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 traditional, 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 signed an executive order reducing the boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument by an estimated 90% and divided the monument into two units: The Shash Jáa Unit and Indian Creek Unit.
The monument is managed jointly by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
Bluff is the proud gateway to the Bears Ears National Monument. Bluff is the nearest town to the Shash Jáa Unit and offers quality lodging, dining, shopping. Based om Bluff, you’ll 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.
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 the 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 Native American and historic pioneer connections that enrich the history of the area. Honor past generations and futures on by visiting respectfully.
To maximize your visit, consider attractions both inside and outside the Bears Ears National Monument. Unsurpassed scenic drives, archaeology, and adventures can be found throughout the greater Bears Ears area—both inside and outside the National Monument.
You may also wish to book a guide for some longer hikes in the greater Bears Ears area. 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.
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.
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 as well as surrounding sites in BLM lands free of charge. However, many hikes in the Monument as well as on BLM lands have fees for both day and overnight use.
Please contact the BLM and Forest Service about fees, regulations, and permits. T: 435-587-1500.
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.
Check out our guest blog by Erica Tucker for tips on How to Visit With Respect.
The major part of the Shash Jáa Unit of the Bears Ears National Monument centers around Comb Ridge.
Here’s a list of our favorite locations in the greater Bears Ears area.
(In Shash Jáa Unit of Bears Ears National Monument)
The namesake and heart of the landscape, the Bears Ears stand at 9000 and 8500 feet, respectively. These twin buttes are located in the Manti-La Sal National Forest and are a regional landmark as they are visible from long distances in the Four Corners area. The two peaks have served as regional navigation point for hundreds of years. The Spanish called them Orejas del Oso. The Navajo call them Shashjáa’. The Utes call them Kwiyagat Nugavat.
Bears Ears are sacred places to many tribes who share oral histories of the area. The Navajo believe that bears have healing powers and are a prominent symbol in an important ceremony. Navajo Headman Manuelito, who led a number of Navajos in an escape from the “Long Walk” to New Mexico, was born near these buttes. Ute and Pueblo cultures also share long-standing ties to the area. From the saddle of these twin buttes, you get stunning views of the Bears Ears landscape.
Directions: There are two ways to access the Bears Ears: from Cottonwood Wash to the east or from Elk Mountain Road to the west. Both routes are not recommended when conditions may be wet or icy.
From Bluff—up Moki Dugway: Travel south on Hwy 191, continuing on Hwy 163. Turn right on Hwy 261 and climb the Moki Dugway. Turn left on UT-95N. Turn right on UT-275N. After 0.7 miles, turn right onto Elk Mountain/FR008. This 6.1-mile road will take you to the saddle between the two buttes.
From Bluff: Travel north on Hwy 191 for 21 miles. Turn left onto UT-95 N and continue 30.2 miles west (past the turnoff for UT-261). Turn right on UT-275N. After 0.7 miles, turn right onto Elk Mountain/FR008. This 6.1-mile road will take you to the saddle between the two buttes.
The Cottonwood Wash access: From the junction of Hwy 191 and UT-95 N, follow UT-95 west for 6.3 miles. Turn right on Cottonwood and proceed 5.3 miles. Take a slight left onto Elk Mountain/268. After 3.9 miles, turn right to stay on Elk Mountain/268. After 10.8 miles, take a slight left onto Forest Road 092. Follow 092 for 5.8 miles to reach the saddle of the Bears Ears buttes.
(In Shash Jáa Unit of Bears Ears National Monument)
This short trail leads to you an overlook of several Ancestral Puebloan structures built and occupied around 1200 A.D. The cliff dwelling features habitation, storage and ceremonial structures, including four kivas. Parts of the site have been stabilized and reconstructed. The moderate walking trail is 1-mile round trip with a few shaded benches and plant identification signs along the way. At the end of the trail, there is a fenced overlook with interpretive signs. Parking and a restroom are available.
Directions from Bluff: Travel north on Highway 191 for 21 miles. Turn left onto UT-95 N. Travel west 10.5 miles and look for signs on the right for Butler Wash Ruins Overlook.
(In Shash Jáa Unit of Bears Ears National Monument)
Ancestral Puebloans built kivas for religious ceremonies. This quick roadside trip to Mule Canyon Roadside Kiva gives you a great sense of the types of surface and underground structures built by the Ancestral Puebloans. These structures were built on Cedar Mesa around 700 years ago.
You can learn more about the ruin complex which includes an excavated kiva and several surface structures. This is a good example of the Unit Pueblo layout, which consisted of an L-shaped room block with a kiva adjacent to the room block.
The path to the kiva is an easy walk and is paved.
Directions from Bluff: Travel north on Highway 191 for 21 miles. Turn left onto UT-95 N. Travel west 19.8 miles and look for signs on the right for Mule Canyon Ruin.
This site offers stunning 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. A picnic area and pit toilets are available.
Directions from Bluff: Travel north on Highway 191 for 67 miles. Turn left on Needles Overlook Road which is paved. Continue for 21 miles. The overlook is at the end of the pavement.
(In Indian Creek Unit of Bears Ears National Monument)
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.
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.
The Sand Island Petroglyph is located in the Sand Island Campground which has restrooms, camping, a seasonal ranger station, a boat launch and seasonal drinking water. Please be prepared to pack in your own water and pack out trash. As with any rock art panel, you can visit with respect by refraining from touching rock art or adding your own.
Directions from Bluff: Head west on Hwy 191S for 4.2 miles and turn left at the sign for Sand Island. At the bottom of the hill, take a right and drive 0.2 miles to the parking on the right. This allows you to access the lower panel.
(In Shash JáaUnit of Bears Ears National Monument)
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.
(In the Shash Jáa Unit of Bears Ears National Monument)
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.
This 17-mile drive through the sculpted Cedar Mesa sandstone buttes of Valley of the Gods offers a fun car drive.