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Dare to Descend: The Thrills and Beauty of the Moki Dugway

If you enjoy venturing off the beaten path to discover hidden gems like hot springs or stunning overlooks, you might be interested in learning more about the Moki Dugway. This scenic backway in Utah is carved off the face of a cliff, providing breathtaking views of the Valley of the Gods and the San Juan River Canyon. We heard about it during our Utah travels in our truck camper, and knew we had to drive it!

It’s not a drive for everyone; in fact, it can be almost impossible for RVers. However, it’s a thrill for those traveling in passenger vehicles. Let’s take a closer look at the Moki Dugway!

Scary Drive Up Utah's Moki Dugway

What Is the Moki Dugway?

The Moki Dugway is part of the greater Utah Highway 261. This highway runs 34 miles from the junction of U.S. Route 163 near Mexican Hat to the junction of State Route 95 near Natural Bridges National Monument.

The Moki Dugway is where the paved highway turns into a dirt road and travels at a very steep 10-11-percent grade along the side of a cliff. These switchbacks climb the rocky and rugged Utah terrain without guardrails. This portion of Utah Highway 261 is about three miles long.

Instead of a scenic byway, the Moki Dugway is a scenic backway. The narrow, isolated road and more rugged terrain make this trek more challenging than a scenic byway. However, most passenger vehicles can tackle this road. Keep reading to find out if your vehicle is up to the task.

Pro Tip: Similarly, Needles Highway is a scenic part of the greater South Dakota Highway 87.

View over Moki Dugway in storm
A drive along the Moki Dugway is not for the faint of heart.

Why Is it Called the Moki Dugway?

The Southwest is full of Native American names to honor the ancestors and first peoples of the area. National monuments and heritage sites protect the sacred lands and cultures of various tribal groups. The naming of the Moki Dugway is another tribute to these ancient people. 

Who Were the Moki People?

“Moki” comes from the Spanish name “Moqui,” which explorers called the Puebloan people in Utah. In the early 1900s, the tribe renamed themselves the Hopi. These people lived on the Colorado Plateau hundreds of years ago. There’s also the Moqui Cave, a sand cave in Kanab, Utah.

What Is a Dugway?

A dugway is a road along a hillside. Oftentimes people construct a dugway along a place that has been impassable. The Moki Dugway is just that; a road people carved on the side of a cliff to travel through Utah’s Canyon Country.

MOTM truck camper on Moki Dugway
Take in Utah’s rugged terrain while driving along the winding, guardrail-free Moki Dugway.

When Was the Moki Dugway Built?

In 1958, Texas Zinc Minerals built the Moki Dugway to transport uranium and vanadium. They mined these minerals at Cedar Mesa and Fry Canyon and processed them near Mexican Hat. Today you’ll no longer see large trucks traversing this scenic backway, but in the 1950s, it was crucial to production.

Is the Moki Dugway Safe?

The Moki Dugway is similar to the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado in that there are no guardrails, and the road is narrow and steep. It’s not for drivers who are scared of heights. However, it’s perfectly safe for passenger vehicles as long as drivers pay attention, drive cautiously, and adhere to the posted speed limit.

The Moki Dugway is open year-round, but you’ll want to pay attention to the weather. The day after a hard rain may make the dirt surface more challenging, especially for 2WD vehicles. Snow would certainly make the drive much harder as well.

However, the road has quality construction and undergoes regular maintenance. It’s not like a washboard road leading to a dispersed camping location on Utah public lands. But drivers who don’t plan in advance and attempt to drive large vehicles like motorhomes or trailers may end up stuck or colliding with other vehicles.

Pro Tip: If you’re feeling brave, go for a drive down these Scariest Roads in America.

Tom from Mortons on the Move driving on the Moki Dugway
Drive cautiously, make sure your rig is the correct size, and adhere to the speed limit to stay safe while driving on the Moki Dugway.

Can You Drive An RV On the Moki Dugway?

Experts do not advise drivers of large RVs to take the Moki Dugway. In fact, you’ll see many signs on your way towards this cliffside drive that warn of length maximums on the dugway miles ahead of time. This is a stretch of the highway that you’ll best enjoy while driving a passenger vehicle. However, truck campers, Class B vans, or small trailers like teardrops are likely acceptable vehicles to drive.

We drove the Moki Dugway in our truck camper. And while we did not have any length issues, there were some narrow curves where we had to watch our overheight clearance. You can check out our experience on our YouTube channel and see our encounter with a delusional semi-truck driver.

Overland Truck Camper - Bears Ears, Zion and White Pocket and More | Ep 3 - MOTM
Our Moki Dugway Experience starts around 14:00

Let’s say that the driver was dangerously driving. He was stuck repeatedly and had to work his way around very tight curves quite closely to the cliff edges. Apparently, he ignored all of the posted signs along Highway 261 that warned of length limitations and height concerns ahead.

The state of Utah recommends vehicles more than 28 feet long and over 10,000 pounds choose a different route. With the hairpin turns and a narrow road, you can see why people would follow this warning.

Driving on Moki Dugway
While driving the Moki Dugway will have your heart racing, the natural beauty you will get to see makes it well worth it.

What Can You See Along the Moki Dugway?

The Moki Dugway is one of the best roads to get a sense of the rugged Utah landscape. There are overlooks where you can pull off, take photos, and breathe in the beauty. You can even see Monument Valley along the southeast horizon. In addition, you can see Sleeping Ute Mountain, Shiprock, the Carrizo Mountains, and the Valley of the Gods. It’s simply breathtaking.

Pro Tip: After driving the Moki Dugway, check out these 9 Amazing Caves in Utah for Epic Underground Exploring.

Is the Moki Dugway Open Year-Round?

The Moki Dugway is open year-round. However, there are road closures occasionally, so check road conditions before venturing out. If you’re driving the Moki Dugway after a heavy rain or snowstorm, you’ll probably need a 4WD vehicle. So choose carefully when you drive this stretch of highway.

Mortons on the Move Take on Moab with the Freedom of their Modified Truck Camper

Embrace the Beauty of Utah Along the Moki Dugway This Camping Season

Utah has to be one of the most beautiful states in the country. It’s not just the “Big 5” national parks that capture the stunning landscapes. But all of the lands in between running throughout southern Utah are spectacular. From deep canyons and towering spires to giant monoliths, this part of the Southwest is a place you won’t soon forget. So drive carefully, don’t be in a hurry, and enjoy the views from the Moki Dugway.

Have you ever driven this scenic backway? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

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About Tom Morton

Tom, a Pacific Northwest native, is our technical genius. Born in Washington and raised in Alaska before settling in Michigan. He's the man who keeps our operation running, both figuratively and literally.

With a background in Electrical Engineering, Tom specializes in RV solar systems and lithium batteries. He made history as the first documented individual to use a Tesla battery module as an RV battery. Tom has personally assisted countless RVers with system installations and has educated thousands more through his videos and articles.

Cinematography is another of Tom's passions, showcased in his work on the Go North series. You can see his camera skills on display in The RVers TV show on Discovery Channel and PBS where he also stars as a co-host.

Tom's mechanical expertise extends beyond RVs to boats, planes, and all things mechanical. He's renowned for taking on maintenance and repair projects single-handedly and is often spotted underneath RVs, making him the technical backbone of our endeavors.

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Larry Tibboel

Wednesday 12th of July 2023

Hey Tom and Cait,

So, I'm late to the party in response to this. In April, we boondocked for over a week in the Valley Of The Gods, first left at the bottom of Moki for the west entrance to the loop. Many of our days we went up Moki in the morning to access hiking the canyons on Cedar Mesa, then necessarily back down to get back to camp. We found it delightful in our 4 Runner. Because we travel many of these kinds of roads during our lifetime (seniors) in the southwest, we are much more accustomed to them and so find that the reaction by others not so accustomed to them to be some hype. Consider, for example, the Million Dollar Highway. At the end of our use of Moki, I decided I could comfortably drive our 35' class A up or down it if it were closed to all other traffic. Since it won''t be, I won't be either. Enjoy following you. Hope you're enjoying your class A journeys and adventures.

Larry Tibboel

Dennis Rice

Sunday 2nd of July 2023

We did the Moki Dugway in April of this year while we were Boondocking in the Valley of the Gods. It is indeed a breathtaking drive and a must-do if in the area. It is also worth the time to go to Muley Point which is accessed from the top of the Moki. Great views of the canyons! Great article.

Steph

Saturday 1st of July 2023

Looks fun

MadDog

Friday 30th of June 2023

I took my camper on this road. Up, and then back down. We didn't know we supposed to be scared. So we weren't. Great road. I would definitely do it again if I was in the area.

Jysta guy

Friday 30th of June 2023

Road the Moki Dugway several times on a 113 cubic inch Statoliner for a get together with a bunch of brothers in Mexican Hat, beautiful ride.

Mortons on the Move

Saturday 15th of July 2023

Oh what a neat experience! Gosh we love that run.