Moab Rim - Behind The Rocks - "The Dog Route"
this page is dedicated to the late David Worthington a.k.a. TalusMonkey who personally requested the documentation of this route

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This is a wonderful and adventurous loop route that works very well as a 1, 2 or 3 night backpacking trip. I believe that with proper orienteering skills and knowledge of the route it would make a good day trip as well. I hope to put this to the test someday soon. If you follow the route herein described, you’ll never be more than about 4 miles from civilization. Moreover, provided you don’t have to backtrack or explore, the round trip mileage for the trip is roughly about 10 or 11 miles. The labyrinth of slickrock formations and slot canyons however, give you a very palpable feel of isolation. It is easy to get off route and find yourself “cliffed out” in a slot canyon with no other alternative than to go back up the way you came in. During each of my 3 trips into the area, I found a different exit canyon back to the Colorado River and 2 of them required 5th class downclimbing (one on very rotten and soft sandstone). “The Dog Route” (herein described) was the only one which involved mere 3rd class scrambling. During all 3 of my trips into the area, I found myself exploring and backtracking.


WikiMapia Satellite Image of the Moab Rim/Behind The Rocks Area

To reach the Moab Rim trailhead, turn west off of Main St. (Highway 191) onto Kane Creek Blvd. in the southern part of Moab (there is a McDonald’s at the corner). Continue northwesterly to The Portal (the opening that the Colorado River flows through as it flows southwest from Moab). At the portal, Kane Creek Rd. turns to the southwest and parallels the river. Continue on Kane Creek Rd. about 1 mile from The Portal to the Moab Rim trailhead on the left side of the road. The total distance from the corner of Main St. and Kane Creek Blvd. to the trailhead is 2.6 miles. There is ample parking at the trailhead, together with well maintained pit toilets.


Looking back down toward the trailhead and the Colorado River after hiking a short ways up the Moab Rim trail

Please be aware that some of the waypoints listed herein were received via GPS and others were extrapolated from Google Earth. No warranty, express or implied, is granted as to the accuracy of the waypoints or any information contained in this report. All satellite map images were copied from Google Earth and edited to add the route in black and waypoint labels in white.


The Moab Rim - Behind The Rocks - "Dog Route" with showing Waypoints A thru I

The first mile running northeasterly up to the Moab Rim gains almost 1,000 feet of elevation. During any spring or fall weekend, it will be crowded with jeeps and 4WD enthusiasts, mountain bikers and day hikers. It climbs quite steeply over slickrock ledges which are scarred by tire rubber and show the many signs of jeeps, trucks and SUVs scraping their bottom sides. After you reach the Moab Rim and enjoy the overlook down to the town, the jeep trail turns southeast running parallel to the rim and then due south. At about this point…

        Waypoint A:      38º33’45”N      109º34’07”W      4856’ Elevation

start looking for a jeep trail/road that heads more southwesterly instead of due south. Soon thereafter (approximately ½ mile), leave the road and head due south as the road turns in a more southeasterly direction and eventually leads to the Hidden Valley Trail and back easterly down to the highway south of Moab. The high route that you’re looking for climbs over a small mesa and heads south into the Behind The Rocks Wilderness Study Area (BTR WSA). From this point on, you’ll see very few people until you get back to the Colorado River. Depending upon the weather, there may or may not be water available up here. I’ve been here 3 times (all in the fall) and once it was totally dry, once we found pools/water pockets and once we were concerned about flash flooding.


A very nice place to camp is found after climbing over the small mesa and
before entering the maze of fins in Behind The Rocks

As you continue south you’ll enter a maze of slickrock domes and “fins”. The fins viewed from afar resemble giant slices of bread. You’ll need to do some back and forth hiking to work your way through the fins. I believe the best route is to easily mount a fin at its low area (Waypoint B) and then head easterly (actually just slightly south of east) for about 0.4 mile on top of the slickrock fin.

        Waypoint B:      38º32’32”N      109º34’12”W      4737’ Elevation


Detail showing the major back and forth part of the route in order to navigate the fins


The easterly part of the "back and forth" looks like this
don’t climb the tower in the picture unless you want to for fun, instead the route stays just to the right of it

You can then cross southerly to another fin and head back westerly (parallel to the fin you were just on but in the opposite direction) descending to the sandy bottom. Once you’ve done this, head south and begin looking for a high grassy plateau, paying close attention to your elevation. Getting to this plateau is essential for the exit into either Pritchett Canyon or the “Dog Route”. The waypoint for the plateau is:

        Waypoint C:      38º32’14”N      109º34’21”W      4710’ Elevation


Detail showing the high grassy plateau and the upper part of the "Dog Route" exit

The “Dog Route” appears to have been so named by locals as it is the only route (that I’ve come across anyway) that a dog could do without being lowered or hoisted using a rope. It only requires class 3 scrambling but it would be easy to get off route and find yourself “cliffed out” or in terrain requiring class 5 climbing (up or down, depending on your direction of travel). Shortly after descending from the grassy plateau (a short scramble in a southerly direction), you head west descending between 2 fins. On a solo trip, I circled back south and then easterly to find a nice secluded and protected campsite at Waypoint D:

        Waypoint D:      38º32’08”N      109º34’31”W      4645’ Elevation

Continue descending west about ½ mile to where you can choose to go around a small fin on either the right or left. For the “Dog Route”, choose the right side.

If you go left, you’ll soon get to a tight, steep and loose descent through a narrow slot. It is class 3 or 4 here but leads more route finding and eventually to a cliff that required me to lower my pack with nylon cord and then downclimb a 15 foot dihedral that I’d rate about 5.2 to 5.4. Continuing southwesterly after the dihedral leads to a bit more route finding and eventually into Pritchett Canyon.

The “Dog Route” on the other hand, is much easier and the above mentioned diversion point (to the right around a small fin) is here:

        Waypoint E:      38º32’09”N      109º34’47”W      4510’ Elevation

Continue descending westerly and soon you’ll need to go up and around a second small fin, this time to the left. As you descend from here you’ll find a very short class 3 section. We actually took off our “heavy” backpacks so as to downclimb “light” and handed them down over a small ledge to the lead hiker. This is the technical crux of the “Dog Route” if the correct route is found and taken.


Looking back up at the "Dog Route" crux after downclimbing it in a downpour
This is how the rock got the name “slickrock”, it’s actually quite grippy even when wet

After descending just a short way from this spot you’ll come across a broad slickrock expanse from which several possible descents seem at hand. In fact, only one works without a rope and climbing gear and when you find it, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is. You must move northerly across a small gully almost immediately after exiting the slot you just downclimbed. Do this before moving out onto the broad slickrock expanse. You should be aiming for Waypoint F:

        Waypoint F:      38º32’15”N      109º35’10”W      4235’ Elevation


Detail showing both the "crux" and the "secret" of the "Dog Route"

Waypoint F marks a slickrock shoulder that you descend northwesterly until it almost seems too steep to continue safely. Here, look for a ramp that descends back easterly to the sandy canyon floor. I’m convinced that if you do the route in the direction heretofore described, this ramp is the “secret” to the “Dog Route”. We did it in a steady and heavy downpour and with heavy packs. If done in dry conditions and as a day hike, it probably seems like no big deal. Very shortly thereafter we found shelter from the rain and camped in a large grotto located here at Waypoint G:

        Waypoint G:      38º32’16”N      109º35’16”W      4270’ Elevation

A short ways down the canyon to the west from the grotto, I landmarked the exit canyon of the “Dog Route”

        Waypoint H:      38º32’19”N      109º35’22”W      4200’ Elevation

The route is pretty self explanatory from here on out but I did landmark one last point at the request of one of my hiking companions as we reached Kane Creek Rd. back at the Colorado River:

        Waypoint I:      38º32’28”N      109º35’49”W     3976’ Elevation

From here, it’s about a mile back up the road toward Moab past Moonflower canyon to the Moab Rim trailhead. Right off the road, in Moonflower Canyon there is a really cool chimney that you can climb for one last bit of adventure.

Although I’ve done variations of this route 3 times now as backpacking trips, I believe it would go very nicely as a day hike provided you didn’t waste too much time route finding. This is why I’ve documented this route in as much detail as my memory allows. All of the backpacking trips were fun and I really enjoyed every night camping in this wonderful area, but there is no guarantee of finding water up there.

Please take some time to learn about the fragile desert environment through which you'll be traveling. Be very careful not to trample the native vegetation nor any cryptobiotic soil. This dark and crusty soil harbors moisture and minerals for the plants that grow there. If broken, it can take upwards of 100 years to regenerate. In the case of the Utah desert, the phrase “take only photos, leave only footprints” is not enough. You must be very careful where you leave footprints. The locals have a saying, “Don’t bust the crust!” Please respect the fragile, yet beautiful environment that this place offers as you travel through.

Have Fun!! Watch out for Coyote!!

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