In the days of Utah’s Wild West gold rush (circa 1890s), a man named Henry Honaker decided to build a supply route from the San Juan River to the cliffs tops, roughly 1200 feet, above. The roughly hewn trail that Henry built; aptly named the ‘Honaker Trail’ was to act as a supply route for the gold miners in the area. Sadly for Henry, the gold rush was short-lived (at least in this part of the world) and the Honaker Trail was never used for its intended purpose.
Sadly also, perhaps, is the fact that Henry Honaker will never know how important his trail has become to the thousands of scientists and hikers, who have been able to study, and enjoy the incredible geological formation some 300 million years old, because of his roughly hewn, ‘oops’ supply route.
The trail, which starts its descent through a gray limestone (complete with a rather conspicuous number ‘147’ painted in yellow on the cliff-side, just below the rim), continues to decline through the rocks of the Upper Carboniferous (deposited about 311 million years ago) through a series of steep puzzle-like switchbacks and long sequences of zigzagging steps. The trail not only encompasses views as incredible as those of the near-by Goosenecks State Park, but also has an added adrenaline-factor that comes from descending the sheer cliffs via Honakers ‘stacked-rock ramps’ and overlooks that precariously jut-out above the San Juan River below.
The approximately 2.5 mile hike to the base and the banks of the San Juan River is loaded with places to stop, rest and pause to take in the views. This is never more welcomed on the way back up to the top, where (carrying) adequate water is a must, especially during the hot desert afternoons! But pause also to have a quick look at the rocks through which you are climbing, you will likely see hundreds of fossils (including crinoids, brachiopods, and various trace fossils), a reminder that the rocks you are climbing through were once part of a time when Southern Utah (and much of the USA) was covered in rainforests and reefs!
As for the Honakers ‘numerical graffiti’ painted in yellow on the cliffs, such as the ‘147’ seen at the start of the trail, the numbers denote key outcrop geology added prior to a 1952 field symposium on the rocks of the Honaker and Paradox Formations. Apart from marking some useful discussion points for geologists (normally incorporating a good dose of geoimagination!), the mysterious numbers now constitute an important reference system for hikers!
**So, if you have ever stood at the edge of the cliffs at Goosenecks State Park, wandering if there was a way to hike to the San Juan River below, try out the Honaker Trail, and perhaps say a quick thanks to Henry as you do.**
**Directions:** Please note that there are no signs for this trail, so bringing a local maps of both roads and topography, in addition to necessary supplies are essential.
Start out by following the same directions as for Goosenecks State Park. Drive approximately 0.5 miles on State Route (SR)316 leading towards Goosenecks, taking a right along a well-maintained dirt road (County Road (CR)244). Continue along CR244 for approximately 2.2 miles, taking a left at the water tank. From this point the road becomes sandy (and may be harder to navigate when there have been substantial rains), continue along it and you find yourself at another split, marked by an approximately 1-foot cairn. If you’re in a 2WD vehicle, this is the time to stop and hike the rest of the way to the trailhead. If in a high-clearance 4WD vehicle, continue on the (much rougher) dirt road towards the canyon rim (do not take the track that heads east, it ends some way down the road), for another 0.25 miles to the canyon rim and the large cairn that marks the start of the Honaker Trail.
- Water (be aware of the temperature and the amount of water you need to consume)
- Topographic map
- First aid kit
- Sunscreen and a hat (even if it is not warm, the sun can still be strong!)
- Bug spray
- Camera (with the widest angle lens you have!)
- Extra layers
- Be aware of local information, including the San Juan River if you intend to spend time on its banks.