Utah Hike of the Week: Dry Fork Canyon Petroglyphs near Vernal

(Erin Alberty|The Salt Lake Tribune) Visitors hike to Fremont petroglyphs at McConkie Ranch in Dry Fork Canyon near Vernal.

The trails at McConkie Ranch in Dry Fork Canyon near Vernal pass by some of the most marvelous ancient rock art you can find anywhere in Utah. Characters are shown toting severed heads and intricatelyccarved weaponry, all in vivid detail.  

The entire site is on private land, but the McConkie-McKenzie family has opened the ranch to visitors. There is a small welcome center with a donation box, soda and water for sale, and printed information about the site. The family maintains two trails to the petroglyphs; bring binoculars or a camera with zoom features to view the famous Sun Carriers panel, also known as the Three Kings panel.

(Erin Alberty|The Salt Lake Tribune) Fremont petroglyphs show a character holding what appears to be a severed head at McConkie Ranch in Dry Fork Canyon near Vernal. Photo taken July 23, 2009.

Directions • From Vernal, take State Road 121 (500 North) west to 3500 West and turn north. Stay on 3500 West for 6.3 miles as it bends west and becomes Dry Fork Settlement Road. Turn north at the sign for McConkie Ranch Petroglyphs. McConkie Road takes you through the ranch to a parking lot fenced by rows of antlers.

Hike • Two separate trails lead to different panels of petroglyphs. Both are well-marked with signs and ribbons, and both are worthwhile. 

The hike to the Big Foot and Head Hunters panels (so named by the McConkie family) is less than a mile round trip, but it’s rugged in spots. It begins near the tipi on the north end of the parking lot and climbs up, over some boulders, east to a cliff face, where the petroglyphs begin. The rock art appears in tremendous density and gets more and more complex as the trail follows the base of the wall to the northwest. Where the trail ends, backtrack about a half mile and follow the marked shortcut back to the trailhead. 

The hike to the Three Kings panel is a 1.3-mile round trip to what is considered one of the finest works of rock art in North America. It is high on a rock wall, where artists would have struggled to execute their vision. The trail begins southeast of the parking lot and runs southeast through a field. Follow the markers into the rocks, where you can see the Sun Carriers images. 

  • Hiking time: 1-2 hours

  • Round-trip miles: 2 miles

  • Elevation change: 300 feet

  • Difficulty: Easy-moderate

  • Trailhead restrooms: Yes

  • Dogs allowed: Yes, leashed

  • Bikes allowed: n/a

  • Fees: $2 suggested donation