Bull Valley Gorge is an impressive slot canyon in Grand-Staircase/Escalante National Monument that is accessible via the Skutumpah Road. The canyon is deeper, more rugged, and less visited than its nearby “cousin” canyon Willis Creek which is just to the north. Bull Valley Gorge is somewhat infamous for being the location of a 1954 accident where three locals died after their truck slipped off the muddy road and plunged into the canyon. The vehicle got wedged in the upper heights of the slot and until recently* the wreckage could still be seen dangling high in the canyon.
*NOTE: in spring 2019 a partial collapse of the bridge over Bull Valley Gorge temporarily closed the road and created a blockage in the canyon below. It was reported that the truck wreckage fell at that time, but a conflicting report stated it was still there (at least partially). This collapse evidently dammed up the upper portion of the canyon and flooded it for a while. Thus the following description may not reflect the newest conditions.
Bull Valley Gorge is possibly best experienced as a day hike as its rugged upper portion contains several small obstacles and is prone to being extremely muddy. However, for ambitious backpackers, it is possible to include BVG in a backpacking trip. One could do a loop with the aforementioned Willis Creek Narrows — this makes for a good overnighter. Thru hikers may also use the route to connect from the Bryce area to the Upper Paria. Though the Hayduke Trail officially goes up Willis Creek, some “Haydukers” are opting for this more adventurous route as an alternate. The description that follows is from TOP DOWN — thus the opposite direction for many Hayduke hikers. If using this route to connect to the Bryce area, see my ref map for how to follow an old road over the mesa north of the canyon.
To begin the hike walk upstream (or westward) from the trailhead at the small parking area located on the north side of the canyon along the Skutumpah Road. Right away one can gaze down into the canyon. Though it’s difficult to see the bottom, one can see the “debris” bridge and the old wreckage in the shadows (*if still present post 2019).
To get into the canyon, follow the rim for about another 1/4 mile to where the slot portion of the canyon starts becoming more and more shallow. One soon arrives at the top of the slot where the canyon simply turns into a wash. The initial drop into the slot is hard to descend due to a dryfall and a persistent pool below. However backtrack about 50 yards to find a crack which leads to a moderate climb of about 10′ down to the canyon floor. See photos in gallery below for reference.
Once in the canyon head downstream and the canyon walls will quickly grow higher and close in. If it’s early in the season or after a storm one is likely to encounter quite a bit of mud/pools in this upper section. At times it can be a real mud-soup mess:
Within less than 1/4 mile one is likely to encounter a few obstacles in the way of chockstones/boulder/logs. Depending on the conditions, these boulder/log jams can range from moderate to very difficult and a rope might be required.
Around a few more bends one will pass under the bridge and the wreckage above*. This is arguably the deepest and darkest portion of the canyon.
Below the bridge the canyon stays fairly narrow and deep for the next 1/2 mile or so. After that it opens up a bit and according to guidebook-author Kelsey there are a few scramble routes which one can use to climb out of the canyon. If just doing a day hike I’d suggest turning around and going back up the canyon instead of attempting a loop via a scramble route. Kelsey’s routes are notorious for being difficult and I find it enjoyable to hike a canyon both ways as they tend to always look a little different going the opposite direction. BUT… it is nice to know that alternate routes out exist for those coming up from the bottom if they should happen to encounter impassable obstacles.
There are a few more narrow spots as one continues down the canyon. Then after about 4 miles the canyon really opens up and the inner canyon/wash is surrounded by the impressive White Cliffs set farther back. This landscape continues for a mile or so.
After approximately 7 miles from the trailhead the canyon gets narrow once again for one last impressive bend.
After that short dramatic finale, Bull Valley Gorge opens up as it ends at the confluence of Sheep Creek. Looking back at the end of the canyon:
From here… turn around to return to the trailhead or… head up canyon to the Willis Creek Narrows or downcanyon to the Upper Paria.
Hiked Bull Valley Gorge on 24-Apr-2020. Blockage in canyon below was passable underneath and not too difficult, but I would expect more to fall there is not much holding the remainder of the bridge. None of the 1954 truck appears to have fallen in the collapse. It was a great hike with water pools up to 4 feet in depth and large frost crystals were common on the walls. It cold but worth the hike.
Was the new bridge in place or is the road still closed at that point?
@Nathan — Thanks so much for the update!
Just curious, are dogs able to make this hike and loop with Willis Creek? I know they are allowed in willis creek but I wasn’t sure about the Bull Valley Gorge.
Yep — I’m pretty sure dogs are allowed in that whole area. Getting up/down some of the obstacles could be challenging with a pooch, so just the abilities of your group. Also… check the latest conditions before setting out as long deep pools are common — especially since the recent rockfall.