Bureau of Land Management/Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Monticello Field Office/United States National Parks Service
Imagine yourself in the slickrock of Moab. Now, on that one trail that tested your rig's abilities time and time again. Lastly, picture yourself on that epic multi-day adventure away from the stress of everyday life. Now, combine each of those aspects into one breathtaking bucket list-worthy opportunity. That is just the surface of this grandiloquent adventure.
Pack up your vehicle and prepare your mind to follow along a path rich in history dating back to the winter of 1879. The Mormon Pioneers decided to try a shortcut from the town of Escalante to what is now the town of Bluff. 6 weeks planned was the journey that quickly became a 6-month mission to reach their final destination. Once they transported their wagons and equipment across the Colorado River (now Lake Powell), they found that their journey was about to become arduous.
Today, we have the ability to experience this strenuous trek in the comfort of motorized transport; however, it is a far cry from relaxing and easy. This journey will push you and your rig over the course of 16+ hours. Although it may be technical and demanding, be sure to bring your family and friends on this lifetime experience, taking in some of the most incredible sights that this part of Utah has to offer.
Trail Difficulty and Assessment
Lightly Modified 4X4 (Small Lift and Larger Tires)
This trail is no joke. It will test your vehicle time and time again. The most difficult obstacles would be the entire climb to Grey Mesa (Waypoints 43-47) and The Chute at Waypoint 64.
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The hardest part of the trail that you
cannot bypass - you have to drive it.
The hardest part of the trail that is
purely optional - you can bypass it.
Rocky or undulated road surface. Potential rocks less than 36" tall and/or vertical ledges less than 36" tall and/or near vertical ledges or waterfalls less than 84" inches. Tire placement becomes more difficult. Can be steep and off-camber.Read More about our Rating System
The entirety of the Hole in the Rock trail consists of a multitude of trail conditions. In the beginning stages of the trail, it is a graded road of dirt and occasional soft sandy areas. There is plenty of room to pass. Once you get to Waypoint 11, you will start to see rocky patches and a steep uphill climb, which at this point is still graded dirt. If there is any rain, this hill may become very slick.
After passing the turnoff to Nokai Dome at Waypoint 12, the road is no longer maintained, and you will begin to feel the trail get a bit rougher. There are quite a few wash crossings that can be quite deep sand. Once at Waypoint 15, you will start to see the slickrock domes that will soon become prominent. From Waypoint 15 to 48, you will be treated with obstacles consisting of shelves, waterfalls, off-camber situations, and loose rock climbs.
On top of Grey Mesa at Waypoint 48, the road will become a lot tamer, and you can pick up some pace. There are still patches of rough that you will have to slow down for, so be careful and pay attention. At Waypoint 52, the trail will begin to get rough again with rocky patches and occasional climbs and descents.
At Waypoint 60, you reach The Chute, which is very accurately described as mini Hell's Gate. The actual "chute" part may not be the hardest obstacle, but the drop into the top bowl will surprise you. Shortly after The Chute, there is a steep uphill climb. After this climb, you will fall more rocky obstacles of a similar variety to what you have already faced until you reach the end.
Keep in mind that this is an out-and-back trail 34.74 miles in length ONE WAY, and many of the challenging obstacles you will face first will be downhill. The return trip may prove to be more difficult in many spots. The named obstacles along this route include The Chute and what is collectively known as the climb to Grey Mesa.
This trail is suitable for anyone in a lightly modified 4WD vehicle and some driver experience. Be prepared for possible breakages and very long days on the trail.
Cell service was actually apparent throughout much of the trail, although in many spots there were none. Do not rely on it.
1. Hole in the Rock Trailhead (0
The trailhead begins off of Highway 276/Halls Crossing Road and is marked with a sign.
It is highly recommended that you fill up in Halls Crossing before venturing out!
2. Camping (1.58
This is the first of many camping locations along this trail. There is plenty of room for multiple rigs. This makes a great location for staging to run the trail.
3. Alternate Entrance - Turn Right (1.87
Here is the alternate entrance to HITR. Turn right to continue.
4. Camping (2.67
This is another great camping location as a staging point. There is room for 4-6 rigs here.
5. Spur - Continue Straight (3.05
Continue straight at this spur. This spur does not appear on the MVUM. Continue straight here.
6. Spur - Continue Straight (5.07
Continue straight past this spur. This will take you back to some camping
7. Old Hole in the Rock/Lake Canyon - Continue Straight (5.73
Continue straight. This is the intersection with the original HITR trail. Turning right here will take you to Lake Canyon, where the trail has since been washed out and impassable. There is also a really cool old tracked truck here.
8. Spur - Continue Straight (8.02
Continue straight. This spur will take you to a dead-end with some camping.
9. Camping (8.65
More camping found directly along the trail. There is room for 4-6 rigs here.
10. Spur - Continue Straight (10.03
Continue straight past this spur. This track takes you back to a water tank.
11. Terrain Change (10.87
Here is where the trail starts getting a little bit rougher. Still nothing worth 4WD, but you have to slow down your pace over the random rocky patches.
12. Nokai Dome Trailhead - Turn Right (11.69
This is the turnoff for Nokai Dome. This is also where the trail maintenance ends.
13. Camping/Scenic (12.04
Here is a great scenic campsite; however, it is small and can only hold 3-4 rigs. It is also likely windy as it is higher in elevation.
14. Optional Shelf - Easier Right (12.33
This is just a small taste of what is to come. There is an option small shelf on the left with a bypass on the right. If this concerns you, it is best to turn around now.
15. Slickrock - Continue Straight then Right (12.87
Let the rock begin. Continue straight up the rock, then veer right.
16. Camping (13.59
More camping. There is room for 4-6 rigs here.
17. Small Shelf (13.9
This is just a small rocky hill with a step or two thrown in.
18. Rocky Downhill (14.03
More rocky downhill.
19. Intersection - Stay Left (14.38
Stay left at this unknown spur.
20. Obstacles (14.85
Here are some more optional obstacles. Stay to the left for the easiest line. The drop on the right on the final obstacle is about 2 feet.
21. Fork - Turn Right (15.87
Stay right at this dead-end fork.
22. Slickrock Mound (16.05
This slick rock mound is a little bit off-camber to the left. Continue straight up and over
23. Optional Obstacle Left (16.3
Hang a left here to climb over a small rocky patch, or stay right to continue around.
24. Wavy Rock (16.43
Here is a small section of wavy rock that will flex your suspension a little bit.
25. Sandy Waterfall (16.69
This is a small 6-foot sandy waterfall. This is a good taste of what is yet to come.
26. Stay Straight on Rock (16.82
Continue straight here and look for the rock cairns. This section may be a little tricky to find, but there should be enough faint black marks to see the way.
27. Steep Climb - Multiple Lines (17.22
Here is a short steep rock face you can climb. Alternately, you can head around to the right for an easier/less steep line.
28. Fork - Stay Left (17.25
At this fork, you can turn left for the original trail that may be slightly more challenging, or you can stay straight for a slightly easier line.
29. Shelf on Left - Bypass Right (17.67
There is a medium-sized shelf if you veer left. Continue around to the right if you wish to bypass.
30. Lake Canyon/Old Hole in the Rock - Turn Left (17.75
This marks the intersection with the original Hole in the Rock Trail coming in from Lake Gorge. This trail is still driveable up to Lake Gorge, where the trail has been permanently washed out beyond repair, so you will return to this point should you decide to venture out.
31. Optional Obstacle Right - Easier Left (18.81
Here is another slew of small rocky shelves. To the left is easier, although nothing is too challenging here.
32. Camping/Climb with Steps (19.36
This is a nice little campsite for 2-3 rigs. The ground is solid rock so rooftop tents may be better here. There are also some small shelves to climb.
33. Optional Drop Left - Easier Right (19.88
If you stay to the left, you will encounter a small loose rocky shelf, while the track to the right will bypass this.
34. Camping (20.02
This is one of the first larger camps. It would make a great camp; however, the ground is solid rock with pebbles strewn throughout so rooftop tents would be best here.
35. Small Ledge and Marble Rocks (20.79
Along the trail here, you will start to notice the small marble-sized rocks. These will continue for the next little bit.
36. Rough Downhill (22.03
This is just a small and rough downhill section.
37. Obstacle - Steep Solid Rock (22.51
To the right, you will drop down a few small steps as you descend. If you stay left, you have a large and fairly steep face of rock you must climb down.
38. Obstacles - Multiple Lines (22.6
Yet again, more options. To the right is a steep downhill face, but likely the easier line on this one. To the left is a narrow and choppy chute that wraps you around the rock face. It can get a bit flexy down this line.
39. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area Border (22.68
This spot marks the border of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. There is also a huge and sandy camp here, known as Marble Canyon Camp. However, this is one of the more popular camps, so snagging it for yourself may prove to be a challenge.
40. Stay Left (22.87
Stay to the left, despite the tire tracks in the sand. If you go right, you will quickly encounter a narrow spot where you will have to back up to this point.
41. Narrow Canyon Obstacle (23.08
This is where your suspension may start to get a little workout. Weave your way through the rocks and holes.
42. Sheepherder's Trail (23.1
At this point, an informational board explains how the original route continued up to the left. You can only walk this section on foot. Continue straight.
43. Steep Waterfall (23.13
This may be the most challenging obstacle on the return trip. For the trip out, this is just a large speed bump. The shelf here is about 4 feet straight down. If you are not lifted, you will likely drag your back end here a little.
44. Begin Climb to Grey Mesa (23.24
Here is where you will begin the climb to Grey Mesa. This will be the hardest part, both vehicularly and mentally. The climb starts out where the trail will narrow and start to get rather choppy. Passing is not easy along most of this stretch.
45. Narrow (23.38
More narrow trail. This section actually had a washout a few years back that has been repaired but is still probably the most narrow part of the climb. You will see the repair on the downhill side in the photos. Alternately, you can climb up the left side, but it is rather off-camber and likely more taxing mentally.
46. Slickrock Face (23.43
After a short break, you will come to a rock face. You will approach the right-hand side of this while turning a little bit to the left once you start reaching the top. Be careful as you return down this face, as there is a hole in the face on the left that may claim a rollover if you are not careful.
47. Small Shelf (23.47
This is an off-camber shelf on another narrow section of trail. Luckily you don't have quite as much of a dropoff to the right. Keep moving slowly to work your way through here.
48. Choppy Uphill (23.52
Here will be the last difficult section of the climb. This spot is choppy and sandy, twisting your suspension in all different ways. Keeping steady momentum here will help get you up.
49. Final Small Climbs (24.06
This section can be a tad surprising. All though it appears easy, there is a spot that is narrow and off-camber. It could cause a tip-over if you are not paying attention!
50. Top of Grey Mesa - Scenic (25.03
You've made it! The top of Grey Mesa is quite flat and smooth. Take a break and relax from the obstacles while you enjoy the views this stretch has to offer. You will have a few chances to look off to the left and see the Great Bend of the San Juan River.
51. Small Hill Climb (26.58
Occasionally throughout the smooth section, you will have to slow down for a small climb or rocky section. This is one of those spots.
52. Spur - Stay Left (29.1
Stay left at this spur. It reconnects a little way down the trail.
53. Small Shelf (29.21
Here is another small shelf that will slow you down.
54. Fork - Stay Left (29.23
Stay to the left here. The shortcut spur to the right is illegal.
55. Obstacles - Multiple Lines (29.5
This will be the only difficult along the Grey Mesa portion of this trail. Take it slow. This is nothing harder than the climb to Grey Mesa.
The trail to the right is the Rincon. The trail is well used and obvious. Please keep in mind that once you reach the end of the trail before the descent, this is the end of the trail. The descent down to Lake Powell is illegal. There is often a patrol boat waiting there to give you a ticket should they see any vehicles down to that point. Please enjoy the view from the top, and return back to Hole in the Rock Trail.
57. Scenic/Loose Descent (30.46
This is quite the view! As you drop down this stretch, you will have incredible views of Navajo Mountain off in the distance. Be sure to stop at some point to enjoy such a sight.
58. Small Shelf (31.12
Yet another small shelf you will encounter.
59. Narrow (31.21
Hug to the left at this narrow spot. There is a hole on the right that may prove to be big enough to tip you should you be top-heavy or hit it hard enough.
60. Either Way (31.31
Continue through this rocky section. Be sure to look out for rock cairns, as sometimes the tire tracks seem to disappear.
61. The Chute (31.93
The Chute is one of the more famous obstacles along the trail. Many people very accurately describe this as a "mini Hells Gate." It is remarkably close, as you have to straddle a crack and make a small turn partway down.
Despite the hype, this obstacle is hardly a challenge. The main issue about this obstacle is the drop into the bowl before you descend the chute. You have 3 options to drop into the bowl. The track around to the right is steep but likely the easiest (Photo 1). The most used path would be to the left, where you will turn hard right and drop simultaneously. This section is a little tippy, so pay attention and have a spotter help guide you down. The third option is straight ahead down a very short but steep rock face. Very few choose to take this path.
62. Pothole (32.15
To the right, after the Chute, you can find this pothole.
63. Steep Uphill Climb (32.28
After the Chute, you will have a narrow but steep uphill climb. The left fin is narrow but straightforward. The fin to the right is a bit wider, but partway up, you will have to jog left over a crack and a shelf, causing you to tip a bit and flex your suspension.
64. Off-Camber Hill (32.85
Here is a small drop to the left that will put you a tad off-camber.
65. Shelf (32.88
This is a 2 foot undercut shelf. It is also sandy, so you may need to bump it a little to make it up on the return trip.
66. Optional Lines (32.91
This spot may be a little bit tricky on the mind. Once again, you have to drop down to your left, and it will put you off-camber. The farther straight ahead you travel before turning, the less of a tilt you may experience. Once you are through this, you will take a right onto a very narrow section rising briefly before heading down a very narrow fin. If you feel uncomfortable just waltzing your way through, having a spotter will help with the blind drop down the fin.
67. Optional Climb - Easier Left (33.42
There is an optional line straight ahead with a bypass to the left. It is just a set of steps, nothing more difficult than what you have already completed getting to this point.
68. Camp (33.58
Here is the last camping option before you reach the end. There is plenty of room for at least 7-8 rigs depending on sleeping arrangements.
69. Mini Chute (34.49
This is one of the final obstacles you will encounter before the end. It is just a slickrock face that you will descend.
70. End (34.74
You've done it! The journey via vehicle has been completed. From here, you have the option to hike the remaining trail down to the water, which will be around 3 miles one way.
You can also set up camp here, but traffic will likely visit you if you are here over the weekend.
Now that you have completed the epic journey, it's time to remember that you are far from over. Many of the obstacles will actually be more challenging on the return trip. Take your time and enjoy the incredible experience all over again. It'll be over before you know it!
There are many camping opportunities along this trail, from small and intimate to large group sites. Be sure to read through the guide, which will describe the major camps along this trail. You will need to plan your trip around these sites and how long you think you can complete this journey. All of these sites are primitive and offer no sort of amenities. Firewood is sparse and should be carried in if you plan on having a fire; however, it is recommended to do all of your cooking on a stove and keep fires to a minimum to preserve the area's natural beauty.
The nearest improved campground can be found in Halls Crossing, which has all amenities.
Halls Crossing, Utah
From the gas station in Halls Crossing, head east on Highway 276 for 13.3 miles to the trailhead on the south side of the road.
Alternately, if you are not topping off in Halls Crossing, you will likely be driving in from Blanding. Head south on 191 for 3.9 miles until the turnoff for UT-95. Follow UT-95 for 37.8 miles. Turn left/west onto 276 and follow for 32.4 to the trailhead on the left/west.
It is highly advised to top off your gas tank in Halls Crossing
A must do trail that I can't wait to do again. A lot of people do this as a 3-day event but it's not necessary to take that long unless you want to. We started out about 10am on Saturday and got back around 2:30pm on Sunday after camping overnight. Amazing scenery and walking through some of the spots that the wagons came through around Grey Mesa was mind blowing. The trail is easy to traverse but there are definitely sections where you must be mindful and take it slow, most notably for me around Waypoint 45 where it gets off camber and the trail surface is covered with "Monkey Balls" - basically sandstone marbles. If you have the opportunity to do this trail, I highly recommend you take it.
Finally got a chance to run this trail since its been on my bucket list. Man, it did not disappoint! Hands down one of the most epic trips I have ever done. The trail was difficult enough to beat my vehicle, but not enough that we had any breakages or issues. The multiday camping was incredible and we managed to get good weather for the entire trip with the exception of the final night, where winds were probably 40+ mph all evening and night. Made for a good time setting up tents. All in all, I cannot recommend this trail enough to anybody who likes a good challenge but wants to do a longer trip than just a few hours.
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Mapping Crew - Utah
Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah, he's only been off-roading since he was 16 but fell in love immediately. He attended college in Denver for Culinary Arts and Restaurant Management and wheeled in Colorado for 4 years, but ended up moving back home to Salt Lake City. He currently works in an off-road shop and spends his free time doing anything he can to stay busy, which is usually working on his jeep or playing music. Outside of off-roading, he is an avid whitewater rafter and outdoor cook. Camping at least every other weekend in any season is a normal year. The further from civilization, the better. Bring on the memories!
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