Bluejohn Canyon: A Hidden Gem

The American Southwest is home to countless canyons and narrows, one of which has grown in infamy: BlueJohn Canyon. 

Don’t let that scare you, though, if you’re looking for a canyon less traveled by. We’re heading just outside the center of Utah’s Mighty 5; this lesser-known attraction is one you won’t want to miss whether you’re a first-time visitor of Capitol Reef Country or you’re a veteran explorer of the area. It’s time to add another stop to the itinerary. 

Where is Bluejohn Canyon?

BlueJohn Canyon is a slot canyon in the eastern part of Wayne County, Utah, and got its name from a 19th-century outlaw named John Griffith. Because John had one blue eye, and one brown eye he was nicknamed “Blue John” and would reportedly keep stolen horses in this area. Hence, the canyon name.

BlueJohn Canyon rests on land that belongs to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It lies just east of Canyonlands National Park and connects as a tributary of Horseshoe Canyon. However, it is often mistakenly believed to be part of Canyonlands. 

It is considered part of Robbers Roost and the vastly branched east side of the Dirty Devil River. BlueJohn Canyon is a spectacular set of narrows that you won’t want to miss exploring. 

Who is Aron Ralston?

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the famous hiker, Aron Ralston. BlueJohn Canyon is where, in 2003, Aron Ralston’s arm became wedged underneath a rock that had shifted, and he was trapped for five days. Eventually, he chose to amputate his own forearm with a multi-tool and escape. 

People are attracted to this canyon for various reasons to visit the site where Aron nearly met his demise. As a reminder, we do not recommend attempting to recreate the events here. Safety first, always, but if you’re looking for more information on his story, read his book: Between a Rock and a Hard Place, or watch the movie ‘127 Hours’. 

BlueJohn Canyon Basics

BlueJohn Canyon is perfect for all skill levels as it offers a range of hiking and canyoneering challenges. Portions of the canyon require technical canyoneering skills and equipment, but there is nothing overly dangerous about the adventure – just overly exciting! 

The main fork of the canyon is approximately 11 miles and runs north-northeast from Robbers Roost. 

Accessing BlueJohn Canyon

The closest gas stations are in Green River and Hanksville; make sure you have plenty of fuel and supplies when you’re headed out to the area. 

This trail can be accessed from the North, East, or West via Hans Flat Road or via Green River Road. Green River Road is a much shorter access route than Hans Flat. 

It can also be accessed from the south via Hans Flat Road. The following directions have been borrowed from 

Green River Road

In Green River, at Center and Main, turn south and follow the roads signed for the airport. Stay on the roads marked for the airport until you get to a gravel road. It will have a sign on the left for San Rafael Desert and Horseshoe Canyon. This is called Green River Road; turn onto it. Follow Green River Road south for about 40 miles to the turnoff for Horseshoe Canyon Trailhead. 

Hans Flat Road (From North, East, or West) The longest of the three access routes is off I-70, 11 miles west of Green River. From I-70, take exit 149 onto Highway 24 south. Follow the highway south to Hans Flat Road on the east side, between mile markers 135 and 136. 

This is where you’ll want to have a map handy as this becomes a gravel road. Follow this main gravel road for about 24 miles to a major junction (Horseshoe Junction). This trailhead is access to the West Fork of BlueJohn Canyon. 

Turn right at Horseshoe Junction and follow this road for just under 7 miles. If your vehicle is capable of 4WD, you can follow the sandy track a short distance leading to the “Shortcut” Trailhead or park just before it to start your trek. This trailhead provides access to the Main Fork of BlueJohn Canyon. 

Alternatively, you can turn right at Horseshoe Junction and follow the road south for just over 7 miles until you come to another signed fork in the road. Turn left towards Hans Flat Ranger Station and follow this road for about another mile. Granary Springs Trailhead provides access to the Main Fork of BlueJohn Canyon, the Squeeze Fork BlueJohn Canyon, and the East Fork BlueJohn Canyon. 

Hans Flat Road (From the South) From the junction of Highway 95 and 124 in Hanksville, drive north on Highway 124 for approximately 18 miles to the Hans Flat Road on the east side of the highway, between mile markers 135 and 136. From this point, follow the roads to any of the trailheads. 

Canyon Routes

Main Fork BlueJohn Anyone who wishes to traverse BlueJohn Canyon should come prepared with 100′ or more climbing rope, regardless of climbing experience. Though it is possible to climb without ropes by an experienced climber, it’s better to be prepared just in case. 

After completing the Main Fork, from the top, you can exit the West Fork BlueJohn, the West Enter/Exit Route, or continue down through Lower BlueJohn Canyon to Horseshoe Canyon. 

Little BlueJohn This fork is a short narrows that enters Main Fork BlueJohn just below the Corridor Narrows. This route requires route-finding abilities but is only a class 2 difficulty. If your goal is to avoid technical difficulty, this is the route for you. 

In Conclusion

As we mentioned before, safety first. Don’t forget to bring at least 100′ of rope, regardless of your climbing and canyoneering expertise, plenty of food, water, and supplies, and be sure you have a full tank of gas. (Bonus points if you’re extra prepared with additional fuel.) Always make sure to tell someone what your route is, how long you anticipate being gone, and what locations you plan to be. Don’t forget to pack a map!

BlueJohn Canyon is well worth the adventure!

Keep Capitol Reef Country Forever Mighty

What is Forever Mighty? It’s practicing responsible travel while visiting Utah and Capitol Reef Country by following the principles of Tread Lightly and Leave No Trace.

Plan ahead and prepare, travel and camp on durable surfaces, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, minimize campfire impacts, respect wildlife, be considerate of others, support local business and honor community, history and heritage. Help us keep Utah and Capitol Reef Country’s outdoor recreation areas beautiful, healthy, and accessible.

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