Trails: 250 S. Grafton Cemetery trail
Difficulty: Easy (250 South) or moderate (Grafton Cemetery trail)
Distance: Approximately 1 mile total
Average time: 2 hours
Total elevation gain: 400’ (virtually all on the cemetery trail)
Kid/family-friendly: Yes, although there are sections on the Cemetery Trail with short scrambling steps
Every year, millions of people travel past the Grafton Ghost Town on their way to the grandeur of Zion, missing the tiny sign that points towards this relic from a time long past. Despite that, this abandoned village just across the river from Rockville, is considered one of the most photographed ghost towns in the west. It is a veritable history lesson (besides the pioneers who lived and died in Grafton, numerous movies have been filmed here, the most famous of which is “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”). The town was founded in 1861; however, due to flooding, it was resettled in 1862. It lasted until the early 1900s, when the Hurricane Canal was built and many of the townspeople relocated to Hurricane, some even disassembling their homes and rebuilding them 20 miles away. Thanks to the efforts of the Grafton Preservation Society, it is in excellent condition, and open (partially) to the public.
Access: To find this unique place, take Interstate 15 to exit 16 and then continue on State Highway 9 through Hurricane and into La Verkin. Turn right onto Utah 9 East after 12.5 miles. Follow Utah 9 East for another 15.7 miles into the lovely town of Rockville, keeping a sharp eye open for the tiny sign on the right pointing towards Grafton. Turn onto 250 South, cross the Rockville Bridge and drive for a total of 3.2 miles (ignoring the left-hand turn to the cemetery) until the town site is reached.
There are several buildings in the area, some of which can be entered and some that are off limits. The first structures on the right are the John and Ellen Wood home and barn. This makes an excellent starting point. The house is behind a padlocked gate but can be viewed at close range from the fence. Near the barn there is an old pioneer-era wagon in the field.
From there, walk north on the rutted, hardpack road for a short distance towards the school house and cross through a gate.
The old school house is the tallest building in the town, and while the interior is closed off, visitors can climb the steps on the side of the school and look inside to see the well-restored interior. A small information placard explains some of the building and town’s history.
A short distance east of the schoolhouse is the Russell Home, another restored structure that can be entered and explored. Several dusty rooms, an attic and a basement await discovery. Imagine living in such rustic conditions in the heat of summer or the depths of winter.
Across from the main Russell home is the Louisa Marie Russell home, another explorable home with a small shack behind it. Returning back to the main road, walk west down the road to where more discoveries await: the Ballard Home, a barn and several old homesites.
When finished exploring the town, return to the Wood Home and drive back on the road a short distance where the spur road leads off to the right. Turn here and park at the fenced cemetery. There are numerous headstones and unmarked graves. As was common during the 1800’s, many of the deceased were children. Quite a number of deaths occurred during 1866—the “hard year” according to the Grafton Preservation Society—mainly from diphtheria and scarlet fever.
Still up for a little more adventure? Immediately behind the cemetery, find a BLM trail marker and follow it east up the hillside. The path winds up a crumbling slope to traverse a series of narrow ridges and ledges, gaining several hundred feet of elevation to give superlative views of the Grafton area, the Virgin River and the towering walls of Mt. Kinesava in Zion. Smithsonian Butte looms to the south, and the castellated stone of the Eagle Crags and Canaan Mountain rear up to the east.
Several short rock steps can be scrambled by confident young hikers, but may not be ideal for very young children. Outcroppings with opaque Gypsum crystals can be found beside the route. After approximately a half mile, the trail reaches a much steeper rock wall that makes for an excellent stopping point, with awe-inspiring views spread out below. Return on the same path for a quick descent to the cemetery, taking care at the scrambling sections.