Lost Canyon Trail

Distance: 9.0 miles (loop)

Walking time: 5 1/4 hours

Elevations: 360 ft. gain/loss Squaw Flat Trailhead (start): 5,120 ft. Lost Canyon: 5,100 ft. highest point: 5,460 ft.

Trail: Well marked trail through the bottoms of two desert canyons. Some wading may be necessary in wet years.

Season: Summer, spring, winter and fall. This hike is very hot in the summer and cold in the winter. The best times are during the spring and fall. For current conditions call the Canyonlands National Park Headquarters in Moab at (801) 259-7164.

Vicinity: Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, near Moab

This loop hike passes through two sandstone canyons near Squaw Flat Campground in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. The parallel canyons are only about a half mile apart, but they are very different in character. Squaw Canyon is dry and generally uninteresting, while Lost Canyon is deeper and has a surprising amount of water and vegetation.

Because of its water, Lost Canyon was well known to the cowboys who lived and worked in Canyonlands during the first half of this century. Even when other sources of water had given way to the dry summer heat, their livestock could always depend on finding a pool or two of the life-giving liquid in the green recesses of Lost Canyon. Today, one of the most interesting attractions of the canyon is an old cowboy camp that was used by cattlemen during the 1920s. The historic site still contains an old table, some pots and pans, old bottles and cans, and other implements. The camp is not hard to find, but it requires a 2.4 mile detour downstream from the main trail.

After leaving Squaw Flat Campground the trail proceeds southward for about 200 feet, then splits. Turn left at the fork, following the sign to Lost Canyon and Squaw Canyon. The path winds across the flat desert country for another mile before reaching a trail junction in Squaw Canyon Wash, where the loop through the two canyons begins. It doesn’t make much difference which direction you take around the loop, but I will describe a clockwise direction here.

After passing Squaw Canyon Wash the trail continues for about 1.0 mile before dropping into the mouth of a small, unnamed canyon. It then winds along the sandy bottom of the small canyon for another 0.8 mile, finally intersecting a large wash. A Park Service sign at this point will tell you that you have reached Lost Canyon. The trail up Lost Canyon turns right at the sign and heads south.

Before following the trail up Lost Canyon you should consider a side trip to the cowboy camp historic site described earlier. This option will add 2.4 miles to the length of the hike. The cowboy camp is downstream (left) from the Lost Canyon trail junction, so to get there you will have to leave the trail at the junction. Although there is no trail the route is not difficult; just turn north and follow the sandy bottom of the Lost Canyon streambed for 35-40 minutes (1.2 miles). You will come to a large pool of water with a sandstone alcove, partially hidden by trees, just a few feet above the left shore. The historic camp is in that alcove.

What tales the walls of the sheltered camp would tell if they could talk. We can only image the interesting characters that must have gathered here in days past, and the yarns they must have exchanged to pass the lonely nights. Over the years a collection of artifacts accumulated in the cowboys’ home away from home, and today, three-fourths of a century later, these simple treasures offer a priceless window through which visitors can view the past. Enjoy their presence, but please don’t be tempted to remove anything. These treasures are far more interesting in the context of the camp than they would be in your drawer at home. Also, refrain from the urge to add your name to the signatures the old cowboys scratched onto the walls of the alcove. These cowboyglyphs indicate that the camp was occupied at least as early as 1920, but it was probably used much earlier than that.

Back on the trail, the path continues from the Lost Canyon trail junction up Lost Canyon for a distance of 2.0 miles before climbing out the north side of the canyon onto the ridge above. From there the route drops back down to the bottom of Squaw Canyon and proceeds for another 1.9 miles to the beginning of the loop. From there it is an easy 1.0 mile walk back to the Squaw Flat Trailhead.

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