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  Loop hike of Calf, Cow and Pine Canyons

Total Distance: 12 miles
Time Needed: 8-10 hours (one day)
Rating: Difficult
Elevation Gain 800 feet
Maps: USGS 7.5" Bob Hill Knoll, Bottleneck Peak, Chimney Rock, Devils Hole


This is a long day hike that includes some Class 5.2 climbing, some map-and-compass routefinding, and some great views from the canyon rim.

Note: We tried this hike in February, and, due to 4-6 inches of snow cover, we turned back inside Cow Canyon, at the base of the Class 4 chute (slickrock takes on new meaning with the addition of snow!). But if you plan to do this hike, you should find my notes up to that point valuable. We used Steve Allen's guide (recommended).

Directions to Trailhead

Just follow Steve Allen's directions, turning off onto the San Rafael access road between mileposts 39 and 40 on Highway 10 out of Castledale.

Clarification: Once on this road, there were two junctions that were a bit confusing. First, at mile 12.7, there's an "X" road junction. You'll go straight ahead. The road that veers a bit to the right has the small building that Allen talks about.

Second, at the mile 14.9 junction, you'll take the righthand road, which makes an immediate rounded turn, almost pointing you back the way you came. A sign that says "Buckhorn Wash 6, San Rafael Bridge Rec Site 10, and I-70 30" points down this correct road.

Update: The Buckhorn Wash Rock Art Panel has been restored since Allen wrote his guidebook. There has been some very impressive restoration methods that have virtually eliminated the vandalism. They even have sign with photos of before and after. The panel is worth a visit.

Driving Time: From Salt Lake City, it'll take about 2 1/2 to 3 hours to get to the hike's beginning.

Route/Trail Notes

As usual, Canyoneering is very reliable. But here are my notes and observations on some of the tricker parts.

About 1 hour up Calf Canyon, after passing up Pine Canyon, you'll reach the "double caves" - two tall, shallow caves on the left side of the canyon. Immediately past the caves, go up Cow Canyon for about one hour.

The canyon divides again. At this point it may be confusing as to exactly which junction you are at. The lefthand canyon is not the main canyon, and veers back almost the way you've come. But you'll take the righthand canyon, marked by a broken cone/spire-looking structure further up inside the canyon, on the righthand side.

After this, Allen says the canyon divides again, but, as a subjective observation, the canyon to the right looks more like a gully that ends in a box surrounded by steep cliffs. Nothing you'll accidentally go up. At any rate, immediately after this divide/side gully you can start angling up the slopes to your right, eventually finding your way to the Class 4 climb up a chute, and then to the canyon rim.

If you want a better view of the route up to the rim top, don't begin climbing right away. Instead go up canyon and even angle up the slope to your left for a better view. You'll see a doable route where the canyon rim at the very top has broken up. There's a large tree at the very top of this broken section.

I plan to go back and complete the hike -- it bugs me to leave unfinished hikes :-) So revisit this page sometime later... or, get Steve Allen's guidebook for the rest of the details.

Other Tips/Notes

Spring and fall would be the best times to go. If there's snow cover on the ground in Castle Dale, or on the ground alongside the access roads, you'd best come back another time.

There's no water in this area. Plan to bring all the water you'll need.

by Steve Allen

This guide deals with specific hikes/backpacks in the San Rafael Swell. It's probably the most accurate Utah trail guide around. We have now done well over 20 of the trips in this guide, and the trail descriptions were right on every time. It is well-written, clear, and concise.

>>Click here see the book at Amazon.com

>>View pages from Canyoneering

>>More books about Utah's Canyon Country

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