The Dark Canyon Primitive Area is another seemingly endless expanse of wilderness for extended backpacking trips. There are large differences in elevation within this area taking you from cool, Ponderosa and Aspen covered high canyons to the desert zones along the Colorado River at Cataract Canyon.
Our last visit to Dark Canyon was in September of 2001. We left the trailhead on the morning of September 11, not knowing of the events that had already begun to transpire on the other side of the country. We came out the following Saturday to learn of what had happened as we drove into Blanding for gas and supplies. That trip became an unforgettable one for this and many other reasons.
This area is covered by the Trails Illustrated map number 703- "Manti-LaSal National Forest", and also by map number 246, "Canyonlands Maze District/ Northeast Glen Canyon". Both maps are available on our Guidebooks page. The latter map has good coverage of the Colorado River where it borders the western side of the Dark Canyon Primitive Area. These are good maps for planning purposes; we carried, as we always do, the appropriate 1:24,000, or 7.5 minute series mapsheets of the area. Micahel Kelsey’s Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau: Non-Technical gives an introduction to hiking this area.
Our hike took us down Woodenshoe Canyon to Dark Canyon, then on to Peavine Canyon for our exit. It was cooler up high, and comfortable at lower elevations. Water was plentiful, although on our third night we did have to form a pool for collecting water at a very small seep (see photo to the left). We found the usual bear and cougar tracks, but did not see either.
A trip into the Dark Canyon area requires at least a few days, if not 4 or 5, and one could spend a week or even two exploring the area, hiking to the Colorado River and following trails to the mesatop. Considering the elevation, a mid-summer visit would be comfortable. Although we have not done it, a mid-winter visit might be possible.