Arch Tower and Cave Canyon |

Northern Reef

Hiking Arch Tower and Cave Canyon - Northern Reef Hiking Arch Tower and Cave Canyon
Northern Reef

Overview | Getting There | Route | Photos | Maps | Comments


TICKS & TODOS: 16 Todo Lists / 3 Ticks
RATING: Moderate Hike
GEAR: Standard Hiking Gear. Moderate navigation. Good map skills or a GPS required.
MAPS: Spotted Wolf Canyon, UT;
WATER: Generally a few seeps and small pools, bring all you need.
SEASON: Spring, Fall, Winter
Tue Hi:76 Lo:48 Wed Hi:80 Lo:50 Thu Hi:82 Lo:53 Fri Hi:83 Lo:52 Sat Hi:81 Lo:53
View Full Weather Details

Though close to I-70 as the crow flies, this region of the Swell feels remote and seldom visited. A gem of an area to visit, your more likely to encounter cows, coyotes, and wild burros than other people.

The hike has a bit of everything. It starts up Cave Canyon, which slowly deepens as it enters the reef. After visiting a large natural alcove (cave), it passes under one of the few natural bridges in the Swell before reaching the top of the reef and expansive views of Mexican Mountain and the Mexican Bend area. It takes an easier route back, down Arch Tower canyon.

Be sure to bring a camera, the view both in the canyons, and of Mexican Bend are spectacular.

Mexican Mountain from the overlook

Getting There

The trailhead starts north of I-70 on highway 6/191. Go north from I-70 about 4 miles to milepost 295.3. Here there is a dirt road on the west (left) side of the highway.

  • Reset your odometer as you turn off highway 6. ( 12S 560619mE 4319864mN / N39° 01' 33" W110° 17' 59" )
  • 2.3 - Junction go right. ( 12S 557746mE 4317949mN / N39° 00' 31" W110° 19' 59" )
  • 3.6 miles - Jct, stay left on main road. ( 12S 556412mE 4319529mN / N39° 01' 23" W110° 20' 54" )
  • 6.6 miles - 4 way junction. Smith Cabin is straight ahead a short distance. Go left and reset your odometer. ( 12S 552368mE 4320451mN / N39° 01' 54" W110° 23' 42" )
  • Stay on the main dirt road as you travel south. There are several small side roads that make for good primitive campsites. At 0.9 is the first of several rough spots where the road descends and crosses a wash. This is the worst section. ( 12S 552568mE 4319035mN / N39° 01' 08" W110° 23' 34" )
  • At 3.0 miles, while in the wash, Arch Tower canyon comes in on the right. It is easy to miss. Just after this, the road crosses a sandy section and climbs out of Tidwell Draw. ( 12S 552716mE 4316085mN / N38° 59' 32" W110° 23' 29" )
  • 3.2 miles - Top of a small hill. This is the exit trailhead. If you only have one vehicle, park here and walk the road section. ( 12S 552551mE 4315753mN / N38° 59' 21" W110° 23' 36" )
  • 3.8 miles - Small side road that goes up the bottom of Cave Canyon on the right. This is the trailhead and has decent primitive camping. ( 12S 552394mE 4315061mN / N38° 58' 59" W110° 23' 42" )


To The Cave
A few minutes up from the trailhead, the canyon forks in an area with seeps. Go left here, following the cow/social trail. It meanders up the canyon bottom as the canyon deepens. Ascend a small dryfall (3rd or easy 4th class) before the namesake of the canyon, a large cave on the north (right) side becomes visible. An easy slickrock ramp leads to the cave.

To The Overlook
From the cave, continue up canyon, reaching a series of dryfalls shortly. The first couple of levels are passed by climbing up on the right and circling back. The last step up has a wood ladder, or can be partner assisted if the ladder is missing.

IMPORTANT: Once up the last step, just above the ladder, be sure to go left. Two forks coalesce here, and the ladder goes up the right one. The route, however, goes up the left one. A social trail here goes up the left fork, but it is easy to miss.

The canyon begins to open before passing under a natural bridge. 10-15 minutes after the bridge, begin heading north west, just right of the domes visible on the skyline. This reaches the top of the reef and overlooks Mexican Bend. (30-40 minutes passed the bridge)

Down Arch Tower Canyon
From the overlook, Arch Tower and Arch Tower Canyon are visible to the north. The canyon is just before the obvious big cliff. To reach it, head north east, taking the path of least resistance. Once in Arch Tower Canyon, head down canyon. It is a bit of a boulder scramble at times. Most dryfalls are passed on the right. Near the bottom, a dryfall looks difficult to bypass, but yields easily to a downclimb with a spot.

As the canyon opens, a seep flows over a sandstone slab and the area shows much cow use. Exit on a cow trail to the south up the small hill. If you left a vehicle at the exit trailhead, it will be visible a short distance away from the top of the hill.


Printable Maps:

12S 552394mE 4315061mN

N38° 58' 59" W110° 23' 42"


12S 550919mE 4315257mN

N38° 59' 05" W110° 24' 44"


12S 550815mE 4315135mN

N38° 59' 01" W110° 24' 48"


12S 549398mE 4315365mN

N38° 59' 09" W110° 25' 47"


12S 548507mE 4316434mN

N38° 59' 44" W110° 26' 23"

Arch Tower

12S 549661mE 4316359mN

N38° 59' 41" W110° 25' 36"


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