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Dark Canyon Wilderness: Woodenshoe Canyon

Friday – Monday, May 15-18, 2020

This weekend I was supposed to be backpacking with Diane in Canyonlands National Park, but since the park is still closed due to COVID-19 they cancelled my second permit there this spring. At this point I guess that I will just have to try again next year. While looking into alternate plans for the weekend the weather forecast was predicting much warmer temperatures across the Southwest, so I tried to find someplace that was a little higher in elevation where it might be cooler, and after weighing my options I decided it was finally time to check out Woodenshoe Canyon in the Dark Canyon Wilderness. Although I’ve driven around the edges of this wilderness area before, this is one part of the Colorado Plateau that I have ignored for far too long! With the change in plans, Diane decided that she was going to stay home this weekend so I invited my friend Jerry to join me on this four day trip. Unfortunately, this was one of those rare trips where things didn’t quite go as planned and we ended up cutting the trip short and headed home a day early.

As I was driving up to the pass between the Bears Ears, I had a nice view over Cedar Mesa to Moss Back Butte and the Red House Cliffs.

Evening Butte

I had hoped to leave from work a little earlier in the afternoon on Friday, but my plans changed a little as we rushed to put in an offer on a new house before I left. Jerry and I had originally planned to meet at the turnoff to Natural Bridges National Monument in the evening, but since I wasn’t sure what time I would arrive now, I texted him to let him know I was going to be late and we should just meet at the trailhead instead. Thankfully, we were able to get the house under contract before the time I would normally leave work, so I was still able to leave right after work and I didn’t have to worry about a bidding war while I was away for the next few days. I arrived at the Woodenshoe Trailhead shortly after sunset and met up with Jerry who was already there, but had only arrived about 20 minutes or so before I did. We caught up for a little bit as it got darker and the mosquitoes came out, and then we climbed into the back of our vehicles to get some sleep.

A beautiful evening view as a drove across South Elk Ridge on my way to the Woodenshoe Trailhead.

South Elk Ridge

As I made my way to the trailhead I had a good view of the Woodenshoe Buttes and the Henry Mountains in the distance.

Woodenshoe Buttes

The Woodenshoe Trailhead is located at an elevation of just over 8,000 feet, so the temperature dropped pretty significantly overnight and it was 32 degrees out when we woke up with sunrise on Saturday morning. We made sure we had everything we needed in our packs and started hiking down the well-maintained trail into the canyon. One thing we quickly noticed is that there were cicadas (or some other insect, we’re not exactly sure) that were making a loud clicking noise that seemed to emanate from all the trees in the canyon. It was pretty louds and we would hear this sound for the entirety of the trip.

Entering the Dark Canyon Wilderness on Saturday morning.

Dark Canyon Wilderness Sign

While planning the route with Jerry for this long weekend, we had considered a few different options including a loop hike with Peavine Canyon or a thru-hike down Dark Canyon to the Sundance Trail. In the end we decided it would be best to slow down and take our time in Woodenshoe Canyon with hike down to the confluence with Dark Canyon and then back out the way we had come.

Exploring ledges, searching for ruins…

Exploring Ledges

Jerry photographing the first ruin we spotted and climbed up to.

The Ruin & Jerry

The roof on this ruin was still in pretty good shape.

Ruin Roof

Ruin & Pictographs

Ruin & Pictographs

I hiked right past this large snake next to the trail without noticing it, but Jerry jumped when he saw it. I believe it’s a Bull Snake?


It took us a while to climb up to these ruins in the heat with steep and loose terrain, but they were worth it!

Three Doors

Twin Rooms

Twin Rooms



I liked the stripes in the sandstone above this little wooden doorway.

Wooden Doorway

Dots & Grooves

Dots & Grooves

Nice ruins on a high ledge.

Ruins on a Ledge

The roof on this first ruin was in really nice condition and there’s a good T-shaped doorway visible in the background.

Rooms On A Ledge

Big Ledge Ruins

Big Ledge Ruins

While searching for more ruins, we climbed up to a notch in the cliffs and had a great view looking up Woodenshoe Canyon.

Notch View

After climbing up to the ruins and returning to the trail I was not feeling very well. I think the heat was getting to me and I had probably overdone it a little today, so I laid down in the sand for a while before we continued down the canyon to find a campsite for the night. Unfortunately, we needed to find a campsite near water and had trouble doing that through this stretch of the canyon, so we ended up hiking a few more miles than I wanted to and by then I was feeling even worse when we finally found a dirty pool of water.

Walking down the wash in search of water.

Evening Wash Walking

Evening Canyon Clouds

After hiking for much longer than we had hoped in search of water, this was the pool we found.

Watering Hole

It seems that Jerry was having just as bad of a day as I was since he accidentally slipped into the pool while he was getting ready to filter some water. It was a little funny, though I’m not sure if he would agree. I quickly filtered some water and then setup my tent on a ledge nearby. It had been a long day and I was exhausted. I got right into my tent and went to sleep before the sun had even gone completely down.

I woke up Sunday morning and thought I was feeling better, so we planned to hike all the way down to the confluence with Dark Canyon and back before it started to get hot out.

Woodenshoe Canyon Camp

Seeps from the canyon wall.

Bend of Seeps

After hiking about a mile and a half we came to some pools with plenty of good water.

Canyon Pool

As soon as we passed the pools I started to not feel well again, so we returned to the pools, filtered some more water and rested in the shade for a while.

Lower Canyon

Since I was feeling pretty bad, I thought it would be best if we just started hiking back up the canyon to slowly make our way out. I could feel that it was going to take me awhile…

Inner Canyon

At least the scenery was nice.

Canyon Hiking

Trail View

I’m not going to lie, it was rough for me hiking back up the canyon this afternoon. The heat was getting to me and I had to stop every mile or so to sit in the shade. It really wasn’t any fun, and the worst part was passing by all the areas I had wanted to explore while we were here.

Woodenshoe Wash

Woodenshoe Canyon Trail



After the slow hike back, we returned to the mouth of Cherry Canyon and set up camp for one more night so we could hike the last few miles out of the canyon first thing in the morning when it was cooler out.

Cherry Canyon Campsite

It sucked to have to cut the trip short and skip all the exploring I had wanted to do, but I knew it was the right decision since I was still struggling with the remainder of the hike out on Monday morning. I guess that just means I will have to return to Woodenshoe Canyon again in the future!

>> Woodenshoe Canyon Photo Gallery


  1. Dianne
    Dianne June 3, 2020

    I understand the heat thing! You found some amazing sites and sights, however. Thanks!

  2. Eric Peterson
    Eric Peterson June 3, 2020

    You took great pictures even though you didn’t feel good. Especially liked the petros. We jeeped down Peavine Corridor last month with a TJ and a JLU.No problem. you might Jeep down to the corral in Rig Canyon and hike to your destination from there. Plus, there are some neat ruins in Rig. just a thought.

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat June 4, 2020

      Thanks Eric. Driving the Peavine Corridor has been on my list for a long time, which is another reason I didn’t really want to hike the loop in the first place, and one day I’ll finally get there!

  3. Iain D
    Iain D June 8, 2020

    Hi Randy,
    I’m sorry to read that you didn’t feel so great on this trip. However, your photos are superb, as always.
    Coincidentally, I hiked through Woodenshoe (from Dark Canyon) during the same week as you, exactly one year ago. The one major difference is that I spent much of my time wading across a fast-flowing, knee-deep stream … there were certain points that it felt quite dangerous !
    It is amazing to see your pictures of an almost bone-dry drainage in 2020.

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat June 8, 2020

      Wow, that sounds like a much different experience in Woodenshoe than we had!

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