|GIFFORD CANYON (and Hepworth Peak)|
|ROUTE INFORMATION||VIEW PHOTOS!|
Gifford Canyon is the north-south wash just east of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel in the upper East Canyon, south of Route 9 and across from the parking lot for the Canyon Overlook Trail. Gifford Canyon is a mostly open wash with sandy sections interspersed with short sections of exposed slickrock in the streambed. While this drainage doesn't usually have flowing water, it retains a good amount of moisture and has lush vegetation in many sections. Though not the most interesting or photogenic canyon in Zion, this wash makes an interesting half-day hike for people looking to do some random exploring. For those looking to spice things up a bit more, a scramble out of Gifford Canyon to Hepworth Peak is a good workout to a nice obscure viewpoint.
A leisurely hike up Gifford Canyon may take roughly 2-4 hours, depending on how far up the canyon you want to go. It is roughly 3 miles roundtrip to the head of the canyon and back. Park at the Canyon Overlook parking lot (or one of the overflow parking lots down the road) and look south across Pine Creek (the wash below) to see the 15-foot high dryfall blocking entrance to the mouth of Gifford Canyon across the way.
Starting at the Canyon Overlook parking lot, hike down the designated path under the bridge into into the wash below. (The old way of hiking down the eroding sandy paths of use right by the parking spots is highly discouraged.) Once in Pine Creek, turn left and hike upstream past a narrow section of boulders to a more open section; the mouth of Gifford Canyon will be on the right (to the south). WARNING: Do not hike downstream in Pine Creek; that leads to the technical canyoneering section.
Just to the left of the Gifford Canyon dryfall, look for the fairly easy scrambling route up the slickrock and bushes. Once you are level with the mouth of Gifford Canyon, make your way around a shelf that takes you right into the wash. Now it's time for a leisurely stroll up the canyon! Gifford is a mostly dry and sandy open wash with occasional bands and bowls of bleached slickrock showing through. This canyon tends to collect a lot of rainwater so vegetation is abundant and there are often small pockets of quicksand. (Some sand may look dry, but when you step on it, your foot may get engulfed.)
Roughly one mile into the canyon is a large dryfall that is passed by scrambling up the shelves on the right (west) side. The sandstone formations at the top of the dryfall are a great place to have lunch. You can continue hiking up the canyon another .xx miles; the territory is mostly sandy and open except for a few short landslides to hike up. Near the head of the canyon, you are likely to encounter a stagnant pool or boulder obstacle that discourages further travel. Return the way you came.
Side Trip to Hepworth Peak (Class 2/3 Scramble):
For those looking to spice things up a bit, there are two spots in Gifford Canyon that have Class 2/3 scrambling routes up and out the west side. The first is the shelf system and bowl near the middle dryfall, made famous by the classic Bridge Mountain Arch route. The second is the shelf system near the head of the canyon--the route to Hepworth Peak that is described here. WARNING: This route involves exposed Class 2/3 scrambling and is not recommended for casual hikers. Navigation skills and aids are also essential.
The scramble up to Hepworth Peak could take an extra 2-4 hours. Near the head of the canyon just as things start to open up from the turn-around point, look to the shelf system on the west side of the canyon and find a route that zig-zags around several tall walls. Make note of your route so you don't get lost or shelved on the way back.
Once out of the canyon, follow the small open drainage west-southwest as it heads through some sublime cross-country terrain. The drainage will lead you to a large slickrock bowl with "Roof Peak" to the south and Hepworth Peak to the north. Work the fault lines and ledges to hike/scramble to the top of the peak. While this scramble isn't particularly exposed, the slope is considerably steep and a lot of loose dirty rock will keep you a bit unsure on your feet. At the top, enjoy the views from the several turret-like formations. Return the way you came.
While this might not be the most stunning or exciting canyon in Zion, Gifford Canyon is a beautifully serene wash for a leisurely stroll. Be sure to bring a lunch or some other excuse to hang out on the rocks for a few hours; you will enjoy your time here.