Onion Creek Bench Trail unleashes its spring beauty
Fisher Towers in southeast Utah is sweet, but a little crowded right now.
The Onion Creek Bench Trail just past the towers, however, is as sweet as a Vidalia onion, especially sweet during college spring break when most campgrounds along the Colorado River between Dewey Bridge and Moab are chock-full of spirited outdoor enthusiasts chock-full of distilled spirits.
While all those other areas were full or tourists, I did not spot another soul or sole on the Onion Creek Bench Trail, located about 80 miles west of here along the River Road (Utah Highway 128) and only a couple miles from those aforementioned campgrounds.
To reach this trail head, go west on Interstate 70 into Utah until you reach the Cisco Exit, No. 214. Turn left and follow the signs toward Cisco. Once through the Cisco metroplex, turn left toward Moab. You’ll be on Utah Scenic Byway 128 and headed toward Castle Valley and Moab. This is known as the River Road.
After crossing the new Dewey Bridge over the Colorado River, follow the river for about nine miles until you get to the Fisher Towers turnoff. Go another eight-tenths of a mile to the D. Taylor Ranch/Fisher Valley Road, and turn left. This is also known as the Onion Creek Road.
Travel six-tenths of a mile along this dirt road to the actual trail head, which will be on your right. Another few hundred feet will put you in the Onion Creek Bench Trail parking lot.
This entire area, from Dewey Bridge to Moab, is managed by the Bureau of Land Management as Utah’s Colorado Riverway. It’s billed as “a scenic wonderland of colorful cliffs, river-carved canyons, lush bottom lands and massive sandstone spires,” and it is!
Picnic facilities are found all along the highway. Mountain bike routes accessible from the Riverway include Kokopelli’s Trail, the Onion Creek Road and the Porcupine Rim Trail. Trail heads for several four-wheel-drive routes are located within the Riverway, including the Onion Creek Road. It can be driven in dry conditions with a high-clearance vehicle, but I wouldn’t take the mother-in-law’s Ford Crown Victoria.
Camping is permitted only at improved sites with camping facilities managed for overnight use and at designated campsites. Camping at all sites is limited to 14 days within a 30-day period. Fees are charged for campgrounds and semi-developed campsites.
Campgrounds all have gravel roads, toilets, tables, parking, fire rings with grills, information boards and self-service pay stations.
Semi-developed camping areas have simple toilets, metal fire rings, parking, an information board and self-service pay stations.
All sites are well-marked. Designated, undeveloped camping areas are identified by brown flexible posts with tent symbols. No facilities are provided except for fire rings. Primitive camping is allowed only at these designated locations. Portable toilets are required for these sites.
All of these rules are necessary, according to the BLM, because of the tremendous use this area receives. BLM management goals are designed to maintain the quality of the Riverway as a recreation destination and for public health and safety.
Most visitors along this roadway stop along the river and jump up to Fisher Towers to view those massive spires that jut up to 900 feet in height. Yet, few travelers stop to hike or take a horseback ride up the sweet, sweet Onion Creek Bench Trail.
A 5.5-mile loop wilderness hike awaits those who do.
The hike begins in the sandy bottom of Onion Creek, heading southwest. In about 15 minutes, you’ll come to a fork. The right fork goes to the Onion Creek Bench Horse Trail. If you stay on the left fork, it continues up the bottom of the creek bed.
The right fork meanders along the bench above Onion Creek to the west, and back to the east hikers can view Fisher Towers, those monoliths gleaming in the sun with tons of tourists scattered around them. Out here on the bench trail, however, only wind and birds could be heard. Only rabbit and coyote prints could be seen.
That first turn is marked by a short four-by-four post with a white arrow on a brown sign. Only a few yards from this first navigational arrow is another, which continues to lead you to the right.
In this manner, you’ll eventually hike a loop and trek back to the vehicle, hiking about 5.5 miles total. You have to watch closely for the trail along here, however, because it’s seldom used. I actually missed a couple of turns.
Remember, it’s beautiful in front of you, but look back now and then just to make sure you know where you’ve been and get a clue about where you’re going.
And remember, you’ll probably be out here all by yourself, because it’s certainly the path less traveled, so tell someone where you’re going and when you’re expected back.