Easy Access Rock Art: Upper Sand Island Petroglyphs In Bluff, Utah

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This year when my parents came to visit, we kind of kept up the theme of visiting ruins and rock art.  Last year we saw Butler Wash and House on Fire, this year we visited the Upper Sand Island Petroglyphs in Bluff before seeing tons more in Moab.  This is about a mile section (just under) along the San Juan River with petroglyphs from four or five different groups: Archaic, Ancestral Puebloan, Navajo, Ute, and possibly Clovis.


How to get to the Upper Sand Island Petroglyphs in Bluff

About four miles outside of Bluff, towards Monument Valley, you’ll find the Sand Island Recreation area.  Turn into that and go left towards loop A of the campground.  Just past the ranger station, you’ll want to park.  There is a bathroom here, just make sure you’re not in a campsite parking area.  It is free to visit the petroglyphys.  On your way in there is a sign for the Sand Island Petroglyphs, don’t go to that.  At least not yet.  These are the other way.

Once you’re parked, head into the camping area and you’ll find a little trail going back between a cliff wall and the San Juan River.  Once you’re on the trail, just keep left and keep your eyes peeled!


What to bring

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.

Water bottle – It’ll be hot and humid and you’ll need to stay hydrated.  A Hydro Flask will keep your water ice cold all day long.

Sunscreen – If you plan on being outside, you’ll want sunscreen.  I like the Neutrogena a lot, but if you’ll be visiting a beach soon, you’ll want a reef-safe sunscreen.

Hat – You’ll want some kind of hat to keep the sun out of your eyes.  A baseball hat should be fine but a bucket hat or sun hat could help keep the sun off your neck.

Sunglasses – This is a must, especially with the strong desert sun.  Sunglasses are best paired with a hat on those really bright days.

Light Jacket – Because you just never know.  Weather can change quickly depending on where you are and if you’ll be in any slot canyons, they can get cool depending on the time of day and season.  I usually use my rain jacket for this.


This is a nice easy walk on a dirt trail.  There are occasional loops off to the left closer to the wall but they all meet back up with the main trail.  Eventually there is a fence to keep people a little farther away from the petroglyphs.  Most of them are 30-40 feet off the ground, so make sure you’re looking up.

The panel right by the far end of the fence is my favorite.  It’s in the first picture below.  The lady holding the goat is the best.  It’s so cool walking along the trail and spotting a new one somewhere between the leaves or in the shadows.  Some are very easy to see and others are a lot more difficult, so you have to pay close attention.


You’ll find the usuall sheep and horses, but you can also find dancing Kokopelli’s, the lady holding the goat, bear paws (or what look like bear paws), people dancing, skinny guys, almost robot looking guys, and so much more.  The two very modern looking faces (to the right of goat lady) are Navajo.  We were curious about that the most since we’ve never seen anything like that before.  It was probably my second favorite one that day.


Once you get to the end of the official trail, there is a canyon to your left that could be cool to explore a little more if you’ve got some spare time.  I didn’t go very far into it, but it looks cool and I totally would if I go back.  It’s a little grassy though.  This was a really nice hike and not busy at all.  We only saw one other person the whole time.


Once you’re done at the Upper Sand Island Petroglyphs, stop by the Sand Island Petroglyphs that you saw the sign for on your way in.  Or you could do it the opposite way.  I think the main one would be more impressive before seeing all the upper petroglyphs.  The main one is still impressive, don’t get me wrong.  It’s a huge panel, like an entire wall full of petroglyphs.  It reminded me of a darker Newspaper Rock.


Overall, I would definitely recommend stopping here if you’re in the area.  It’s the perfect way to breeak up the drive between Moab and Monument Valley.  You don’t need to spend a night in Bluff for it, but it wouldn’t be a terrible idea if you like ruins and rock art because there is quite a bit of it near Bluff.


Tips for visiting the Upper Sand Island Petroglyphs:

  • Even though it’s an easy flat hike, make sure you bring water.  Even when it doesn’t feel that hot it’s hot.
  • The trail is pretty shady so a hat isn’t totally necessary.
  • I would plan 1-2 hours for this depending on how fast you walk and how much you stop.
  • You don’t need any special car to get to it.  Part of the road is dirt but you can always park on the paved part and walk over since it’s not far.
  • There are bathrooms in the parking area but not on the trail.
  • The hike could probably be done in flip flops.  It was pretty easy.
  • If you’re planning on taking a lot of pictures with your camera, I’d bringa good zoom lens since they’re up pretty high.


Have you seen the Upper Sand Island Petroglyphs?  What are your favorite petroglyphs in the area?

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