Bears Ears National Monument

Named for two tall buttes that resemble the top of a bear’s head, the creation of Bears Ears National Monument in 2016 made history as it honored five Native American tribes – Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, Ute Mountain Ute, and the Uintah-Ouray Ute Tribe, who sought to have their traditional lands set aside for preservation and continued cultural, recreational and scientific use.

Designated as a National Monument in 2016 by President Obama, the Bears Ears National Monument originally encompassed 1.3 million acres.  In 2017, President Trump reduced monument boundaries by around 90%.  On October 8, 2021, President Biden restored the original monument boundaries and added just over 11,000 acres in President Trump’s designation.  The Bears Ears National Monument now encompasses 1.36 million acres.

Bears Ears National Monument is now jointly managed by an agreement between the Tribal Nations of the Bears Ears Commission and the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service.

Bluff–Proud Gateway to Bears Ears National Monument

Bluff is the proud gateway to the Bears Ears National Monument.  Bluff is the nearest town to the Monument and offers quality lodging, dining, shopping. Here you’ll find the Bears Ears Education Center, the only visitor center devoted to the Monument.

You’ll also find renown guide services that can take you on an unforgettable journey into Bears Ears.  Bluff is the perfect base camp for your travels in the Bears Ears region, as well as the national and tribal parks of the Grand Circle such as the Monument Valley, Canyonlands, and Arches.

A Unique Cultural Landscape

The Bears Ears landscape has been used since time immemorial by tribes. Many modern-day Pueblo tribes trace their ancestry back to the canyons and mesa tops of Bears Ears where archaeology gives hints of their past.  The monument is not just a stunning region of towering buttes and red rock canyons. The Bears Ears area contains cliff dwellings, historic hogans, thousands of years of rock art, and locales for modern-day Native American activities like wood cutting, herbal gathering, and ceremony.

When exploring the Bears Ears, please consider the many Indigenous tribes that consider this cultural landscape sacred. Honor past and future generations by Visiting With Respect.

Exploring the Greater Bears Ears National Monument Area

Unsurpassed scenic drives, archaeology, and adventures can be found throughout the Bears Ears National Monument.

Explore on your own or with a guide.  Bluff is home to well-known guides that can give you an unforgettable experience.  They can also provide valuable insights about the land and the people who lived there which the novice might miss.

When to Visit

April and May provide travelers with cooler hiking temperatures and wildflowers, while late September and October offer temperature in the 70’s and 80’s, and beautiful golden cottonwoods in some areas.

Fees & Regulations

At present, you do not have to pay a fee to enter the Bears Ears National Monument.  And, you can visit many sites in the Bears Ears National Monument free of charge.   However, many hikes in the Monument have fees for both day and overnight use.

Please view the BLM website for information on fees, regulations, and permits.  T: 435-587-1500.

Visit with Respect

Please consider the area’s many Native American connections.  You can honor past generations by Visiting With Respect.

The area’s ruins and rock art are extremely fragile and are of important cultural significance.  To preserve this important landscape for future generations, visitors should refrain from touching rock art, moving artifacts, or leaning on dwelling walls.

Please remember that all artifacts, rock art, and the prehistoric structures themselves are protected by law. It is illegal to remove artifacts, mark or write on the rocks, or damage the ruins. Violations of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act can result in stiff penalties, including heavy fines and jail sentences.

Get the Lay of the Land

After you download a map of Bears Ears National Monument, note the following areas:

  • Cedar Mesa: A high plateau area rising from the river valley floor containing numerous canyons. This popular area has countless archeological sites.
  • Comb Ridge: A steep ridge running 80 miles, the name comes from the ridge’s jagged appearance similar in shape to a rooster’s comb. The ridge’s many alcoves contain thousands of archeological sites.
  • Indian Creek: When monument boundaries were reduced, there were two, distinct units: Shash Jaa and Indian Creek. Now, the Indian Creek Special Recreation Management Area of Bears Ears National Monument, this remote area has gained international recognition for rock climbing.
  • Shash Jáa:  One of the two units when monument boundaries were reduced, the Shash Jaa area centers around Comb Ridge.  Translates to ‘Bears Ears’ in Navajo.
  • Valley of the Gods: A 17-mile loop through a sandstone valley with numerous, stunning geologic formations.

9 Things to Do in Bears Ears

What is there to do in Bears Ears?  Here’s a list of our favorite things to do in the greater Bears Ears area.

Bears Ears Scenic Drive

Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway through Bears Ears Country

To start, we recommend this scenic drive where you’ll experience one wow after another!  Explore from your car the timeless landscapes on the Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway through Bears Ears country.  This 120-mile drive begins in Bluff and connects a dozen of the most amazing sites in southeastern Utah.

Sites along the drive include:  Navajo Twin Rocks, Sand Island Petroglyph Panel, Comb Ridge, Valley of the Gods, Goosenecks State Park, Moki Dugway, Muley Point, Natural Bridges National Monument, Butler Wash Overlook, and Mule Canyon Interpretive Site.

Be sure to watch the video and download the E-book and map.  These can help you can help you understand each site, whether the road is paved or unpaved, and facilities available at each site.

Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum

Ancestral Puebloan Museum

OK, we understand this isn’t technically in Bears Ears National Monument, but it is a worthwhile stop.

The Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum is an Ancestral Puebloan archaeological site, a museum, and an archaeological repository. The goal of Edge of the Cedars is to inspire and educate visitors about the prehistoric and contemporary Indigenous cultures of the Four Corners region.

Cowboys from Bluff camped here in the late 1800’s and called the site Edge of the Cedars because it sits on the edge of a natural boundary. Cedar is a term locals use for the Utah juniper tree.

The museum’s beautiful collection is presented in a way that tells about the Indigenous people, who they were, and how they lived.

Just behind the museum is the Edge of the Cedars Pueblo, an actual village inhabited by Ancestral Puebloans from AD 825 to 1125.  You can learn more about what life might have been like for the residents at this Chacoan era great house as you explore the ruin. Make certain to descend the ladder to a 1,000 kiva for a truly unique experience.

The museum is also home to the largest collection of Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) pottery on display in the Four Corners area. The museum’s Visible Storage and Interactive Pottery Exhibit is a must see. You can select a piece of pottery on display, and then use a computer to learn more about the time period and origin of the pottery.

Museum walls contain murals created by Bluff artist Joe Pachak which reproduce rock art panels found in San Juan County.  Pachak also created the museum’s solar marker which serves to mark the sun’s movement at the solstices. Solstices were important events for Ancestral Puebloans and used for crop planting and harvesting.

Directions from Bluff:  Travel Highway 191 north to Blanding, Utah. Turn left on W. Center Street, then right on N 600 W.

Needles Overlook

Scenic View

This site offers stunning, almost 360 degree views, of the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park and BLM lands.   This site offers a panoramic view as you can walk along the fence from the overlook and see Indian Creek, the Abajo Mountains, and Canyonlands National Park.  An observation deck with benches, picnic area, and pit toilets are available.

Directions from Bluff:  Travel north on Highway 191 for 67 miles.  Turn left on Needles Overlook Road (County Road 133) which is paved.  Continue for 22 miles. The overlook is at the end of the pavement.

Newspaper Rock

Rock Art

Newspaper Rock National Historical Site is a great, quick stop for families on the way into Indian Creek and the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.  It is located at the more northern end of Bears Ears so it is perfect for the beginning or end of your trip to Bluff. The site is easily accessible.

This rock art panel has 2000 years of history depicted in over 650 rock art images.  In Navajo, the rock is called “Tse’ Hane” meaning ‘Rock that Tells A Story’. It features prehistoric art from Archaic, Ancestral Puebloan Basketmakers, the Fremont people, and Pueblo cultures.  Later, the Ute and Navajo also made figures on the rock face.  The site has been designated as a State Historic Monument and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

There is a developed parking lot and pit toilet adjacent to Newspaper Rock.  No entrance fees.

Directions from Bluff: Take Hwy 191N for 60 miles. Turn left onto UT-211 W towards Canyonlands. Follow for 12.5 miles until mile marker 6.7, parking on right.

Kane Gulch Ranger Station

Information and Rock Art Exhibit

Open seasonally, the BLM Kane Gulch Ranger Station on Cedar Mesa offers an in-depth look at the centuries of “rock stories” carved and painted into the rock formations of Cedar Mesa.

Permits for some Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa sites are available at Kane Gulch Ranger Station.  For more information, contact the BLM at 435-587-1500.

Directions from Bluff:

From Bluff—up Moki Dugway:  Travel south on Hwy 191, continuing on Hwy 163 for 21 miles.  Turn right on Hwy 261 and climb the Moki Dugway. Travel on Hwy 261 for 29 miles.  The Ranger Station will be on your right.

From Bluff:  Travel north on Highway 191 for 21 miles. Turn left onto UT-95 N. After 28 miles, turn left onto UT-261 S. The Ranger Station will be on your left in 4 miles.

Raft the San Juan River

Rafting Trip and Archeology Stops

No trip to Bluff is complete without a rafting trip down the San Juan River.  Spring and fall, in particular, are good times to raft the San Juan River.

A trip down the River offers an intimate way to see the region’s archaeology, geology, and wildlife.  Although the river has some rapids, the usually gentle nature of the river makes this an excellent trip for families with children. And, the trip can be as flexible as you wish.  Bluff has well-known rafting companies that offer half-day, full-day, and multi-day trips.  The company will take care of all aspects of your river trip and provide you with a fun, knowledgeable guide who can explain the archaeology, geology and wildlife you will see on the trip.  See Guides.

Guides can also help you better understand the Ancestral Puebloans who inhabited this area with stops at the Sand Island Petroglyph Panel, River House Ruin, and the Kachina Panel.

Three miles west of Bluff is the Sand Island launch site.  You can raft the river on your own, but a permit is required to float the San Juan River.

Directions from Bluff: Head west on Hwy 191S for 4.2 miles and turn left at the sign for Sand Island.

House on Fire Archaeology Hike

Short Family Hike to Ancient Dwelling

House on Fire is an iconic Ancestral Puebloan cliff structure in the Bears Ears Monument (Shash Jáa unit). It is popularly named “House on Fire” because at certain times of the day, the interesting rock of the roof becomes lit with vibrant color.

House on Fire is a gentle 0.9 mile hike one-way.  It’s a great hike for families. To obtain photographs that highlight the rock structures, visit before noon.

Visitors must pay a small use fee (day or weekly passes available at trailhead).  An annual pass is available at the BLM Kane Gulch Ranger Station or at the BLM office in Monticello.

Please note there are no facilities at the trailhead and you must be prepared to pack in water and pack out all your trash.   Remember to Visit with Respect! Please steer clear of the walls at the archaeology site and leave all artifacts where you find them. This will help preserve the site for others.

Directions from Bluff:  Travel Highway 191 north for 21 miles.  Turn left onto UT-95 N. Travel west. Between mile markers 101 and 102, note the turn into the South Fork of Mule Canyon with a trailhead.

Salvation Knoll

Short, steep hike to scenic overlook

In 1979, Mormon pioneers answered a calling to leave their homes to settle the San Juan River region.  The pioneers settled Bluff after traveling the arduous Hole in the Rock trail. The trip was estimated to take six weeks, but lasted six months.  During the trek, advance scouts were sent to explore the rugged terrain to search for a feasible route for the larger wagon train to follow.  During their search, the scouts became lost and ran out of food. On a snowy Christmas morning in 1879 while low on rations, the scouts climbed what is known as Salvation Knoll to search for landmarks.  At the top they were able to see the Blue Mountains to the northeast, which allowed the scouts to get their bearings, and subsequently design a route for the wagon train.  Today, a short but steep hiking trail (170 foot climb) accesses the top of Salvation Knoll, where visitors can enjoy a 360 degree panorama of incredible views. Round trip to the top is one-half mile.

Directions from Bluff:

From Bluff—up Moki Dugway:  Travel south on Hwy 191, continuing on Hwy 163 for 21 miles.  Turn right on Hwy 261 and climb the Moki Dugway (32 miles). Turn right onto UT-95N.  Travel 4 miles. Salvation Knoll will be on your right.

From Bluff:  Travel north on Highway 191 for 21 miles. Turn left onto UT-95 N.  Travel for 24.4 miles. Salvation Knoll will be on your left.

Star Gazing at Pristine Night Skies

Dark Sky Viewing

The skies in Bears Ears National Monument offer some of the best night sky viewing around.  Nearby places for stargazing include Sand Island Boat Launch and Campground  and Valley of the Gods.  Just outside of the Bears Ears Monument, you’ll find designated Dark Sky Parks such as the Goosenecks State Park and Natural Bridges National Monument which often have ranger-led programs.

Directions from Bluff:
Sand Island:  Travel south on Hwy 191 for 4 miles.  Turn left at sign for Sand Island.
Valley of the Gods:  Travel south on Hwy 191.  Continue straight as the road becomes Highway 163. Continue about 12 miles and Valley of the Gods will be on your right.