Horseshoe Canyon Unit
This canyon contains exceptional prehistoric rock art in a separate section of Canyonlands National Park. Ghostly life-size pictographs in the Great Gallery provide an intriguing look into the past. Archaeologists think that the images had religious importance, although the meaning of the figures remains unknown.
The Barrier Canyon Style of these drawings has been credited to an archaic Native American culture beginning at least 8,000 years ago and lasting until about a.d. 450. Horseshoe Canyon also contains rock art left by the subsequent Fremont and Anasazi. The relation between the earlier and later prehistoric groups hasn't been determined.
Horseshoe Canyon lies northwest of the Maze District. Two moderately difficult trails and a very rough jeep road lead down the canyon walls. In dry weather, cars with good clearance can be driven to a trailhead on the west rim. To reach this trailhead from Highway 24, drive to a junction a half-mile south of Goblin Valley State Park turnoff, then turn east and go 30 miles on a dirt road (keep left at the Hans Flat Ranger Station/Horseshoe Canyon turnoff 25 miles in).
From the rim, the trail descends 800 feet in one mile on an old jeep road, now closed to vehicles. At the canyon bottom, turn right and go two miles upstream to the Great Gallery. The sandy canyon floor is mostly level; trees provide shade in some areas.
A four-wheel-drive road goes north 21 miles from Hans Flat Ranger Station and drops steeply into the canyon from the east side. The descent on this road is so rough that most people prefer to park on the rim and hike the last mile of road. A vehicle barricade prevents driving right up to the rock-art panel, but the 1.5-mile walk is easy. A branch off the jeep road goes to the start of Deadman's Trail (1.5 miles one-way), which is less used and more difficult.
Look for other rock art along the canyon walls on the way to the Great Gallery. Take care not to touch any of the drawings; they're very fragile as well as irreplaceable. (The oil from your hands will remove the paint.) Horseshoe Canyon also offers pleasant scenery and spring wildflowers. Carry plenty of water. Neither camping nor pets are allowed in the canyon, but you can stay on the rim. Contact the Hans Flat Ranger Station or the Moab office for road and trail conditions.
© W.C. McRae and Judy Jewell from Moon Utah, 9th Edition