4WD Guide to the Henry Moutains
May. 01, 1993
The Henry mountains rise up out of the Utah desert about 20 miles south of the town of Hanksville and continue south about 20 miles where they dip back down into the desert just north of the northern tip of Lake Powell. You can see them in the distance from I-70 near the SR95 turnoff to Hanksville if you look south; from Capital Reef, they are the dominant feature, lying to the east. SR95 from Hanksville to Lake Powell follows their entire length. Unless you have a good map (minimum acceptable is one along the lines of the *Indian Country* map published by the AAA), or a good set of binoculars and a little time, you wouldn't know that there is an abundance of roads criss-crossing the range and leading into hidden ravines and high mountain meadows. There are quite a few naturally occurring springs, three developed campgrounds (under the jurisdiction of the BLM) and several undeveloped camp sites, used primarily by hunters in late September, and by me, just before hunting season. All roads leading into the Henry Mountains are dirt, and except for a few spots, all can be traversed by sedans (unless said sedans are heavily laden). There are a few spots, however, which can at any given time be washed out, requiring high clearance and/or 4WD to get across. All three of the BLM campgrounds are more-or-less easily accessible to the average vehicle. Those routes which I would not travel without 4WD capability are identifed in the following text.
WHEN TO GOAssuming you want to really explore the Henry mountains, there are really, in my opinion, only two time of the year to do so: Late June, and mid-to-late September. The reason I say late June is because the highest pass, Bull Creek Pass, is just under 10,000 feet and depending upon the previous snowpack and melt conditions, may be closed well into July. On June 20, 1992, I crossed over and came upon a snow drift just east of the pass which was still straddling the road. A week earlier and I may have had a problem crossing it, but this time, the drift (about 20 feet long) was mostly thin, half-melted ice and was no problem. June is nice also because in order to get to the Henry mountains you will have to cross some high desert, and beginning in July, the temperatures can get pretty brutal. Certainly not as hot as the Mojave desert, but well into the 90s and low 100s too. If you don't mind the heat, then there is no reason to plan your visit anytime during the summer months. One thing to keep in mind about camping anywhere in June is that the bug population can be horrendous, depending again upon previous winter and spring conditions. The entire area around Starr Springs campground, for example, was infested with mosquitoes when I was there in late June. McMillan, on the other hand, had only a few to watch for, while Lonesome Beaver had absolutely no insects to speak of, which is strange, for it is located in a ravine along a flowing stream, with plenty of evergreen, deciduous trees and underbrush. August and early September seem to be the rainy months for the Henry mountains. All the roads leading up into the mountains make stream crossings, and a heavy thunderstorm can washout the crossing, forcing a turn-around. I hate turn-arounds, and I guess that is another reason I personally wouldn't go there at that time of year. I also don't like camping under the constant threat of thunderstorms, so I avoid those months. Mid-September through early October is, in my opinion, the best time to visit. The bugs are gone and so are the crowds (if you meet more than three vehicles a day, it's crowded). The valley temperatures are in the 80s and 90s, and the nighttime temperatures in the mountains are in the 50's and 60's. The trees are beginning to turn, splattering the mountainsides with splotches of yellow and orange. The only problem with going so late in the year is that the BLM turns off the water at those campgrounds which have it. So, take your own water.
WHAT TO EXPECTExpect isolation, mountain beauty, TAD scenery (TAD = "totally awesome, dude!), pleasant temperatures, isolation, open roads, good weather, lots of deer, firewood, good camping facilities (in the BLM-maintained campgrounds), streams, springs, hiking, some rock-hounding, left-overs from bygone eras, isolation, clean air, streams, a variety of terrain, maintained roads, good AM reception (at night, at least), road crews, and isolation.
WHAT NOT TO EXPECTDon't expect gangs, crazy 4WD vehicles tearing up the terrain, a lot of people, super-condition roads, swimming, hot showers, bears, lions, water after mid-September, good FM reception, and that you'll want to leave when it's time to.
FOR MAXIMUM PLEASURETo get the most out of your trip to the Henry Mountains, I strongly recommend you visit the BLM office in Hanksville BEFORE you start. There, you will find a gold mine of information, BLM maps (at $2 apiece and worth every penny), free travel guides, and the latest information on the road and campground conditions. I guarantee that if you have any apprehension about the Henry Mountains, a visit to this office will eliminate them. I recommend you purchase two of the BLM's 1:100,000 maps: The one titled, "Hanksville", and the one titled, "Hite Crossing". Together, these two topographical maps show all the roads in the Henry mountains you might want to explore, and some you might not want to (you'll know what I mean if you get to them). Being topo maps, they will also give you an idea of the kinds of grades and terrain you will cover.
RECOMMENDED EQUIPMENTI don't recommend traveling into the Henry Mountains (with the exception of Starr Springs campground) with anything less than a high-clearance vehicle. If it has 4WD, so much the better, as some of the roads can be somewhat steep and knarly, and the low range that 4WD provides allows the vehicle to crawl over roots, rocks and ruts while climbing steep grades and turning sharp corners. If all you have is the family sedan, you can make Starr Springs campground with no problems as it is only about 4 miles of wide, graded dirt from the highway. The Henry Mountains are considered remote, and while patrolled often by the BLM, If you get stuck attempting to cross a washout and there is a thunderstorm brewing, you're going to be doing a little praying, I can assure you. I travel in a Toyota 4X4 with a shell on the back. Ideal for two people. The BLM uses full-size pick-ups, and I've seen mini-vans and small sedans on some of the roads. If you've got an old VW bus, go for it. Dual-purpose motorcycles, no problem. If you know where to look, you can see where a school bus was driven and parked. Any stock vehicle is adequate, you don't need winches, super high clearance or big tires. Smaller (mini) RVs should have no problems reaching any of the three BLM campgrounds, but I wouldn't take them any further because of the sharp turns, steep grades, loose road surfaces, and in some cases, low overhanging branches. There is a lot of firewood available, so I always take an ax and one of those camping saws, just in case. Water is important, and while Lonesome Beaver and McMillan campgrounds have "piped" water, Starr Springs does not, and there is no water (other than spring water) in the mountains. If you have a good water filter, you'll find places to use it, but I always take a two gallon jug in case of emergencies, along with my usual beer, cokes, and bottle of Amaretto. All BLM campgrounds have the usual tables, back-ins, shade (natural, of course), and dumpers. You bring the rest. NOTE: THERE IS NO TRASH PICKUP. TAKE OUT ALL THAT YOU BRING IN. PLEASE. This is one of the last few places left which is not littered with beer bottles, plastic sacks, and cigarette butts. Try to keep it that way.
SUPPLIESIf you're coming from the west along SR12, the last place for supplies of any kind worth mentioning is in Escalante, about 30 miles west of Boulder. There, you will find gas stations and two grocery stores, a small restaurant, motel, and even a state park (Escalante State Park), which will have the last hot shower you'll see in a long while. If you're coming from the west along SR24 or from I-70 to the north, Hanksville has gas, groceries and ice. From the south, along SR95, the last supply stop will be quite a ways off at Blanding.
ROAD CONDITIONSAll the roads are passable most of the time, by most sedans. There are a few spots in the higher elevations which consist of very loose rock, through which maintaining traction can be a problem. The sections are 200-300 yards long at the most, and as long as you don't stop to take pictures, 2WD will be adequate. The approach roads from the west are very dusty, with some washboard, unless it has just rained. Then these roads are dust-free with many puddles, and possibly some washouts, depending upon how much it has rained on the mountain, of course. By far, the worst, and most interesting road is the one which leads from the center of Waterpocket Fold (the main geological feature of Capital Reef), southeast past Eggnog Springs, and then back north into the Henry mountains, turning off just southwest of Starr Springs. I wouldn't take this road without 4WD because it is the least-maintained of all roads on the mountain, and because there is a stretch with sharp switchbacks and erosion ruts at those switchbacks to contend with. Again, no problem for any stock 4WD vehicle. There is no sand to speak of, certainly no sandtraps or dunes to cross, and I recommend maintaining standard air pressure in the tires.
A WORD ABOUT MOTORCYCLESI have a BMW R80G/S which I have ridden about 45,000 miles. I have been on just about every kind of road imaginable, including the famous "White Rim Trail" in Canyonlands. There is no reason one couldn't navigate any road in the Henry mountains with such a motorcycle. If you are a "dual-sport" enthusiast, this would be an ideal destination, what with all the improved and unimproved camping opportunities, and with Hanksville just 50 miles away. Remember, these are public roads and as such, only street-legal and licensed vehicles are supposed to use them. Heavy touring bikes can also be used on the majority of roads, depending upon the skill of the rider, but the bumps and occasional washboard and ruts can ruin the plastic "tupperware" fairings, windshields and frame covers in a big hurry.
There are five basic entries into the Henry mountains: 1. From the north out of Hanksville 2. From the east off of Utah 95 and 276 3. From the northwest via Notom 4. From the west via Boulder 5. From the south via Utah 276From Hanksville: Take I-70 to SR95, then south on 95 about 40 miles to the junction of SR24. Hanksville is, as I mentioned earlier, a fat spot. It is home to the area office of the BLM, three gas stations, one grocery store, one restaurant (with decent food and a small trailer park with HOT showers (for $2), a couple of fast food joints, a souvenir stand, and one of Utah's finest, complete with radar. The Hanksville approach is a dirt road leading south off of SR24, about three blocks west of the SR95 intersection. There is a marker at the turnoff. The road is wide, dusty and in excellent shape for the first 15 miles. As you head down the road (up the road, actually), you'll see the north end of the Henry mountains dead ahead. From the turnoff until you reach the Lonesome Beaver is about an hour. Shortly before you enter the mountain and notice the gain in elevation, you will come to a left junction and a ranch house a few hundred yards to the east. Turning left here takes you to SR95, in about 8-10 miles. Continuing straight ahead takes you into the mountain. At this point, the road narrows and becomes rough. By rough, I mean, hard rock peaking through the dust. If your tires are good and you don't try to break any speed records, you'll have no problems. The vegetation turns into pinyon-juniper, and after a few miles, the road narrows once more and begins winding its way up the side of the canyon, with Bull Mountain on the left. The further you go, the more ragged the road becomes. You will make two stream crossings, neither of which is any concern for any vehicle, and the vegetation will start getting thicker and taller. Eventually you will reach a straight spot in the road and there will be a meadow on the right with a parking spot, a dumper, and some picnic tables under the pine trees. The last time I was there, this area was new and was not named. It may be the future Lonesome Beaver, I don't know. The road continues straight for about a mile or so, and then there is a definite fork to the right. If the sign is up between the two forks, it will announce, "Lonesome Beaver Campground". There are 6 or 7 pull-ins, a modern dumper, picnic tables, a stream, and plenty of shade. If you miss the turnoff, the road continues straight another 1/4 of a mile before making a sharp turn up and to the left. From Boulder The entry from Boulder (Utah) is the one I recommend the most highly. This is because as you approach from the west, you will see your destination loom up in front of you, slowly at first as you cross the high desert, then suddenly, just before you descend into Waterpocket Fold via the Burr Trail. To reach Boulder, take SR12 south from Torrey (about 8 miles west of the Capital Reef Park headquarters on SR24). Boulder is at the other side of Boulder mountain. The Burr Trail turnoff is at the center of town, leading to the east. If you are approaching from the west, take SR12 from Escalante and where the road turns abruptly to the north at the center of Boulder, go straight ahead. The turn off is well marked. The Burr Trail used to be dirt, but is paved now until just before the descent into Waterpocket fold. I liked it better in the 70's, when it was dirt. It was more interesting, traveling at 25 mph instead of 65, and you were more or less alone, seldom seeing anyone. Now that it's paved, more people can enjoy the scenery, but already, beer cans and trash are beginning to accumulate along the sides of the road. Trailers and medium to large RVs should not attempt this entry due to the steep, tight switchbacks (there are five, if I remember right) where the Burr Trail descends into the Fold. Also, the road is somewhat rough after the pavement ends. Once into the Fold, take the right fork (south). It may be marked as Eggnog, Bullfrog Marina, Starr Springs and SR95. However, it *will* be marked. At this point, you are in Capital Reef park and the roads are maintained constantly. Make sure you have a map. As mentioned earlier, the Indian Country map from the AAA is an adequate minimum, showing all the roads described in this file, and more which I do not describe. The road from the big fork at the bottom of the Burr Trail and leading to Eggnog is kept up and unless there has just been a horrendous downpour in the mountains, it will be passable. Follow the signs at the various junctions to Starr Springs. The road winds around to the south and east, and at times appears as though it will not lead into the Henry mountains (which will be over your left shoulder). Eventually, it turn northeast and begins a slow and steady climb up the flank and to Starr Springs. About two miles south of Starr Springs is a fork to the left (north). This will be marked with such destinations as "The Horn", "McMillan campground", "Mud Springs", "Indian Springs", and "Straight Creek". It don't look like much, but this road leads to all points of interest in the Henry Mountain range. This junction is about 2 to 3 hours from Boulder, depending upon your particular driving habits. At this point, you may choose to drive on to Starr Springs and set up camp. If you don't, I would get out and lock the front hubs now, because if you're ever going to use your 4WD, you'll use it on this road. From SR 24 You can enter the Henry Mountains from the northwest about nine miles east of the Capital Reef park headquarters. Look for the sign to Notom and the Burr Trail. The road is dirt, (well maintained dirt because it also leads to some ranches as well as being a major park attraction), and passable year-around. There is some minor washboard and a lot of dust. If you keep on this road, you will eventually get to the Burr Trail junction, where turning right takes you up the side of the Fold and to Boulder. Going straight takes you to Eggnog as described elsewhere in this document. You don't have to drive the 32 miles to the Burr Trail junction if you don't want. About 13 miles south of SR24, there is a fork to the left (east) which will take you to McMillan campground, The Horn, and Bull Creek Pass, among other places. This is also a very good (spelled, scenic) route to take, as it winds around the various mesas and plateaus, gaining ever-so-slowly in elevation. This road is dusty, a little bumpy, and crosses a couple of creeks which usually have water in them year 'round. This is probably the most popular entries to the Henry mountains, as it is the closest to the park headquarters. It is also the most scenic. From SR 95 and 276 From Hanksville, drive south on SR95. After about 13 miles or so, and still markedly north of the Henry mountains, you will pass a dirt road on your right (has a stop sign) which leads southwest and joins the main dirt road south out of Hanksville to Lonesome Beaver. This road is a legitimate road and except for the seasonal washouts (which, I might add, affect ALL dirt roads in the area), can be used to access the mountains from the north. It is in good condition, dusty, and passable to all vehicles. About nine or ten miles further south on SR95 is a road marked "Little Egypt", and possibly "Crescent Creek. I've never taken this road so I can't write anything about it. If you continue on south on SR95, about 300 yards north of the 276 turnoff you will come to another dirt road, with a stop sign, also marked "Little Egypt" and "Crescent Creek". I have taken this road, and of all the dirt roads in the area, I think this is the one most likely to be washed out because if follows the creek bed for a mile or so and while washouts are repaired, it sometimes takes awhile. If you are contemplating this road, you really should call the BLM in Hanksville to check on the road's status. This road is a relatively quick and dirty shot into the mountains and as such, not particularly exciting (for me, most of the fun lies in the anticipation which wells up as I take a more circuitous route to a particular destination). If you do get as far south on SR95 as the SR276 turnoff towards Bullfrog, then you're gonna haf'ta take it, 'cause you're pretty much at the southern-most end of the range. 4 1/2 miles south of the turnoff, and again 2 1/2 miles further, are turnoffs which I haven't yet explored. The first one goes up into the mountain, while the second one leads to Starr Springs. This is one road I intend to take the next time I'm in the area. Finally, about 17 miles south of the SR95/276 junction, is a graded road, suitable for anything, to Starr Springs campground. 'Nuff said.