Road to Castle Valley
eastern Utah & western Colorado
It’s probably safe to assume that any road linking two scenic byways will itself be spectacular. And that’s certainly true for this route. Just a few miles east of the Utah border is Gateway, Colorado. Running through this tiny town is the Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic Byway. Driving north and just before the town limits, take a left where the sign says John Brown Canyon. Pavement turns to gravel for 23 miles but don’t worry, the road is maintained and safe for most vehicles. The road’s official and uninspiring designation is 4.4 Road which then becomes part of the Dolores Triangle Safari Route at the Utah border. But enough of the confusion. Just stay on the main road and you’ll be fine. The route is obvious and there are a couple of signs pointing the way to Moab – the direction to follow. The John Brown Canyon is narrow with cottonwood trees and numerous rock formations. You’ll feel the altitude pull on your vehicle climbing steeply out of the canyon and crossing into Utah. The La Sal Mountains will soon come into view and then you’ll enter part of the Manti-La Sal National Forest. Spring and summer usually feature plenty of wildflowers. Two of the route’s top attractions appear back to back. First, driving along the cliff’s edge, the road provides superb, sphincter-tightening views of Bull Canyon. Then, as gravel becomes pavement, look for the parking area and overlook to the right. The view is amazing enough but this stop also features dinosaur tracks, made by therapods during the Jurassic Period, between 145 and 200 million years ago. And while it looks like these dinosaurs were walking off the cliff in some places, that’s only a modern-day illusion. Instead of high mountains and deep valleys, back then this area was a shallow ocean. And the tracks were formed when dinosaurs stepped in mud. Therapods were three-toed and are the ancient ancestors of birds. Having reached the pinnacle of the trip, the road descends from alpine into classic southwest beauty. Castle Valley is a small town named after the area’s marvelous castle-like rock formations. It’s a fitting conclusion to this Wide Open Ride and the start to two others. The road ends at the Colorado River Scenic Byway, profiled going west as Utah's Road to Moab and then heading east as Utah's Road on Fire.
Gateway, Colorado is very small but home to the posh Gateway Canyons Resort if you’d like to pony up some cash for a chic stay surrounded by incredible natural beauty. The town also has a gas station and convenience store. Moab, Utah is on the other end, 18 miles west down the Colorado River Scenic Byway. A major tourist destination, it offers all services.
Routes & Maps
Connecting two scenic byways, this road runs between Colorado’s Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic Byway and Utah’s Colorado River Scenic Byway. The two tiny towns of Gateway, Colorado and Castle Valley, Utah lie at either end.
Length & Time
It’s slower going on the gravel, of course, and that goes for 23 miles, from Colorado into Utah. At the Bull Canyon Overlook and dinosaur track site, the road is paved for the next 17 miles, until it ends at the Colorado River Scenic Byway, UT 128. Depending on where you’re coming from, plan on a full day. The route is only 40 miles but there’s plenty to see and it’s isolated which means it will take awhile to get there and back.
Best Time to Visit
Spring brings wildflowers, summer is very hot in lower elevations and fall means cottonwood, aspen and Gambel oak displaying autumn colors. The road isn’t maintained in the winter.
Keep in Mind
It’s important to check road and weather conditions because this remote route is unpaved for the first 23 miles. However, it’s in pretty good shape and fairly well-traveled. And once you reach pavement, it’s smooth sailing.
Check out Gateway Canyons Resort, Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic Byway, Manti-La Sal National Forest and Moab websites to help plan.