Distance: 5 miles | Time: 2.5 hrs – 3.5 hrs | Level: Hard
Hiking Honaker Trail was completely unplanned and yet one of our favorite trails we did during our Utah road trip. While drooling over the views from our tent at Goosenecks Campground we decided we had to find a hike in the area.
Thanks to AllTrails we stumbled upon Honaker Trail within minutes of searching and began planning our hike for the next morning.
The Honaker Trail begins along the canyon rim and, through a series of switchbacks, leads hikers down into the floor of the canyon. The trail ends at the San Juan River where hikers can cool off in the water.
In this guide, I highlight what to expect hiking Honaker Trail, how to find the trailhead, what to pack, epic camping spots, and nearby attractions worth the trip.
Complete Guide to Hiking Honaker Trail
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The History of Honaker Trail
The Honaker Trail, named after the man who built it, was originally intended to act as a supply route for gold miners. Constructed in the late 1800s, the trail was created to allow access from the San Juan River to the top of the canyon.
Unfortunately, the quest for gold in the area was short lived and the trail was never used for its original purpose.
Regardless, hikers from all around continue to benefit from this project. Honaker Trail still remains today and provides adventurers with an epic way to venture into the canyon and onto the shores of the San Juan River.
Finding Honaker Trailhead
Finding the trail was difficult. We used both AllTrails and offline Google Maps to help locate the trailhead but both resulted in us aimlessly driving around, lost.
Through lots of trial and error, frustrated u-turns, and helpful hiker reviews we finally found the elusive trailhead. I strongly recommend following these directions below, rather than using Google Maps.
Directions to the Trailhead
From the main road, veer right at mile marker three. There is no official sign marking this turn.
Continue down this dirt road for roughly 10 minutes until you come to a Y in the road. A cattle watering tank marks the split. Veer left here.
After veering left, continue down this path for about 12 minutes until you reach the trailhead. You will pass one false parking area about a mile onto this road, keep going right here. A pile of rocks marks the true trailhead parking.
While I wouldn’t necessarily say you need a 4WD vehicle to make this drive, it is necessary to have some clearance and confidence. A 4WD vehicle would definielty make the journey easier but I’ve read reviews of hikers making it in a Prius.
Regardless, drive slowly and cautiously.
What to Expect Hiking Honaker Trail
Walking up to Honaker trailhead provides one of the most captivating views I’ve ever witnessed.
Words cannot describe the magnitude of the canyon walls or intricacy of the surrounding geology. Quite frankly it doesn’t seem real, let alone something you can go gallivanting around in.
The trail begins at the top most point of the canyon, just steps away from the parking area. From there, you begin the downhill trek to the canyon floor.
A narrow trail has been carved into the side of the canyon making the descent, for the most part, steady and gradual. There are a handful of areas along the trail where you will encounter large steps down. These areas get a bit more scrambly and do require you get down on your butt or use your hands.
About halfway down there’s a ledge jutting out in the canyon overlooking the San Juan River. If you have the stomach for it, it’s an incredible view and offers a surreal perspective of the canyon and meandering river.
As always, use caution and adventure at your own risk.
My favorite part of hiking Honaker Trail was the endless, uninterrupted views. The trail is completely exposed making it extremely hot, yes, but also entirely epic from start to finish.
Keep in mind as you’re making your way in to the canyon that you will have to turn around and go up the same way you came down. Remember to stay hydrated and pace yourself.
The return hike is what awards this trail its difficult rating.
The San Juan River
Once you reach the bottom of the canyon you have front row seats to the stunning San Juan River. We were the only hikers at the time on Honaker Trail but there were a handful of rafters drifting down the river.
We spent way more time than planned playing in the water. That day we hiked it was exceptionally hot. The river was inviting, clear and emerald green. We ran up the bank and drifted down the river on our backs more times than I can count.
That’s the thing about off-the-beaten-path hikes like Honaker Trail — they’re usually hard to find, scrambly, and less maintained, but they almost always provide you undisturbed time in nature you’ll never forget.
Now to the not-so-glamorous section of the trail: the ascent. The uphill climb gains 1,643 feet of elevation.
The journey back up to the top of the canyon is long, hard, and tedious. I do not recommend doing this hike mid-day nor during exceptionally hot temperatures. It’s doable, we did just that, but it was rough.
Take your time, take breaks, and when you’re feeling as though you’ll never reach the top — take a moment to turn around and soak it all in.
What to Pack for Honaker Trail
Honaker Trail is a hike you want to make sure you’re prepared for. The hike is completely exposed to the sun, less traveled than most, and physically demanding. It’s important to make sure you have everything you need to not only enjoy the hike but also keep you safe.
I recommend packing the following things for your Honaker Trail adventure:
While the trail length doesn’t seem overly long, the hike is taxing. Carrying extra water is a great habit to get into. The general rule of thumb is one liter per every two miles.
On our way back up the trail we passed a couple struggling and already out of water. Cole and I were carrying extra so we gave them some of ours. Don’t put yourself or others in a dangerous situation because you failed to plan.
On that note, throw some snacks into your pack as well for a mid-hike energy boost.
Sunglasses, Hat, and Sunscreen
You’re definitely going to want to over do it on the sun protection. Honaker Trail is completely exposed to the sun.
With that being said, you can lessen the intensity of the sun by ensuring you’re on the trail before the day heats up. I recommend starting right at sunrise.
The river provides the ultimate break from the heat. Nothing feels better than plopping down into a cold river after a long stretch of hiking in the blazing sun. Cole and I made a beeline to the water the moment we hit the bank.
Usually I would say just hop in wearing your hiking clothes but I think considering the trail, it would make for a miserable trek out.
Good Hiking Shoes
The terrain on Honaker Trail is nothing technical.
However, your feet are constantly on either an up or down slope, tramping over loose gravel. Shoes with good tread will not only save your feet but help with confidence in navigating the narrow path.
Where to Camp Near Honaker Trail
Goosenecks Campground is hands down the most epic campsite I have ever set up camp. Campers get to stake their tents right along the canyon rim overlooking the San Juan meander through Goosenecks State Park.
Think Horseshoe Bend without all the people.
The campground is a short 15 minute drive from Honaker Trail. Camping here is $10 per site and first come, first served. These are primitive campsites, meaning no water or electric. There are vault toilets on site.
There are eight camp sites available, half of which are directly along the rim. I recommend arriving early in the day to snag a spot.
(BLM) Valley of the Gods
If Goosenecks State Park is the less crowded version of Horseshoe Bend, Valley of the Gods is a smaller scale Monument Valley.
This BLM camping area is 30 minutes north of Honaker Trail on your way to Natural Bridges National Monument. Camping here is free and undesignated.
Campers can choose to set up tent at any of the pull-offs along the 17 mile loop road. The views are epic and endless. If you’re dreaming of a secluded desert camping trip, Valley of the Gods is your spot.
Valley of the Gods B&B
Perhaps you’re over camping and have been daydreaming about sleeping in a real bed with a real shower, but still want the desert views and tranquility. Look no further than Valley of the Gods B&B.
Unfortunately, we learned about this charming stay tucked away at the end of Valley of the Gods loop road only after we had left the area. The house is the only one within the 360 acres of the Cedar Mesa Cultural Recreational Management Area.
We ran into another couple while hiking a remarkable trail in the Needles District that couldn’t quit rambling about their stay at the B&B.
There are only four guest rooms so make sure to plan ahead if staying here if on your bucket list. Hint: it should be.
Worth the Trip
A 40 minute drive from Honaker Trail will drop you into the iconic area known as Monument Valley.
Monument Valley was still unfortunately closed due to COVID restrictions during our trip, but has since re-opened to limited capacity.
Vehicles can drive the 17 mile loop through the valley or book a guided tour to explore the area. Make sure to check the Navajo Nation Parks website to monitor updates and book your guide.
Natural Bridges National Monument
Want to experience Arches National Park without all the crowds? Head north for one hour to Natural Bridges National Monument.
We took a day trip to Natural Bridges and only encountered a handful of other people in the park. There are three natural bridges: Sipapu Bridge, Kachina Bridge, and Owachomo Bridge. You can also see ancient granaries still intact on the walls of the canyon.
If you have any questions about hiking Honaker Trail or exploring around the area, drop me a message in the comment section below!