Bears Ears National Monument is a new national monument in southeast Utah, named for the centrally located Bears Ears Peaks. President Obama signed the monument into law on December 28th 2016. The national monument has many wilderness study areas and consists primarily of unprotected BLM land, used heavily by everyone from hikers and backpackers to the ATV and off-road crowd. It also contains over 100,000 ancient ruins, art panels, and archaeological sites. The land encompassed in the Bears Ears is about 1.35 million acres – more than two times larger than Canyonlands, Arches, Bryce, and Zion National Parks combined!

img_2482-ruins-fable-valley-bryce-stevensAnasazi Ruins in Fable Valley, photo Bryce Stevens

The creation of the Bears Ears National Monument was initially proposed by a coalition of area tribal nations – including the Navajo, Hopi, Zuni, and Ute Tribes – that wanted these lands protected for future generations. It is a controversial topic in the region, to say the least. These lands are used by many Four Corner’s locals and the perspectives on protection are 180-degrees opposed in many cases. Read more about the battle being waged over the Bears Ears.

img_2381-gooseberry-elk-ridge-utah-bryce-stevensQuaking Aspens on Elk Ridge, photo Bryce Stevens

Above is a map of the proposed Bears Ears National Monument showing the different areas it could include. Below is a description of each area and their popular recreational activities.


Mountains on this map

Mountain Elevation
Bears Ears 9,058 ft (2,761 m)

Landmarks on this map

Cedar Mesa and Grand Gulch

Cedar Mesa is becoming well known to adventurous hikers and backpackers seeking a remote canyoneering experience. The many canyons on the mesa, of which Grand Gulch is the largest and most recognizable, are filled with Anasazi ruins, cliff dwellings, rock art panels, and artifacts. Grand Gulch is a wilderness study area and Cedar Mesa is currently a special recreation management area. Highway 261 crosses the mesa and includes one of the most unique sections of road known as the Moki Dugway.

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Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods is a wide valley with many tall unique rock structures (buttes, towers, and mesas) with descriptive names like the Seven Sailors and Setting Hen Butte. A scenic dirt road travels through the valley with good vantage points of these picturesque natural wonders.

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Comb Ridge, Comb Wash, Bulter Wash

Comb Ridge is a long narrow white sandstone ridge that runs north south. With many closely spaced steep points along the ridge crest it resembles a spine or comb. It’s west side is a cliff that drops down into Comb Wash. The east side of the Comb slopes gradually into Butler Wash. Comb Ridge holds many grand Anasazi ruins in its rock alcoves.

Elk Ridge

Elk Ridge is a high elevation wooded ridge that runs north from Cedar Mesa to the Abajo Mountains. It is made up of North Elk Ridge and South Elk Ridge with the dividing line being a narrow spot called The Notch at the head of Dark Canyon. Several large deep canyons run east and west from the ridge drawing in experienced canyoneers. Deer and elk roam these high lands and hunters abound in the fall.

Indian Creek

Indian Creek is a well-known rock climbing area between the town of Monticello and Canyonlands National Park.

Harts Draw

Harts Draw is another rock climbing area near Indian Creek northwest of the small town of Monticello.

Lockhart Basin

Lockhart Basin is a rock shelf on the eastern side of the Colorado River. A rugged road meanders through sand and over slickrock for many miles between Needles Outpost and Moab. This area is popular with off-road motorcyclists, mountain bikers, and overlanding vehicle enthusiasts.

Dark Canyon

Dark Canyon is a massive 30 mile long canyon that flows west from Elk Ridge at about 8300 feet down to the Cataract Canyon on the Colorado River at about 3600 feet. The upper part of the canyon is currently a national forest wilderness study area, the lower part is a BLM primitive area, and the mouth of the canyon is part of Glenn Canyon National Recreation Area. Backpackers love this remote canyon.

White Canyon

White Canyon starts at the Bears Ears Peaks and heads west for about 40 miles to Lake Powell just south of the Hite Boat Launch. The upper part of the canyon has three unique rock bridges and is protected separately as Natural Bridges National Monument. The lower portion is lesser known but includes the infamous Black Hole of White Canyon, a day hike that involves challenging obstacles and swimming in cold water.

Arch Canyon

Arch Canyon is a large deep canyon that descends from Elk Ridge down to upper Comb Wash. 4X4 rigs and clubs flock to the road that ascends the canyon criss-crossing the creek many times along the route. Hikers and backpackers join the fun in this canyon in search of Anasazi ruins and several rock arches for which the canyon was named.

Beef Basin

Beef Basin is a wide open area south of Canyonlands National Park that is popular with 4×4 groups. There are many Anasazi rock structures built on the surface of the basin, a unique contrast to the cliff dwellings deep in nearby canyons. It’s a long drive to Beef Basin so properly prepared explorers are rewarded with relative solitude.

Ruin Park & Bobby's Hole

Like nearby Beef Basin, Ruin Park is a remote high elevation used by overlanding vehicles. As the name suggests there are Anasazi ruins and art panels scattered about the basin. Bobby’s Hole is a serious highly-rated 4×4 road that climbs up into Ruin Park.

San Juan River

The San Juan River forms the entire southern boundary of Bears Ears National Monument from the town of Bluff to the confluence with the Colorado River. Along the shores of the San Juan River there are large rock art panels and areas with boulders adorned with petroglyphs. Some are day hikes and others are accessed by remote backroads. Every year rafters float down the San Juan stopping at some of these archaeological sites and camping on the river banks. Most of the river in this area is protected on the north side by Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Bears Ears National Monument will include portions of the rive near Mexican Hat and Bluff.

Chimney Rocks

Chimney Rocks is a little known area north of Bluff, Utah. It’s named for the tall skinny hoodoos (layered rock columns) that stand erect in this shallow draw.

Moqui Canyon & Mancos Mesa

Moqui Canyon drains west into Lake Powell in Glenn Canyon National Recreation Area. Just north of it is Mancos Mesa and several other remote and little-known canyons. This area between Highway 95 and Highway 276 is seldom seen by humans.

Goosenecks State Park

This state park is located at a spot overlooking a gooseneck bend in the San Juan River.

Abajo Mountains

The Abajos (or Blues as they are known locally) are visible from the nearby towns of Monticello and Blanding. They are home to many black bear, deer, elk, and other animals and are popular mountains for hunting. A scenic high elevation road winds through the peaks from Elk Ridge to Monticello. The Abajo Mountains were part of the original proposal for Bears Ears National Monument but were omitted. They are easily accessed from Elk Ridge which is in the national monument.

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