Driving the Moki Dugway in Utah

The Moki Dugway is a steep, gravel three mile road located in southeastern Utah, traversing 1,200 feet from the top of Cedar Mesa to the broad valley below. The road is actually part of Utah Highway 261, most of which is paved.

What to expect on the Moki Dugway ... 10% Grades ... 5mph Switchbacks ... Narrow Gravel Road
What to expect on the Moki Dugway ... 10% Grades ... 5mph Switchbacks ... Narrow Gravel Road

We have driven the Moki on numerous occasions ... it is not for the faint-hearted, but at a slow speed it is a fun, exhilarating trip! It's a relatively easy gravel road to drive if one drives slow and carefully, and is aware of weather and road conditions. But if you are prone to a fear of heights or have vertigo, you might want to chose alternate routes in this area.

The first time we drove the Moki, it was an unexpected situation. We were driving on a road trip from Arches National Park near Moab to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park on the Utah-Arizona border, and didn't know about the switchbacks, and were surprised when Utah 261 turned to gravel.

Road Conditions and Vehicle Recommendations

Utah 261 is part of the Trail of Ancients, a National Scenic Byway that stretches across 480 miles through Colorado and Utah. The highway connects Utah Highway 95 with US Highway 163 by crossing Cedar Mesa and plunging down the dugway at an 10% grade, revealing sweeping views of Valley of the Gods, stripes of color in the rocks of the San Juan River Canyon known as the Navajo Tapestry, and distant Monument Valley. Allow 1 hour travel time for the entire length of Utah Highway 261.

The gravel section of 261, the Moki Dugway, is well maintained and open all year, but road closures can occur, so be sure to check conditions before traveling to this area. During and after a rain or snow storm, the road may be impassable, even with a four-wheel-drive vehicle and can easily get muddy if it rains making it challenging to get through.

Map showing the Muley Point Road from Utah 261
Map showing the Muley Point Road from Utah 261

The State of Utah recommends that only vehicles less than 28 feet in length and 10,000 pounds in weight attempt to negotiate the road. Most vehicles can travel the route safely. Caution is advised for motor homes or vehicles pulling trailers.   However, small RV’s like truck campers and shorter class B and class C motorhomes can tackle this drive with ease.

Moki Dugway History and Background

Moki is derived from the Spanish word, Moqui, a general term used by explorers in this region to describe Pueblo Indians they encountered as well as the vanished Anasazi culture. Dugways are roads chiseled into steep slopes.

Even today, hand-carved hand and foot-holds and worn step-like paths of ancient American Indians can be found leading up cliffs and steep escarpments to food storage areas, dwellings, springs, or up steep escarpments like Cedar Mesa.

The Moki Dugway was constructed by the Texas Zinc company in 1958 for trucks to haul uranium ore from the Happy Jack Mine on Cedar Mesa to the mill in Halchita, near Mexican Hat.

 

Muley Point Overlook

The Muley Point Overlook is located at the top of Cedar Mesa, about 4 miles off Highway 261. It provides visitors with a panorama views of the Valley of the Gods, Monument Valley, the Sleeping Ute in Colorado, and Shiprock in New Mexico. As you enter the Moki Dugway heading south, take the dirt road on your right and drive along Muley Point Road to the overlook.

Distances from Area Cities and Towns

  • Mexican Hat: 11 miles/18 km - From Mexican Hat, drive northeast on US Highway 163 to the junction with Utah Highway 261. At that junction turn north or left onto 261. Follow 261 to the base of the cliff and begin climbing the Dugway. 
  • Bluff: 28 miles/45 km
  • Monument Valley: 34 miles/55 km
  • Blanding: 54 miles/ 87 km
  • Monticello: 75 miles/121 km
  • La Sal: 115 miles/ 185 km
Aerial view of the Moki Dugway in Utah, seen from the top of Cedar Mesa, with the Valley of the Gods below
Aerial view of the Moki Dugway in Utah, seen from the top of Cedar Mesa, with the Valley of the Gods below

 

Moki Dugway Map

Resources and Links

Utah Department of Transportation Road Alerts
Cedar Mesa Permits at Recreation.gov
San Juan County Economic Development & Visitor Services
Official Utah Travel Website

 

 

Arriving at the Moki Dugway, Utah Highway 261, heading south, at the top of Cedar Mesa
As you arrive on the grounds, park and walk into the Hearst Castle Visitor Center, seen in this photo
Approaching Cedar Mesa and the Moki Dugway heading north on Utah Highway 261
10% Grades ... 5mph Switchbacks ... Narrow Gravel Road Next 3 Miles
10% Grades ... 5mph Switchbacks ... Narrow Gravel Road Next 3 Miles
Narrow dirt curves with no guard rails on the Moki Dugway
Narrow dirt curves with no guard rails on the Moki Dugway
One of the incredible photography moments along the Moki Dugway
(Photo by Oculus Media, courtesy of Visit Utah)
One of the incredible photography moments along the Moki Dugway
The Valley of the Gods (left) seen in the distance from high above on the Moki Dugway
The Valley of the Gods seen in the distance from high above on the Moki Dugway
Weather can change on the Moki Dugway ... this was on a cloudy, stormy day
Weather can change on the Moki Dugway ... here a cloudy, stormy day

 

Quick overhead video of a drive on the Moki Dugway (0:31)
(Courtesy of the Utah's Canyon Country - San Juan County Economic Development & Visitor Service)

 

Driving the Moki Dugway southbound ... in HyperLapse mode (3:00)

The Moki Dugway takes a motorist from the top, to the bottom, of Cedar Mesa, seen in this photo
The Moki Dugway takes a motorist from the top, to the bottom, of Cedar Mesa, seen in this photo

 

Want to Drive More Switchbacks in Utah?

On Utah Scenic Byway 12 is located the small community of Boulder, 32 miles north of the town of Escalante, and 40 miles south of Torrey.

The Burr Trail, which ends (or begins) at Boulder, Utah, is one of our favorite back roads in the country. We have driven it several times, sometimes in a 4x4 Jeep, other times in a 2WD Toyota 4Runner.

It is typically quiet, with little or no traffic. In earlier years the entire length of the road was dirt; today parts are paved. The drive and views are stunning! The trail drops 800 feet in a short distance via a series of sharp switchbacks to the valley below!

Driving the steep switchbacks down the Burr Trail in Utah ... all hands on the wheel!
Driving the steep switchbacks down the Burr Trail in Utah ... all hands on the wheel!

 

Lodging in the Four Corners Area

Mexican Hat, Utah

Blanding, Utah

Moab, Utah

Farmington, New Mexico

Cortez, Colorado

Durango, Colorado

Kayenta, Arizona

Click to review hotels and restaurants, read reviews and make reservations at TripAdvisor

 

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