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About

Imagine tackling rugged terrain that puts your UTV driving skills to the test – all while knowing that pioneers crossed the same terrain in wagons over a century earlier. This describes the Hole-in-the-Rock East UTV Adventure Ride exactly.

The ride encompasses multiple days and offers plenty of beautiful Southern Utah scenery. There are a number of fun, challenging spots throughout: slickrock, sand, steep climbs and sharp descents.

As part of our RM Rides series, we’ve documented the route, making it easy for you to plan your own UTV adventure ride. The video above shows how the trip went for us and gives a great overview of what you can expect. When you’re ready to plan your own ride, grab the GPS files from the button below.

Download GPS Files

We’ve set up the ride as four days with a single base camp. You ride in on the first day. On the next two days, you take two different trails, returning to base camp each day. On the last day, you ride back out. If you want to be flexible, you can cut out the second day altogether or move around your camping spot as needed. Just be sure to stay on the designated trails to ensure this area continues to stay open for everyone to enjoy.

The ride tackles several technical sections, but it should be manageable for any experienced driver in a properly equipped UTV. Be sure to use our GPS files so you don’t get lost. This trip can be done on ATVs as well.

This article is designed as a resource to help you plan your own Hole-in-the-Rock East ride. It also includes interesting facts and trivia about locations you will pass through or nearby. By clicking on the subheading for each piece of trivia, you can open a drop-down to read more about it. Links are usually provided that can direct you to resources for even more information.

A Caravan of UTVs on the Trail


Preparation

In preparation for any adventure ride, it is critical you take time to carefully plan. Not only do you need to plan routes, food and time, but you need to make sure that your side-by-side is ready and that you have the right tools, camping gear and emergency equipment like spare parts. Make sure someone who isn’t in your party knows where you are and when you intend to return.

Below are some links to help you with machine setup, tool tips and packing tips.

On the Trail

One thing that you absolutely should not forget is fuel. You’ll be out for several days without a gas station in sight. The entire trip is nearly 100 miles in and out, and that doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for many machines (or any wiggle room for some).

Weather is an important consideration with this ride. In the summer, it’s way too hot. In the winter, there might be snow on the trail – and snow on this terrain is not going to make for a very fun ride. We planned our ride for Easter weekend, and it was perfect. The weather was beautiful and made for a great trip. In order to fully enjoy the outdoors, don’t forget essentials like plenty of cold water, sunscreen and bug spray.

One of the great things about this ride is its pioneer history. We’ve included some highlights in this article, but if you want to dig in and immerse yourself in the full history of the expedition before you tackle the ride, check out David E. Miller’s Hole in the Rock: An Epic in the Colonization of the Great American West.

Once you have the right gear and planning in place, you are ready for adventure!

Low-Light Riding


Sections

Section 1: Parking to Camp

Watch in the Video See Section Map

Section Mileage Terrain
Approx. 22.7 Miles Dirt Roads, Some Slickrock

GPS File Name: HITR Trail section 1

To begin the Hole-in-the-Rock East ride, you need to trailer in from Highway 276. Regardless of which direction you’re coming from, you need to get on Highway 95, which has two junctions with Highway 276. Be aware that if you get on Highway 276 at the north junction, you’ll have to take a ferry at Bullfrog. From Highway 276, take the turnoff for the Hole-in-the-Rock road (three and a half miles east of Cal Black Memorial Airport, named in honor of San Juan County’s champion of economic growth). Half a mile down the road, there is a pullout large enough for trailer an a good staging point where you can park your vehicle and unload your UTV. Then it’s time to hit the trail!

Nokai Dome Road

The first part of the route is mostly open road, easy to navigate. You know you’re still on the right path when you pass an old half-track. Once you hit slickrock, it’s a lot harder to follow the trail by sight alone, but the GPS files make it easy. There are a few technical sections before you reach camp, and they offer great opportunities to get warmed up for the rest of the trip.

Navigating a Technical Section of Slickrock

The place we selected for camp is just off the main trail and offers plenty of sandy areas that are perfect for tents.

Camp

Did you know that Utah’s only automobile ferry crossing is located in the same spot that a ferry was established in the 1880s? Interesting facts and trivia can be found by clicking the drop-down links below.

Utah State Route 95

Highway 95 runs from Hanksville to Blanding, crossing over Lake Powell near Hite. This road was dedicated as a highway in 1976 – America’s Bicentennial. As a result, it received the nickname Bicentennial Highway. Regardless of which direction you come from to get to the Hole-in-the-Rock East ride, you will need to take Highway 95.

Bicentennial Highway

Utah State Route 276

Highway 276 meets Highway 95 at its north and south end, with Utah’s only automobile ferry connecting the two halves of the road across Lake Powell. In the 1880s, Charles Hall set up a ferry crossing at this same location, and for this reason, the area is sometimes referred to as Hall’s Crossing. If you take the northern route, before you reach the ferry, you’ll pass through the Henry Mountains, home to one of the only free-roaming purebred herds of American Bison and the last major mountain range to be mapped in the contiguous United States. If you approach the Hole-in-the-Rock trail from the southern route on Highway 276, watch for old Native American ruins off the road along the way.

Ruins on Highway 276
Anasazi Ruins by K Rupp (CC BY 2.0)

Hole-in-the-Rock Road

An older Hole-in-the-Rock Road used to take a different route through Lake Canyon, but a 2006 flood made it impassable, and the route now travels along the Nokai Dome Road (named for a nearby rock dome). Why a rusty M3 military half-track remains on this road has been lost to history, though one possible explanation is that miners may have picked it up after WWII as surplus, later abandoning it when it broke down. About five miles from camp, Nokai Dome Road connects to the trail taken by the pioneers. Most of the rest of the route follows this original trail.

Old M3 Half-track

Section 2: Camp to Rincon Overlook

Watch in the Video See Section Map

Section Mileage Terrain
Approx. 22.6 Miles Technical Slickrock, Dirt Roads

GPS File Name: HITR Trail section 2, Rincon

You’re in for a treat when the sun creeps over the red rock and you get to experience the sounds and feel of a Southern Utah morning in the spring. The route on the second day takes you to the Rincon Overlook along the shores of Lake Powell.

The Rincon

To start off, you first need to climb to the top of the Grey Mesa that overshadows the camp. This route south starts the excitement early on with some of the gnarliest technical sections along the edge of the mesa. Some solid spotting and good throttle control can make a big difference here – don’t hesitate to pull out a spotting rope in this section.

A Technical Section Required Spotting

Once on top of the Grey Mesa, the trail turns to wide open dirt roads with beautiful scenery in every direction, a transition that can be a bit surprising. Be sure to stop at the San Juan River Overlook for an absolutely stunning view.

View of the San Juan River

The Grey Mesa

When you start coming down off the Grey Mesa, the route takes a turn to the northwest. The flat, open surroundings begin to transform into large slickrock canyons. This is a good time to find a nice shaded area for a lunch break. Afterwards, you can continue on your way to the Rincon Overlook. The Rincon is an area where the Colorado River used to flow around a huge butte, but after time, the river eroded through a different route, bypassing the butte and leaving it high and dry.

Slickrock Fun

If you are feeling particularly adventurous, you can continue down the cliff on a very technical old road that includes steep grades, sheer drops and loose boulders. It reaches the shore of Lake Powell, offering amazing scenery as well as lakeside fun. When you’re done, just reverse your route back to camp.

The Path Down to the Rincon

The Rincon from Below

Did you know that the San Juan River is one of America’s muddiest rivers? Interesting facts and trivia can be found by clicking the drop-down links below.

San Juan River

The San Juan River begins in the San Juan Mountains and travels over 380 miles through Colorado, New Mexico and Utah before joining Lake Powell. It is an important water source in the area, bringing moisture from the snow-filled Rockies to the desert region. It is also one of the muddiest rivers in North America.

San Juan River Overlook

Lake Powell

Lake Powell was formed as a result of the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam in the 1950s. The dam backed up the Colorado River and flooded Glen Canyon. The newly formed lake was named in honor of John Wesley Powell, an explorer who took part in several expeditions in the area. Lake Powell is a popular modern recreation destination, receiving two million visitors every year.

Lake Powell

The Rincon

The word rincón means corner in Spanish. In the American Southwest, the word is applied when a meandering river loses one of its corners and takes a more direct path, leaving land that was once wrapped by the river. The Rincon is a prominent example of this type of geography, so much that it isn’t only known as a rincon but as the Rincon.

The Rincon

Section 3: Camp to Little Hole-in-the-Rock

Watch in the Video See Section Map

Section Mileage Terrain
Approx. 23.7 Miles Technical Slickrock, Dirt Roads

GPS File Name: HITR Trail section 2, HITR Trail section 3

Section 3 takes you to the end of the motorized trail at Little Hole-in-the-Rock, where you can gaze across Lake Powell to see the Hole-in-the-Rock landmark, a rock formation that originated naturally but was expanded by pioneers to allow for wagons to descend off the plateau so they could cross the Colorado River on their way to form a new settlement.

The Hole-in-the-Rock Viewed from the East

Right out of camp is a marker indicating the original path that the pioneers used to descend off the Grey Mesa. (This is the one section of the route where the modern motorized trail doesn’t follow the original pioneer trail.) The pioneers sent an exploratory party of four men to scout ahead and determine if there was a fully passable route to their destination (which would become Bluff). The four got stuck on the Grey Mesa and couldn’t discover a way down. When a mountain sheep came near their camp, George Hobbs (one of the explorers) tried to lasso it. The animal proved elusive, and Hobbs followed it for about half a mile trying to catch it. As it turned out, the mountain sheep had led Hobbs off of the Grey Mesa, and the exploratory party was able to continue and eventually confirmed that there was indeed a passable route.

The Grey Mesa Marker

On our trip, half our group chose to hike this section while the others brought the machines around to meet them on top. This hike certainly gives you a better understanding of the sheer determination that allowed these pioneers to traverse such desolate country. You can still see where they chiseled and blasted steps for the teams. The effort that went into taking wagons down this trail is astonishing.

The Original Path Down the Grey Mesa

Continuing on the Grey Mesa past the turnoff to the Rincon, you get to an area known as the Chute. It’s a narrow canyon that was used by the pioneers to gain access to the Grey Mesa (coming from the west). This area is another very technical section and must be taken with caution. We used a spotter and checked all the brakes on our machines before dropping down the Chute. The next portion of the trail is slickrock as far as the eye can see. This is a great section to test out your machine and grab some cool pictures as well.

Descending Down the Chute

The motorized trail ends at the top of the Little Hole-in-the-Rock. From there, you have an amazing view of Lake Powell and the main Hole-in-the-Rock in the distance. It’s a great place to stop, have lunch and enjoy the scenery. When you’re done, follow the trail back the way you came until you reach camp. The next day, just reverse section 1’s route to finish the ride.

Viewing the Hole-in-the-Rock in the Distance

Did you know that it took the pioneers six weeks to make the Hole-in-the-Rock suitable (barely) for the wagons to descend through it? Interesting facts and trivia can be found by clicking the drop-down links below.

Hole-in-the-Rock

In the late 1800s, Mormon Pioneers had spread to many areas of what would eventually become the state of Utah. However, the area to the southeast of the Colorado River hadn’t been colonized yet, so in 1879, a group of pioneers set off with 83 wagons and over 1,000 head of livestock to form a new settlement. There wasn’t a direct route to the area, so the group created a new path that led directly to the edge of Glen Canyon. However, there was not a good way down to the river so they could cross it. The pioneers found a narrow crevice, and they chiseled and blasted it over a six-week period until it became traversable by wagon. They named this crevice Hole-in-the-Rock. Since it is on the west side of Lake Powell, it is only visible in the distance from this ride.

Hole-in-the-Rock from the West

Grey Mesa

Safely taking the wagons down the perilous Hole-in-the-Rock was a major task, but wasn’t the end of the pioneers’ journey. After crossing the Colorado River, they made their way on the Grey Mesa, gaining access to it by ascending a water drainage path (which they called the Chute). The traveling was relatively easy on the Grey Mesa, but at the end of it, they faced a problem of descent that was surpassed only by their previous trouble at the Hole-in-the-Rock. Even with the miraculous discovery of a route off the Grey Mesa, the group had to spend a week cutting a series of steps to allow the wagons to handle the steep descent.

Grey Mesa

Cheese Camp

While the group camped after climbing Cottonwood Hill and before arriving at the Grey Mesa, some men from Panguitch arrived with 200 pounds of pork and 40 pounds of cheese. Since there wasn’t enough cheese to distribute among so many people, an auction was held instead, an event that gave the location a permanent name: Cheese Camp.

Cottonwood Hill

After crossing the Colorado River and before arriving at the Grey Mesa, the pioneers had the daunting task of traveling through Cottonwood Canyon and climbing Cottonwood Hill. Three notable locations of this climb included the Sand Hill, the Dugway, and the Little Hole-in-the-Rock. The Little Hole-in-the-Rock received its name because it is a rock formation similar to the primary Hole-in-the-Rock that the pioneers had already passed through. The motorized trail ends at the top of Cottonwood Hill, and the Little Hole-in-the-Rock is only a couple hundred yards farther.

Cottonwood Canyon and Cottonwood Hill

To the south, you can see Navajo Mountain – the highest point in the region, displaying prominently. The mountain is considered sacred according to Navajo beliefs, and traditional Navajos would not climb above its lower elevations.

Navajo Mountain from the Trail


Conclusion

The Hole-in-the-Rock East UTV ride offers everything you might want from a UTV adventure ride: technical slickrock, amazing scenery and a unique history. Although the western route to the Hole-in-the-Rock is better known (largely thanks to a more easily traversable dirt road), the eastern route is not one to miss. It’s been one of our favorites for years, and now you can enjoy it too.

If you plan your own Hole-in-the-Rock East ride, let us know how it goes in our comment section below. Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel and follow our blog to stay updated on future rides in this series!

Have questions about this ride? Shoot us an email: [email protected].

Traveling Along the Grey Mesa


Index

GPS Disclaimer

Riding Disclaimer