Miles down a lonely sand road, this remote canyon sits at the southern edge of Cedar Mesa, draining into the San Juan River. Unlike many of the canyons right off of the highway, not much of a trail exists down here, just small primitive ones.
Each trailhead on the mesa top comes with the opportunity for free and legal car camping, but travel to any sites within the canyons themselves, and a backcountry permit is required. Using the third trailhead as my basecamp, I tackled each fork of Slickhorn Canyon over a series of dayhikes.
This first, main, fork is the easiest to follow and draws the most visitors. The beginning of the trail follows a shallow wash to the upper reaches of a pour off. Using cairns, the trail wraps southwest towards a slickrock bench, then descends 300 feet along a steep series of switchbacks into the sandy wash. 300 yards down the way, a side track climbs another cairn-marked slope towards the main attraction, Perfect Kiva.
The remaining mileage of the first fork keeps to level ground, and at the confluence of the first and second forks lies another small, hard to spot granary. Here, backpackers can also find a great campsite and a small stream (that may or may not be seasonal).
The third fork boasts two sites. The first, shown below, is a small ruin tucked beneath an overhang, about 1.5 miles from the trailhead. Pretty easy to spot. The second sits at the opposite end of the canyon near the first fork and includes a log kiva, a two-level granary and some more rock art. Hikers commonly loop the first and third forks, making for a twelve-plus mile excursion in all, including exploration of the ruins.
The road between the third and fourth forks:
Fourth Fork (Trail Canyon)
Descending into the depths of this fork involved a lot more climbing than the other three. Down river, it’s the deepest of the four canyons, reaching down to about 5,200 feet at its deepest point (compared to the 6,000+ feet of elevation along the mesa top). Every time I thought the climb was over, the canyon had more in store for me.
I continually find myself underestimating these canyons. Though the mileage never logs much, due to the difficult wayfinding it takes far longer to climb in and out than I expect. In the case of this fourth fork, there were sporadic cairns to follow, and sometimes enough of a primitive trail, but oftentimes, I found myself seeking my own way.
And finally, Lookout Canyon at the end of Point Lookout Road. I couldn’t spot it, but there’s supposed to be another ruin on the opposite aspect of the canyon.