Located in the Upper East Canyon directly across from the Canyon Overlook parking lot, Gifford Canyon is a mostly open wash with sandy sections interspersed with short sections of bare 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 exciting or photogenic canyon in Zion, this wash makes for an interesting half-day hike for people looking to do some random exploring and get a quick taste of the Zion backcountry. A few scrambling challenges may make this hike less appropriate for casual tourists.
WARNING: While this hike isn't too strenuous, it is not an official trail and there are a few obstacles that require scrambling to get past. If you are a very casual tourist or you aren't very balanced on your feet, this hike is not a good choice. Your safety is your responsibility.
|Rating:||Moderately strenuous hike|
|Access:||Canyon Overlook Trailhead/parking lot (just to the east of the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel on Route 9)|
|Time Required:||2-4 hours|
|Length:||Roughly 3 miles total|
|Elevation Change:||500-ft gradual ascent up Gifford Canyon.|
|Technical Challenges:||A few minor route-finding and scrambling obstacles.|
|Seasons:||Spring through fall, although summer can be very hot.|
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 from the Canyon Overlook parking lot, hike down the designated path down into the wash below. As of 2021, a sanctioned path exists next to the outhouse that heads down the boulder-covered hill into a fairly open section of Pine Creek. (Please obey all "do not walk here" signs to prevent erosion and do not continue downstream in Pine Creek; that leads to the technical canyoneering section.) Look left of the Gifford Canyon dryfall for a steep trail-of-use that heads up the vegetated slickrock. Some minor scrambling may be involved. 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 Canyon 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 after storms, so vegetation is abundant and there are often small pockets of (mostly harmless) quicksand, especially starting at .5 miles when the canyon floor narrows and you are surrounded by lush vegetation.
Roughly one mile into the canyon is a large dryfall that is passed by scrambling up the tall 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 roughly another .6 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.
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.