Grand Gulch Primitive Area


Grand Gulch is a serpentine canyon carved into the gently sloping surface of Cedar Mesa. The southern end of the gulch flows into the San Juan River.  Grand Gulch is known for its Ancestral Puebloan cliff ruins and rock art.  .Grand Gulch is a Wilderness Study Area (WSA) and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

A popular area for hiking and backpacking, Grand Gulch affords an opportunity to see Ancestral Puebloan ruins and rock art in a natural setting.  Ancestral Puebloans lived here between 800 and 2,000 years ago in permanent homes made of stone, wood, and mud.  Dwellings  may have been built on the ground, dug into the ground, or built in protected areas such as under overhangs and high in the cliffs.  You may see smaller structures built in the cliffs, which are often granaries used for food storage.  Hiking through the Gulch today gives one an appreciation for the survival skills the ancient peoples possessed.


Some of the earliest research into the Ancestral Puebloan civilization took place in Grand Gulch. Between 1890 and 1897 at least nine expeditions into the canyon took place, generally financed by museums in the East.  Richard Wetherill, a rancher from Mancos, Colorado, who discovered Mesa Verde and helped develop the field of archeology, made two important expeditions here.  Wetherill also identified the Basketmakers as a distinct cultural group who preceded the Pueblo people.  His name has become forever linked with Grand Gulch and the amazing ruins found here.

Points of Interest and Access

Most people who visit Grand Gulch do so to see Ancestral Puebloan ruins and rock art.  Popular sites include Junction Ruin, Turkey Pen Ruin, Split Ruin, Bit Man Rock Art Panel, Bannister Ruin and Perfect Kiva Ruin.

Permit are required for hiking and backpacking in the canyons of Cedar Mesa, including Grand Gulch. Day use permits may be obtained at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station or at trailheads.  During the spring and fall, overnight backpacking permits are only available at the ranger station, and must be obtained on the morning of the trip. They may be reserved up to 90 days in advance by calling 435-587-1510. During other seasons, these permits may be obtained from the BLM Monticello Field Office.

The Kane Gulch Ranger Station has a few interpretive displays and is located on the mesa near Kane Gulch, a major tributary and access point to Grand Gulch.


1.  U.S. Deparment of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Monticello Field Office. Grand Gulch. Accessed Jan 25, 2013.