The Exceptional Water Canyon

Our hike in Water Canyon was undoubtedly one of the best hikes we’ve done in southern Utah. The canyon had come to our attention last fall but with our October and November travels we returned home too late; by the time we attempted to do the hike there was a good deal of ice in the canyon, not to mention we were inappropriately clothed since it was 25 degrees colder than expected. We put it off again this year and almost missed doing it but we got our schedules aligned with Terry and finally got there bright and early last Tuesday. Once again the weather man was a litte off in his forecast; what was supposed to be a sunny day was already clouding up, though it didn’t prevent us from starting off, of course.


The approach into the mouth of Water Canyon is phenomenally beautiful. The informal trail here sticks to the west side of the canyon, turning up and away from the watercourse within the first mile through raspberry bushes, sage, maple, and ponderosa pine. After a mile and half of hiking the canyon narrowed – and then suddenly the brush disappeared and we were in front of a small waterfall pouring over the jointed sandstone. Without the foliage, we could see the desert varnish on the exposed sandstone walls and the hanging gardens of ferns. And right below the waterfall was an incredible deep gash in the canyon floor, filled with clear blue water. It was spectacular.

We knew we’d be coming back through on the return so we set our sights on navigating up the small waterfall, after which we were found ourselves in a short section of narrows. The slots ended soon enough at a deep pool neslted in the base of a dryfall and so we backtracked a bit to find a route up the jointed rock along the side walls of the canyon. This is where the scrambling began. At the top of the dryfall we found ourselves in a sandy-floored chamber with towering walls above and incredible views down the canyon below us. After crossing the sandy bottom we continued scrambling up, watching the canyon floor fall away below as we navigated an alternately sandy and rocky route on the west side of the canyon over the next mile. Within a half mile we came up to eye level with the petrified sandstone dunes and ponderosa pines and then finally reached the point where we could get get a panoramic view all the way around the backside of the canyon.

More scrambling and route finding ensued until we reached the rim of the canyon, with vistas of nothing but open land around us. The views were a bit dampened however by the sight of darkening clouds and the noticeably cooler temperatures blowing in with the wind. We had intended to explore the slickrock of the Canaan Mountain Wilderness but with the possibility of rain the only safe thing to do was descend and return to the trailhead. Getting caught in a slot canyon or narrows with storm water is very literally deadly and a mistake that costs people their lives every year.

Our descent and return down the canyon proved to be quicker than anticipated and after a little more than an hour we reached the first waterfall – which was where the canyon first constricted – without having felt a raindrop. Feeling more secure, we took a few minutes to walk around, take more pictures, and point out some of the details we’d overlooked on our way up the canyon before continuing back to the trailhead. Once we reached the mouth of the canyon we noted the dark, cloudy skies that had replaced the little bit of blue that had been present earlier in the day, making us thankful that we had turned around when we did. Obviously, we’ll be going back anyway.