In 2017 we went camping in Bears Ears on my birthday. We had no immediate plans to go back when we left for Grand Junction on my birthday in 2018. Our plan was to do the Trail Through Time then camp in McInnis Canyon and do some hiking. Well, good old Ginger (my old 2016 Ford Escape) wasn’t quite cut out for the roads of McInnis Canyon and we needed a new plan. We started going through what was sort of in the area. There was the San Rafael Swell, Moab, House on Fire and other ruins in on the Cedar Mesa and, of course, Bears Ears.
Our new plan was to camp in Bears Ears then go to House on Fire on our way out. Well, that didn’t happen. We did end up in Bears Ears, but skipped House on Fire. It was late afternoon by the time we were through Moab and actually headed into Bears Ears.
After being here the year before we sort of knew where we were going. We headed in from the opposite direction (where we came out last time) and turned off towards the Gooseberry Guard Station this time. We camped near Arch Canyon Overlook last year which I would highly recommend.
The first time in Bears Ears I wasn’t that excited about it. Yeah, it was pretty. It was cool, but I wasn’t dying to go back. Well, let me tell you, this trip changed that. It blew my mind. The whole time we were driving that night and the next day I just kept saying “It’s SO good!” which basically means I’m so impressed I can’t think of anything else to say.
We got to drive through part of the Dark Canyon Wilderness past The Notch and this is the area that really got me hooked. We couldn’t go far into Dark Canyon, but the road we were on wasn’t that bad, so we kept going in search of the perfect camp spot.
There are campgrounds scattered around here, but there is also dispersed camping available. Dispersed camping is basically just finding an already made campsite along a road or in a clearing and setting up shop. You can’t make new sites, though. But don’t worry, there are plenty of awesome ones already there to choose from and we’ve never seen anyone else camping up there.
Eventually, after stopping to admire the sprawling views and towering aspens, we found a spot to camp with a great view just steps from the tent. We were lucky and had a full moon the night we were out there. Well, I was lucky since I’m the one that gets freaked out in the dark and camping in general. I’m working on that one.
If you have any tips on falling asleep easily while camping (that aren’t alcohol) or on how to be less afraid of the dark, let me know!
The next morning we got up with the sun and set off back down the mountain with the intention of going to House on Fire, hence the early start. We didn’t really know where we were going up in bears Ears, we just kept following the road we were on, admiring the scenery that greeted us at every turn. We actually ended up in the Abajo Mountains just outside of Blanding and just kept following the road, eventually following signs towards Blanding.
Turns out we were in the Elk Ridge area. Once you’re in the mountains, you have a pretty great view of the Bears Ears, canyons, and forests below. We only saw a few other cars so this wasn’t a super busy area, which was really nice. Compared to the nearby Henry Mountains, these were so much more lush, at least in contrast to Mount Hillers, the only one I had been on at the time we were in the Abajos.
It took a few hours for us to get down into Blanding, just in time for coffee and lunch, before finally heading back to Bullfrog. We were both kind of tired so we decided to skip House on Fire and come back. It was also pretty hot and we didn’t want to do the hike in the middle of the day.
Overall, this was a very exciting place to spend my birthday and it might just have to be a tradition as long as we’re in the area. I mean, we’ve gone two years in a row now at the exact same time, not even on purpose. And that wasn’t the only time/place this happened this summer. I would highly recommend a trip to Bears Ears if you’re in the area. It’s a truly special place that I can’t wait to see more of.
What to bring camping in Bears Ears
Hiking poles – These will be helpful on longer hikes that are on the steeper side. They’ll be good if you have bad knees for when you’re going downhill and will give you something to lean on going up the hills.
Snacks – These are more important for long hikes, but you never know when you’ll get hungry! I like EPIC bars (kind of like beef jerky but different), Sahale nut mix things, and Moon Cheese. There’s always the good old Clif Bars and trail mix, too.
Cozy Sweatshirt – I have a few different Patagonia sweatshirts and love them all. They’re great for layering in cold weather. I have two Re-tools, a Better Sweater, and a Synchilla. Sometimes you can find them on sale on REI or Backcountry. I also like to keep an eye out for them on Poshmark (use code REDAROUNDWORLD for $10 off your first purchase) and Mercari (you can save $10 with that link as well!) I’ve found some really good deals on both.
Sleeping pad – Gotta make the tent comfy! The one I have isn’t available anymore but this one is similar. It’s self-inflating and just needs a little help filling all the way. Buy the sleeping pad here.
Pillow – If you’re just driving, I’d just bring a regular pillow, but if you’re flying then renting a car, you might want a smaller pillow. This is a good non-inflatible option. Here is a good inflatable option.
Lantern – I love having a lantern for in the tent at night, reading in the dark, or going to the bathroom in the middle of the night. The LuminAID is my favorite and you can charge your phone on it. Buy the LuminAID lantern here.
Tips for visiting Bears Ears National Monument:
- For the main road, four wheel drive and high clearance probably isn’t necessary, but I would feel much more comfortable with it. If you’re going onto side roads it is definitely needed.
- There are campgrounds scattered around, but there are also individual dispersed camping sites you can stay at, you just can’t make new spots.
- There is no entrance fee for the monument, but certain activities and areas may require them.
- The highest population of Bears in Utah is in the Manti-La Sal National Forest (which is in Bears Ears/Abajo Mountains) so be prepared for that and be bear aware.
- Store food properly, take out all your trash, keep your car locked, all that good stuff.
- There are hiking trails in the area and other activities. This is a great place to start researching.
- You can easily visit Bears Ears without going to the Abajos and vice versa. Combining them makes for a great weekend camping trip.