John Guilford's Hikes
Red Cave, Utah on 2002-05-21
People: (including myself): Joe Tarantino
Time Real Miles (we walked more due to errors)
Start: 12:08 0
Fake Junction: 12:45
Real Junction: 2:00 1.2
Red Cave Canyon: 2:15 1.8
End of canyon: 3:00 2.0
Out of canyon: 4:00 2.2
Back to car: 4:55 4
Red Cave (which is really a slot canyon) is virtually unknown except to locals.
It isn't shown on the USGS map and few books (the only one I know is Molvar
and Martin's "Hiking Zion & Bryce Canyon") mention it. That's a shame as
it is a beautiful, narrow, windy canyon.
To get there, go east out of Zion. At Mt. Carmel Junction, turn north
on Rt 89. In just under 2 miles you reach Mount Carmel. In the middle of
"town" on the west side of the road is a historic school/church. Park
here. Go north on Rt 89 about a quarter of a mile until you get to a
(dirt) road on the east side of Rt 89 that leads down to a crossing of the
East Fork of the Virgin River.
If you find the way blocked by a field and a fence, you've
gone down the wrong road (DAMHIK), in this case, go one more road further
north. Immediately after fording the river (which was quite low and easy
to cross in our hiking boots with dry feet) the road turns left and runs
north-east about a eighth of a mile where it turns right running
south-east. The road rises a bit passing a battery-powered truck scale on
the right. A bit further the road leads to an active gravel pit. Turn
left and pass through the pit where the road continues. Following the pit,
the road turns right and climbs up on top of the plateau.
So far, we didn't have trouble following our guide book. Here,
however, we went astray. The correct directions should say to follow the
main road (after taking a left at the fork just after the road gets to the
top of the plateau) almost three-quarters of a mile (in a generally ESE
direction). Here the trail branches and an obvious jeep road descends into
Sand Wash (which is aptly named as the bottom is made of fine sand).
That's the correct directions. We misread the book's description and
thought that the fork in the road and the descent into Sand Wash was much
closer to where the road tops out on the plateau. We took the initial fork
thinking it was the fork mentioned in the guide book. The only problem was
that the trail didn't immediately descend into the wash as the guide book
said. We followed the right fork around a bit to where it paralleled the
edge of a wash. We climbed down into the wash and explored up stream, but
the wash quickly petered out. We explored down stream and came to the back
side of the gravel pit. Obviously this wasn't Sand Wash. We returned to
the top of the plateau and continued along the road which met up with the
left fork of the road. We didn't find anything promising and it seemed we
went much further than we should. Figuring we must
have missed a fork on the main road, we turned around and went back to the
spot where the road first hit the plateau top. There were several
different roads up on the plateau, but nothing that seemed to match the
book. We took the right fork (yet again) and followed it around, again
confirming there was no obvious road off to the right. This time we
continued further down the road and eventually hit the fork the book spoke
of and descended into Sand Wash.
After reaching the wash, take a left and go up canyon only about a
quarter mile. There the canyon seems to end in a vertical wall. Closer
inspection shows a cleft in the wall which goes in about ten feet and then
turns sharply right. The zig-zag sort of hides the canyon making it
non-obvious. Red Cave is a truly fantastic slot canyon with windy narrow
passages. As we progressed up the slot, we came to our first obstacle.
The canyon floor changed level, and the new floor was about five feet
higher. Fortunately the canyon walls were spaced to make it relatively
easy to stem the walls and ascend onto the next level. The canyon was dry
with the floor either sand or rock bowls. If it were wetter, there would
have been pools to water to cross, but we didn't have to worry about that.
We soon came across another blockage requiring some climbing. People who
are uncomfortable with a bit of climbing would not be able to get very far
up the canyon. I got a bit concerned about a couple of the climbs, fearing
that the down climb would be worse than the up climb, but it turns out
coming down wasn't a problem. All in all, I think we had to climb eight or
ten times before the canyon petered out into the plateau top. Joe and I
developed a routine of dropping packs, one of use would climb up, the other
would pass the packs and cameras, and then the other would climb.
After scoping out the terrain above the canyon a bit we returned down
through Red Cave before exiting out into Sand Wash. We had no difficulty
following the route back out to the car. For a longer trip, one could
combine this with a hike to Sugar Knoll near the Elkheart Cliffs.
The weather was a bit cool. We started the hike wearing fleece
jackets, though we stripped down to short sleeve shirts along the way after
we warmed up.
Entrance to Red Cave (with Joe).
Joe in Red Cave.
Joe stemming up over an obstruction.
Please send comments or corrections to
Last updated on: Mon Jun 8 16:50:16 PDT 2015