Just outside the small town of Mt. Carmel, UT, on a dusty dirt road, is a spot that conjures images of fierce and fiery mythical creatures found in the pages of folklore and fairytales. But Belly of the Dragon is far from scary; but every bit the stuff of fairytales… and yes… a lot of myth. Many posts on social media leave the observer to believe Belly of the Dragon is a deep, dark cavernous oddity found in the desert of southern Utah. Posts lead one to believe only the bravest carrying swords or the physique of Hercules can navigate its depths… let me tell you how to get there and put you at ease on just how easy this hike truly is: Belly of the Dragon is a man-made solution to divert water under Hwy 89. Once a simple, small culvert-like hole… the drainage from upper canyons has carved a rib-like pattern into the Jurassic-era sandstone… creating The Belly of the Dragon. Less than 1/4 mile up the dirt road you will find a small parking area for the tunnel on your left. Be aware of sandy areas; they are deceiving and will swallow your car to its frame… leaving you with a hefty tow bill. It is best to stay on the hard pack and never divert to the sand.
From the parking area for Belly of the Dragon you will see the entrance. There is a small scramble/descent into the canal that is easily accessible; be prepared for a 5 foot drop, use the natural handholds and beware of slipping on the blow sand. Those with knee or hip issues should take precautions in this section. Once in the mouth of the belly, head on in. A headlamp is not required; but supplemental light of a cellphone can be beneficial. But let’s face it, all kids love to carry a flashlight on an adventure! Especially in a dark cave. You will quickly notice thousands of names and dates carved into the soft sandstone walls of the tunnel. Although tempting… it is still illegal and considered vandalism. Please refrain from etching.
As you maneuver through the tunnel you will understand how it got its name… there is a sense of walking within the massive ribcage of a mythical beast… a dragon. With the glow of it’s throat just around the bend. As you come out the opposite side of highway 89 the wash continues… depending on how far you would like to go… a little ways or a while to the deadend… pack water. It is the desert. There is a slot canyon in the area that we will talk about another day!! A trek through the Belly of the Dragon is usually enough for most visitors without adding the additional trek of the sandy wash.
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•There are no bathrooms.
•Do not access if there is ANY chance of rain.
•There may be water in the tunnel from previous rain; use caution.
• Do not graffiti
• Leave No Trace!
•No campfires allowed in the tunnel.
Directions: 1/2 mile south of Carmel Junction along HWY89. The dirt road is on the west side of the road between two guard rails. You will see a Dead End sign as you turn onto this route. Drive a well-maintained dirt road .3 (point 3) miles a to a small parking area on the left.
Hike: Round Trip .5 miles.
There is no elevation gain and is family friendly. The terrain in the tunnel can be uneven and muddy. The initial start of the trail begins with a 5 foot descent that is easy to moderately difficult. Watch your step. A sandy wash continues up the drainage. If you go for a hike; know your route and pack water.
NOTE: You will notice the road continues past the parking area. ONLY if you are driving a high clearance 4×4 (not AWD) should you consider this route past the initial water crossing. This in and out route is referred to by locals as the Barracks; and crosses the east fork of the Virgin River multiple times. Do not attempt ANY crossings during or even a few days after any rain. The crossings are not safe and are incredibly silty/muddy during these times. Again… DO NOT attempt any water crossings in a car; even with AWD. This is a lovely canyon with geological similarities to Zion… and can be enjoyed by the short drive to the first crossing and turning around. Watch for loose sand along the road. You don’t want to get stuck. If you do any walking; please know your route and pack water!!!