Coal Mine Canyon

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Coal Mine Canyon is located only 70 miles from the east entrance of the most well-known canyon in the world, the Grand Canyon, yet it’s safe to say that  fewer than a couple hundred visitors each year see this colorful and remote canyon. Most people have never been there, let alone heard of Coal Mine Canyon.

It almost feels like I’m betraying a close friend by sharing Coal Mine Canyon with my readers, but after much thought, I realized that it would be a shame if I didn’t share it with you.

Coal Mine Canyon Hike Details

Distance – 0.5 to 3 miles, depends on the amount of exploring you do
Approximate hiking time – 1.0 to 2.5 hours
Elevation at trailhead – 5820 feet
Elevation down on canyon floor – 5456 feet
Elevation gain – 364 feet
Difficulty – Moderate to Strenuous
Trail – None
Amount of water recommended – 2 to 3 liters, there is no shade
Bathrooms – None
Seasons to hike – Year around
Permits: None needed for access on Hopi and Navajo reservation lands

How to get there:

From Flagstaff, AZ, head north on US-89 for 62.5 miles. Turn right onto US-160. Head east for 10.3 miles  to Tuba City, AZ. Turn right onto AZ-264 (Main Street). Head southeast on AZ-264 for 15.1 miles. At around 15 miles down AZ-264 look to the left and about a half a mile off the road you should see an old windmill, shortly after you pass green mile marker 337, look for a turnoff to the left. The turnoff will be paved until you cross a cattle guard, and as of 2012, it was a dirt road from that point on. The road will fork just past the cattle guard. Take the right fork, and aim for the windmill. The dirt road will go left leading to the windmill. Pass the windmill and continue east for a couple hundred feet. A gravel parking area with a couple of concrete picnic tables will be visible. Park here. (Drive time is about 90 minutes)

From Page, AZ, head south on US-89 for 66 miles. Turn left and head east for 10.3 miles to Tuba City, AZ. Turn right onto AZ-264 (Main Street). Head southeast on AZ-264 for 15.1 miles, and then follow the rest of the directions above from Tuba City to Coal Mine Canyon. (Drive time is about 90 minutes.)

You can also come from Moab, UT, however it is more than a four hour drive. I’ve come from both Moab and Page, and I would recommend waiting until you were down in the Kanab/Page area to go down to Coal Mine Canyon.

Hitting the Trail!

As you leave the parking area, walk past east past the concrete picnic tables and before your eyes, Coal Mine Canyon will appear seemingly out of nowhere. It is six miles long by six miles wide at its largest. The canyon has amazing orange, red, pink, and black colors. A thin layer of black coal is visible along the canyon cliff walls. This is on both Hopi and Navajo reservations lands, and range cattle graze freely along the some parts of Coal Mine Canyon, so watch out for cow pies near the parking area.

There are no marked trails that lead from the lip of Coal Mine Canyon down to the canyon floor. However, there are several ‘fingers’ of the canyon wall that you can attempt to go down, but several are just too sheer to drop down. Choose wisely if you decide to descend. It can be dangerous. I found one finger that looked promising and picked my way down. Basic canyoneering/climbing skills are necessary, and those with a fear of heights may have a difficult time with the initial descent. After dropping down the first couple hundred feet, the going gets much easier down to the canyon floor. I never found any established trails, but I have heard that game trails can be found from time to time.

Coal Mine Canyon

Coal Mine Canyon

One doesn’t need to descend the canyon to appreciate the beauty. The colors are magnificent. Take time to walk around the rim, but don’t get too close because the lip of the rim is very weak and unstable. Everywhere you look, you’ll want to take several pictures.

I have been to Coal Mine Canyon three times. Once with a friend, and the other two times were solo trips. Besides my friend, I’ve never seen anyone else at the canyon. It felt like MY canyon.

Coal Mine Canyon

Early morning shot of Coal Mine Canyon

There are also different vantage points from which you can enjoy Coal Mine Canyon. If you get back onto AZ-264 and continue to head southeast, you will see a large black top turnabout on the left side of the highway, directly across from a green road sign that reads Hotevilla 27 miles and Keams Canyon 63 miles. Turn left here. Once again the road quickly turns to dirt after passing a cattle fence. This dirt road will split a couple of different times, but seemed to merge back together after a short time. This road skirts Coal Mine Canyon to the left and another canyon to the right.

Stop periodically along the way to walk close to the edge and snap some pictures. It presents a unique angle of Coal Mine Canyon than what you saw at the first place. You’ll soon find that the rim of the canyon just drops a couple of hundred feet to the canyon floor. There really are no ‘fingers’ to use to climb down to the floor from here. Once again, be careful and stay away from the very edge, the brittle rock will give way.

Coal Mine Canyon

Once you’ve reached this little abandoned hut, you can turn around and head back since the views aren’t as impressive past the little building

You can choose to follow this dirt road as long as you’d like. Each viewpoint will give you a different perspective. They road will dead-end and peter out, so I would recommend turning around at an a circular, abandoned building since there isn’t really anything else of interest from that point. You’ll know what building I’m talking about because it is the only thing out there. You can’t miss it.

After taking hundreds of pictures, I headed out the way I came, got back on AZ-264 and headed northwest back to Tuba City, AZ. It is a whirlwind trip, but you can visit Coal Mine Canyon and the south rim of the Grand Canyon in the same afternoon with relative ease. Be sure to visit the Little Colorado River Overlook as you make your way to the Grand Canyon from Coal Mine Canyon.

Here are a few of my favorite hiking shoes I recommend:

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 Coal Mine Canyon

This view is from the cliff edge looking down towards the route I took to reach the canyon floor

Coal Mine Canyon

Adam Provance at the edge of Coal Mine Canyon

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About Author

Adam is an experienced hiker and canyoneer, who has visited some of the most breathtaking and remote places in the United States. As an instructor for Desert and Wilderness Survival, and for Leave No Trace camping practices, he shares his passion and respect for the outdoors to all. Adam is currently a Scoutmaster in the Boy Scout of America, and is an Eagle Scout. As the founder of www.yourhikeguide.com, his goal is to educate others on the joys of hiking.

7 Comments

  1. When I checked with the Navajo Nation recently I learned that it’s ok to camp there if you have a permit but that hiking into the canyon is forbidden now. We first learned of Coalmine Canyon in 1981 and, in those days, we hiked in the canyon numerous times. The hoodoos are spectacular and are supposed to “move” and look spooky when viewed in summer at full moon.

    • Dave,
      Camping at Coal Mine Canyon would definitely be magical! Since Coal Mine Canyon is on Navajo land, any type of camping would require a Navajo permit/permission. As far as safety, there are no facilities nearby, and it’s rather remote with limited to no cell phone reception. However, here’s a good website to find additional information on camping permits on Navajo land. http://navajonationparks.org/permits.htm

      • Adam

        Thanks for the info. Since I last posted, I have been in touch with the Navajo Parks that manage this area and have downloaded the form for a hiking permit. It seems that the rim of the canyon is Navajo but the canyon itself is Hopi. The Navajo permit was easy and the office personnel there were great. I have been a little thwarted in getting information from the Hopi. No one, so far, was able to tell me if a hiking permit was required or even where I could get one. They did suggest that I hire a guide. For the three or so hours to make the hike, I am not certain if we will go that route, even though I want to get to the bottom of the canyon. We’ll see.

        I have had more than one Navajo recommend against camping on the rim, for safety reasons. Still debating! Your thoughts?????

        • Hopi’s by their nature are more,how to put this, respectful of their land and traditions. They have limited tourist infrastructure and it is all on an “island” reservations (Moenkopi) next to Tuba City (small casino – of course and a fairly nice but expensive hotel). Once you are on the main reservation there are a few galleries and one hotel near Second Mesa (but I don’t know if it is still running). Some Hopi villages still do not (by choice) have electricity. a few solar panels have gone up and propane serves heating and cooking. So it doesn’t surprise me at a lack of response from the Hopi’s.

        • Missed your camping question and this may be too late. But not more than a few 100 yards to the east of the turnoff that Adam indicates. there is the Coal Mine Mesa Chapter House on the south side. Think of it as a township one stop shop. if you get there mid-afternoon go up and ask about the safety. And indicating you will be over there for the nght would be a good idea anyway. Also when i was just there Monday (7/20/2014) i took a late afternoon nap. I heard an ATV rustling around and someone came by to check things out. I would approach the farm house (one of the few 2 story house you will ever see on either reservation) on the ridge to the west (about 200 yds) and “check in” with them. Tell them your intentions so they know you aren’t out there meeting up for an alcohol deal or drugs. It would not surprise me if he is not an unofficial caretaker/watcher. Despite warnings to the contrary in 30 years I have never had a problem on either reservation….have left car unattended but locked for hours at a time….but my camping has always been in developed areas….and this is remote….other than the really big house right next door!

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