Beef Basin, S.E. Utah


Beef Basin is a relatively small and remote geographical area south of Canyonlands National Park in San Juan County, Utah.  It is approximately 47 miles southwest of Moab, Utah; 32 miles west northwest of Monticello, Utah; and 34 miles northwest of Blanding, Utah; as the crow flies.

Practically speaking Beef Basin is encircled by the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park to the north, the Glen Canyon National Recreational Area (Lake Powell) and Dark Canyon Instant Study Area (ISA) Complex Wilderness Study Area (WSA) to the west, the Dark Canyon BLM Natural Area to the south, the Manti-La Sal National Forest to the south and east, and the Butler Canyon WSA to the east and north.


There are only two roads into or out of Beef Basin.  The easiest is the Beef Basin Road (San Juan County Road (CR)104, Forest Service Road (FS)093) which enters Beef Basin from the south descending the slopes of Horse Mountain.  The Beef Basin Road can be accessed from the east by turning off of Utah Highway 211 onto the Bridger Jack Road (CR107, FS088) or from the south through the Abajo Mountains on the Elk Ridge Road (CR224, FS088).  It is approximately 90 miles from Moab to Beef Basin via the Bridger Jack and Beef Basin Roads.  It is at least 52 miles depending on the chosen route to get to the Beef Basin Road from either Monticello or Blanding.  Due to snow accumulation on the slopes of Horse Mountain and the rest of the Abajo Mountains, this route is closed during the winter months (Approximately November to April depending on snowfall and average temperatures for that particular year).

The other more difficult route is via the Elephant Hill 4WD Trail through the Needles which enters Beef Basin from the north ascending the challenging hill out of Bobby’s Hole.  It is approximately 80 miles from Moab to the Elephant Hill Trailhead.  It is approximately 55 miles to the same point from Monticello.  It is then another 11 miles on the Elephant Hill Trail to the south boundary of the National Park, and a further 10 miles for a total of 101 miles from Moab, 76 miles from Monticello, to the trail register in Middle Park from which all distances were measured.  This route is generally accessible year round and when the road over Horse Mountain is closed the Park Service will allow you to go through the Needles without paying the entrance fee if you agree not to stop anywhere while in the Park.

There are also several hiking trails that enter Beef Basin.  Two trails go between Beef Basin and the Dark Canyon Plateau to the south.  On the west end of Beef Basin at the head of Gypsum Canyon is the Fable Valley Trail.  This trail goes through Fable Valley, a tributary of Gypsum Canyon, to the head of the canyon on the Dark Canyon Plateau.  The other established trail goes from the east end of the Beef Basin Wash Road (CR199) up to the Crystal Spring Trailhead on the Dark Canyon Plateau.  Another hiking route that traverses the area is a small section of the Heyduke Trail that enters Beef Basin from the north through the Needles and Butler Wash, and exits to the west via the Fable Valley Trail.

Vehicle Requirements:

It is possible that most of Beef Basin “park” and the area by Tower and Farmhouse Ruins in Ruin Park could be accessed in a 2WD vehicle with good all weather tires by an experienced, attentive driver who knows their vehicle well, and then only under ideal conditions via the Bridger Jack and Beef Basin or Elk Ridge and Beef Basin Roads. However, caution is still advised and at least a high clearance AWD vehicle is recommended for the same conditions and route.  Anywhere other than the main road or anything less than ideal conditions requires at least high clearance 4WD, with a modified 4WD vehicle with a low range transfer case recommended.  Elephant Hill and the hill in or out of Bobby’s Hole can be done in good conditions with a more off-road capable stock 4WD with good all terrain tires by an experienced driver who knows their vehicle, but a modified 4WD is recommended.  There are still areas or conditions under which any area may be inaccessible to anything short of the same experienced driver with a heavily modified 4WD vehicle.  Other OHV use and mountain biking is also permitted in Beef Basin, however OHVs are not allowed in the National Park unless they are licensed for street use.


In 2008 the BLM finalized their Resource Management Plan (RMP) which has several new regulations for camping in Beef Basin.  A campground will be developed in Ruin Park and other sites will be specifically designated for camping in the other “parks” in the future.  Camping will be limited to these areas once the RMP is fully implemented.  Until then dispersed camping is allowed in already disturbed areas within 150 feet of open roads.  Camping near archaeological sites is not allowed.  All human waste must be packed out.  Dead wood may be collected for firewood. Campfires are only allowed in fire rings or according to “Leave No Trace” standards in dispersed campsites. Check with the Monticello BLM office for any changes or temporary restrictions.


Beef Basin can be hot, especially in summertime, but is regardless a very arid area.  It is recommended to carry at least 1 gallon (4 liters) of water per person per day.  Potable (drinkable) water is available at the Needles Visitor Center and Squaw Flat Campground as well as in any of the nearest towns of Moab, Monticello and Blanding.  Untreated water can be had at several other places around Beef Basin, but should be purified to ensure against illness.

Beef Basin is a very remote area.  Using the shortest route possible it is at least 104 miles of travel getting to and returning back from Beef Basin.  This accounts for about a third of the range of a typical 4WD vehicle that is used without any exploration of the area.  This does not leave a comfortable margin for extensive travel in the area.  If you come from Moab then it is even worse with at least 180 miles used.  Not to mention the fact that gas mileage suffers with the difficulty of the terrain being navigated.  Because of the distances involved, it is highly recommended to have an extended capacity gas tank and/or carry extra gas if you really want to explore the Beef Basin area.

It is important to note that road conditions in Southern Utah can change dramatically depending on local weather and when the last road maintenance was performed.  It is advisable to contact the local agencies responsible for the area you plan on travelling for current conditions, checking the weather forecast for the duration of your trip, and being as prepared as possible.

Some of the locations in Beef Basin can be rough even for a modified 4WD vehicle.  It is recommended that recovery equipment, tools, spare parts, extra food and water, and emergency supplies are taken for travel in remote areas.  Basically, make sure you have anything necessary for self rescue, because help is very far away, and will come with a hefty price tag.  As always, it is advisable to travel in groups, and make sure someone knows your plans and when you expect to return.


  • Native Americans
  • European Explorers/Colonization
  • Settlers/Outlaws
  • Mining/Drilling
  • Cattle/Agriculture


  • Area/Dimensions
  •  Cottonwood
  • Fable Valley
  • Elephant Hill
  • Imperial Valley
  • Dark Canyon
  • Abajo Mountains
  • Arches
  • Meadows/pastures
  • Box Canyons
  • Springs
  • Overlooks/Viewpoints
  • Hiking Trails



    • Guide to Moab, UT Backroads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails, Second Edition; Charles Wells
    • Hiking, Biking and Exploring Canyonlands National Park and Vicinity: Hiking, Biking, Geology, Archeaology, and Cowby, Ranching & Trail Building History; Michael R. Kelsey
    • Non-Technical Canyon Guide to the Colorado Plateau; Michael R. Kelsey
    • 4WD Adventures: Utah; Peter Massey and Jeanne Wilson
    • Canyon Country Off-Road Vehicle Trails: Canyon Rims and Needles Areas; F. A. Barnes
    • Canyon Country Off-Road Vehicle Trails: Canyon Rims Recreation Area; F. A. Barnes
    • Utah byways : Backcountry drives for the whole family; Tony Huegel


Trip Reports ®(Date)

® Access to Trip Reports on various forums such as Expedition Utah may require signing up for free membership.

 Government Agencies (governing authorities):
  • (435) 587-2041 Monticello Forest Service Office
  • (435) 587-1500 Monticello BLM Main Office
  • (435) 259-4711 Needles District Visitor’s Center
  • (435) 259-4351 Canyonlands Backcountry Desk
  • (435) 684-7400 Bullfrog Marina
 GPS Information:

The file (in GPX format) attached below includes only waypoints – accuracy varies depending on whether we have been there or not. Please assist in verifying any/all locations by emailing details to CanuckMariner on this forum:

  • geographic features (mountains, valleys/flats/meadows/pastures, basins, canyons, arches, bluffs, mesas, overlooks, points, gulches, etc.)
  • various entrances/exits to the area
  • some possible camp sites – tent/RVs, sites both primitive and commercial
  • springs, creeks, tanks, reservoirs/dams, arroyos, washes, lakes/ponds , etc.
  • Information/ranger stations
  • park and forest boundaries
  • trail heads
  • small towns, landing strips
  • gates/fence crossings, cattle guards
It does not contain any tracks or routes as there are so many and once you know the waypoint you want to go to, you simply find the trails to get there – more fun and exploration!

(Right-click and “Save Link As” to save as GPX file, then import into your software to see it and then transfer with your software to your GPS device.)