Hiking the Honaker Trail

Honaker Trail,Utah

Horn Point, a precipitous outcropping along the Honaker Trail above the San Juan River gorge, Utah.

If you look at my recent photo of Goosenecks State Park, you can see that there’s absolutely no way to hike down to the San Juan River in that area — continuous cliff bands block any possible route down. However, back in the 1890s a precipitous trail was constructed nearby by Henry Honaker as a supply route for gold prospectors. Honaker’s unbelievable trail zig zags down a puzzle-like route from the rim to the river, oftentimes descending sheer cliffs via large ramps built from meticulously stacked rocks.

See more photos below!

Honaker Trail, Utah, San Juan River

Hiking the Honaker Trail down to the San Juan River.

Completed in June of 1894 after a year of construction, the first horse to attempt the trail fell to its death and since the mines proved unprofitable anyways, the trail was never used for its original purpose. Today Honaker’s trail is enjoyed by geologists and the occasional hikers like us looking for another fantastic hike in the Utah desert.

Honaker Trail,Utah

Meticulously stacked rocks provide a ramp to bypass an otherwise impassible cliff band along the Honaker Trail. Numerous such ramps were built along this trail to complete the unlikely route.

Honaker Trail, Utah, San Juan River
San Juan River Bends : Prints Available

The San Juan River as seen from the Honaker Trail.

Hiking this trail is an absolute joy, with fantastic views of the San Juan River and its striated gorge the entire way. If there’s any trail in the Utah desert that confirms the old saying “It’s not the destination but the journey that matters”, this would be it. Acrophobics should probably avoid this hike, as it oftentimes traverses narrow ledges with massive drops below! Another treat here is that some of the geologic layers are covered in crinoid and brachiopod fossils. The whitish rock layer on Horn Point (see the top photo above) is covered with hundreds of clusters of these ancient little seashells. I actually was unaware of the fossils until we were taking a break and eating snacks here, and suddenly I noticed all the fossils embedded in the rock we were sitting on!

Honaker Trail, Utah, San Juan River
San Juan River Rocks : Prints Available

The San Juan River as seen from the Honaker Trail.

To be honest we picked this hike as a sort of backup plan to kill a day while we waited for the muddy roads up on Cedar Mesa to dry after recent rainfall. But I’m so glad we went; it’s such an awesome trail! I enjoyed every minute of this hike and highly recommend it if you’re in the Goosenecks area and want some exercise!

Utah, Cedar Mesa, potholes
Slickrock Skies : Prints Available

Potholes filled with rainwater reflect clouds above Cedar Mesa.

After our hike we camped at the trailhead near the canyon rim. The photo above was taken about ten steps from our truck!

5 thoughts on “Hiking the Honaker Trail

  1. Really beautiful, Jack and thanks for adding the note about not disturbing the illuminated ruin – we need to keep reinforcing ethical photography wherever we may be in the world. You are the light master!

  2. What a beautiful place. My wife and I were driving to Monument Valley from Mesa Verde (we were staying in Durango). I had heard of Goosenecks, but I didn’t realize we’d be going right by the park. Just a couple of hours before sunset (and sunset is magnificent in Monument Valley), we were kind of hurrying to get there and I spotted a sign for Goosenecks. I made the right turn and a few minutes later we were looking into the meanders from the parking lot without another soul around. It felt like we were in a dream. I could have stayed there for days looking down at the river and across to the desert on the other side. It was breathtaking, awesome and also lovely. I think it was an hour before I realized there was a second meander. Standing there all alone began to give us a feeling of insecurity and danger along with our awe and wonder. After a while a Native American woman arrived with other members of her family. They told us she spent most days there making and selling jewelry. Eventually another couple showed up and we left to visit Monument Valley with intentions to come back and really find out about the place. This was 8 years ago. Your photos are fabulous because although others I’ve seen show what the place looks like, yours capture the depth, richness of color and the amazing atmosphere. Very rich colors that appear true to the reality yet so vivid. I don’t know how else to say it. Thank you. We are going to get back there, but time sure does fly.

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