route to the top of the Island in the Sky mesa. At the top, in addition to access to Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park is also almost immediately at the top of the canyon. A fun way down (or up) might be the Potash Canyon Trail just to the north (where you’d end up if you didn’t turn on to Long Canyon Rd.). Potash Canyon also connects with the legendary White Rim Road.

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Me taking in the views near the top.