Difficulty: Easy mountain biking or hiking with shuttle vehicle (moderate round trip)
Distance & elevation gain: 3.3 miles one-way; 6.6 miles round-trip. Minimal elevation gain.
Trail type: Paved and gravel road
Multi-use: Hiking, trail running, mountain bike riding, and scenic driving
Dogs: Allowed. Keep under control.
Seasonality: Spring and fall are best. Summers are hot.
Bathroom: None. Restroom facilities are in Rockville.
Rustic adobe Grafton schoolhouse/church, c1886. Photo: Jay Dash Photography
The Virgin River, after exiting its deep canyons in Zion National Park, bends southwest and twists along the floor of a wide valley flanked by towering cliffs. Early Mormon pioneers settled the fertile bottomlands along the river, building small villages, planting orchards, and digging water ditches. Five families homesteaded Grafton in Utah on the river’s south bank in 1859 and grew cotton and crops in irrigated fields. A few years later the hamlet’s population swelled to 168 people in 28 families and offered log cabins, a Mormon Church, post office, and adobe school and community center. A series of devastating floods damaged Grafton over the years, forcing residents to move away. The last couple left in 1944.
Reach Grafton, one of Utah’s best-preserved ghost towns, by hiking, biking, or driving Grafton Road, a paved and gravel road sometimes called Grafton Trail. It follows a wide gravel bench below stair-stepped cliff bands to the south and green fields, orchards, and pastures along the Virgin River to the north. It’s best to find a parking spot on Highway 9 in Rockville, then shoulder your pack and start hiking or biking south on Bridge Road. After crossing an iron lattice-truss bridge built in 1926, the sunny road bends west. Keep right at a prominent junction toward Grafton. A left turn goes up scenic Smithsonian Butte Backcountry Byway.
Near the trail’s end is the Grafton Utah cemetery, with dusty graves dating to 1862. These include three early settlers killed in a raid by Indians in 1866 as well as the graves of Paiutes. Grafton, like most old places, boasts its share of eerie happenings. Some visitors hear phantom footsteps, feel cold breath on their necks, see shadowy figures in windows, or feel they’re being watched. The renowned Grafton ghost town is probably not a place to linger after sundown.
Past the cemetery is Grafton’s abandoned townsite, with the adobe schoolhouse framed against Zion’s pink cliffs and the well-preserved Russell home. Grafton, with its crumbling cabins and old buildings, seems like the perfect spot for a movie set, a fact not lost on Hollywood. Parts of several movies were filmed here, notably the classic 1969 flick "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." The film’s famed bicycle scene, with Redford and Newman riding antique bikes, was shot here.
The kid-friendly Grafton ghost town is easily explored. Ramble around and try to remember what life was like here in 1870. Some of Grafton is private property so don’t cross fences or disobey No Trespassing signs. Afterward, hit the road and head 3.3 miles back to your car in Rockville.
Hike or ride the trail/road in early morning or evening when temperatures are cool. The route crosses open country and is hot during the day. Bring water or sports drinks.
Nearest destination: Rockville on Utah 9
Where to park: Park in Rockville near the junction of Utah 9 and Bridge Street. From the Zion National Park South Entrance, drive 4.7 miles on Utah 9 to Rockville. The route begins at the road junction. Go south on Bridge Street. On the south side of the Virgin River, go right on Grafton Road to Grafton.
Trailhead GPS coordinates: 37.161151 N, -113.037713 W
Originally written by RootsRated for Utah Office of Tourism.