I love to find ancient rock art in our travels, and feel lucky to live in Utah where we have a lot of good sites. Seeing a figure that was painstakingly chipped into a rock face and has been preserved for a thousand years or more inspires my imagination. Petroglyphs help me to feel connected with real people who stood in the same spot centuries before.
The McConkie Ranch Petroglyphs (also known as Dry Fork Canyon Petroglyphs) near Vernal, Utah are some of the most impressive I've ever seen. They are clear, abundant, and many are large. The McConkie Ranch Petroglyphs are located on private land, but are open to the public.
Here is what you need to know if you want to see these impressive petroglyphs.
How to get there
The McConkie Ranch Petroglyphs are located about 10 miles north of Vernal in Dry Fork Canyon. From Vernal's Main Street, travel north on 500 W (Hwy 121). Follow Highway 121 to Maeser. Turn right (north) on 3500 West. Follow the road into Dry Fork Canyon. Look the turnoff to McConkie Ranch on the right. We didn't have much trouble finding the parking lot and trail head.
When you get there
There was plenty of parking space at The McConkie Ranch Petroglyphs on the June afternoon we were there. We stopped in the small booth and left our recommended $4 donation in the box. You can leave a post-it note on the wall with your comments, and my kids were excited to do that when we finished. Bottled water and soda are available in a refrigerator for purchase for about $1 each. The donation and drinks are cash only, so come prepared.
The Petroglyph Trail
The petroglyph trail is about one mile, round trip. It is rugged and hilly in spots, but most families should have little trouble with it. Use hats and sunscreen. Pack or purchase water for the trail. This can be a hot and dry place.
There are lots of petroglyphs all along the trail. Many are large, low and easy for the whole family to see. Most are over one thousand years old. Nobody really knows what they mean, so this is a good opportunity to talk about what you see and use your imagination.
Many of the petroglyphs are of people with interesting features like oversized feet or unique head gear. You'll see a few simple pictograms too, which are painted onto the rock. Petroglyphs are pecked or chipped. There are few sites where you'll find petroglyphs this impressive in a place this accessible.
You'll likely spot some forgeries and vandalism along the trail. Please use this opportunity to teach your family not to touch or add to the rock art! These are irreplaceable ancient treasures.
Other things to do
If you stop by the house by the parking lot, the residents may be available to visit with you and show you some Native American artifacts and other historic memorabilia. We did not do this, but it was recommended in our visitor bureau brochure.
We stopped at two parks on our way back from the McConkie Ranch Petroglyphs. The Remember the Maine park is the type of unique local attraction that I love. There is a small playground and picnic areas across from more modern rock art painted high on the cliff. “Remember the Maine” was originally painted there in 1898 to remember those that died as the U.S. entered the Spanish-American War.
The Ashley Valley Community Park is located at 500 North 900 West in Vernal. We spotted it on the way to the petroglyphs. It was hard to miss, because it has one of the biggest public playgrounds I've ever seen, among sports venues, picnic areas and more. The kids were in heaven.
According to Visit Dinosaurland, there are several shaded picnic areas and a scenic drive if you drive farther into Dry Fork Canyon.
Good to Know
Where: McConkie Ranch in Dry Fork Canyon, 10 miles north of Vernal. We found the online directions and road signs to Dry Fork Canyon easy to follow.
When: Year-round, but warm-weather months are the best time to visit. Choose a day with dry weather to avoid a muddy trail. The trail closes at dark.
How Much: FREE, but a cash donation of a few dollars is requested. There is an honor box in a booth in the parking lot.
How Long: 1-2 hours
Amenities: Free parking, porta potty, walking sticks for loan. Water and soda may be available for cash purchase near the donation box.
Website: No official site, but you can get more information at http://www.dinoland.com/play/petroglyphs/.
Planning a trip to Vernal?
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The petroglyphs at McConkie Ranch are a wonderful adventure, as much for the trail scrambling up the cliff as for the petroglyphs themselves. At every moment it’ll seem as though there can’t be any more, and then you part the bushes, look around a rock, or take a few steps further, and voilà a whole new panel.
Thanks to the McConkies for making the whole presentation—the sign-in booth, parking lot, fun trail, picked-up grounds, and the petroglyphs themselves—an adventure to treasure and remember with a smile.
Did you folks (or a commenter) manage to get to the Three Kings? To my chagrin, dusk came on while I was up the cliff last fall, so I was unable to follow that trail. It looked more mellow, ‘cos it went through a field, but I have no way to know exactly. Was there a major scramble at the end? Or can you see the Three Kings from the level of the meadow? I write an outdoor adventure blog for 62+ and I’m looking for a relatively relaxed option for folks who aren’t able to make it up the cliff.