Hiking in Grandstaff Canyon (Negro Bill Canyon) – Moab, Utah
Updated: Oct 9, 2020
I didn’t know until I was writing this that Negro Bill Canyon was re-named Grandstaff Canyon in 2017. This is one of our favorite hiking trails in Moab, due to the canyon's lush vegetation, beautiful trail and most of all, the Morning Glory Bridge which you can find at the end of the trail. The last time we hiked here was in Spring of 2015, and the name was still Negro Bill Canyon.
There was some opposition to re-naming the canyon at the beginning, but they finally agreed on it somehow. Some say that the original name was an offensive “race-based moniker” and needs to be changed, but not all are happy about it since they maintained that history will be lost. So, you ask who was Negro Bill?
Negro Bill's actual name was William Grandstaff, an early black settler who ran livestock in the area - now called Grand County. He was born in Alabama, probably a freed slave who came to Grand County in 1877 with a friend only known as “Frenchie”, a Canadian trapper. In 1877, they took over an abandoned Elk Mountain Mission fort near Moab, with each controlling part of the Spanish Valley. Negro Bill raised cattle and prospected in the area for four years. In 1881, after an Indian uprising, he fled the area after being accused of selling bootleg whiskey to local Indians. The charges were never proven, but he lost everything he owned. Later, he turned up in Colorado and became a well-respected member of the Glenwood Springs community. He was found dead on nearby Red Mountain in 1901. His legacy was not defined by his race but by what he contributed to the community. A cross was erected by the community in his honor after his death. Later, a big cross was erected on top of Red Mountain, visible throughout the town of Glenwood Springs even today.
The valley was named Nigger Bill Canyon in the late 19th century, but for obvious reasons was changed to Negro Bill Canyon in the mid-1900’s. It kept the name until 2017 when it was changed to Grandstaff Canyon, to memorialize Negro Bill’s real name.
This canyon is part of the Colorado River watershed, which water flows directly into the main channel of the Colorado River. The canyon is part of a wilderness study area, administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This is a beautiful canyon just a short distance from Moab along the scenic Colorado River Road. It provides a very scenic hike along a perennial stream flowing out of the La Sal Mountains to the south.
- HIKING -
GRANDSTAFF TRAIL TO MORNING GLORY BRIDGE – 2.5 miles one-way
The trailhead to Morning Glory Bridge is located directly adjacent to Utah State Route 128 (SR‑128), along the Colorado River, about three miles (4.8 km) east of the junction of SR‑128 and U.S. Route 191. This is an easy hike, a family friendly trail I would say. We hike here either in spring or fall to avoid the summer heat, as well as the crowds.
What is beautiful about this trail is the lush vegetation and the streams the you will cross along the way - so be prepared to get wet if you are not wearing a proper hiking shoes. The pleasant sound of the water when you hike here is very soothing. Look out for some poison ivy on the trail though - its a three-leaf plant that can cause allergic reactions and rash, so you don't want to ruin your hike or even your vacation.
In spring, you will find beautiful wildflowers along the trail, which is a good excuse to stop and rest. If you can't resist taking pictures of them, like I do, then it will take you even longer to reach your destination. But this is a short hike so you have plenty of time.
In the fall, you can still find some wildflowers but the autumn colors are equally beautiful here. When the green leaves of the cottonwood trees have all turned to gold, they are so bright under the sun.
At the end of a 2.5-mile trail is the Morning Glory Bridge, which, at a length of 243 feet, is the sixth longest arch in the country. Its location is somewhat unique in that it is adjacent to a high cliff and only about 10-15 feet away from it. Yet when standing under it, you can really appreciate how massive it is. Good luck taking good pictures of it. It is a bit challenging since the whole setting is in a very tight spot.
Standing under this bridge is like finding a small oasis. There's a small pool of water and a trickle of water flowing down from the canyon wall. A nice place to cool off before heading back to the trail. Rappelling between the canyon wall and Morning Glory Bridge is allowed, so you might find people hanging from a rope as they descend.