The Jughandle Arch is an interesting arch formation located in the East Canyon high above the Keyhole Canyon pantheon. Those with a keen eye can spot the arch from the road by looking north approximately two miles east of the small tunnel. Several fun hiking/scrambling routes make for an interesting day in the area, including hiking to the saddle just under the arch, hiking to the plateau above the arch, and an optional return route via the canyon to the west (known by some as "the Center of the Universe").
WARNING: This is a Class 2/3 scrambling route with a few sections on loose rock with some exposure. Navigation skills are also essential. This route is not recommended for casual hikers with no wilderness or climbing experience.
Note: This hike skirts the popular Keyhole Canyon canyoneering route, but does not descend it. Do not venture down Keyhole Canyon unless you are prepared with a backcountry permit and the proper technical gear and knowledge.
The Approach Hike:
The route starts off of the Route 9 road in the East Canyon -- roughly 3.5 miles east of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel (2 miles east of the small tunnel) or 2 miles west of the east entrance station. Note the contours in the road in the map below and park at one of the two pull-offs closest to the start of the route. Carefully walk along the road until you can see a large slickrock bowl to the north, with a hoodoo formation at the top and a vertical ridge on the left. (See first picture on the photos page.) Hike up the bowl towards the hoodoo formation at the top, then scramble down left (west) of it into Keyhole Canyon. (If the scramble down into Keyhole Canyon is too difficult or scary for you, turn around now to avoid a long and miserable day.)
Once in the drainage, canyoneers looking to descend Keyhole Canyon would start hiking downstream, but for the Jughandle Arch route, we're simply looking to cross over Keyhole to get to some higher territory. In dry conditions, you can simply hike upstream a bit to an obvious and easy climbout spot to the left (west) where the slickrock is very shallow. Sometimes the easy climbout spot is surrounded by pools of water in the canyon, so if you want to keep your feet dry, look for the alternate climbout spot just upstream from where you entered Keyhole Canyon. This scramble out is a fairly easy Class 3 over some loose sand and rock, but it may be slightly intimidating to some. Once out of Keyhole Canyon, hike to the north and as you gain elevation, you can see more of the wondrous slickrock pantheon surrounding you.
Jughandle Arch Shoulder Ramp Route:
The Jughhandle Arch "shoulder" or "ramp" route is a fairly straightforward route that takes you very close to the arch with tremendous views to the south. This route may take 2-4 hours total (including the approach hike). From the Keyhole crossover, continue hiking north/northwest heading for the highest ground which will take you up the shoulder in front of the arch, offering you close-up views of the Jughandle Arch. This route doesn't have much scrambling, but it is a fairly strenuous uphill hike. (Be careful not to wander too far to the east or west as the sandstone slopes to sheer cliffs on both sides.) When you reach the high point of the shoulder, you will be denied access to the very top of the plateau by a cliffband that is roughly 20 feet tall. (Attempting to climb up or down this cliff is not recommended.) Enjoy the tremendous views and return the way you came.
Jughandle Arch Plateau Route:
For a more challenging hike and a good excuse to see more beautiful scenery, you can also scramble up to the plateau rim just above the arch. This route is more strenuous and committing and may take an extra 2-4 hours. From the base of the shoulder route, hike west into the valley in between Peak 6492 (also known as "Aries Butte") and the Jughandle shoulder, then hike north up into the valley. The area is slightly overgrown, but bushwhacking should be minimal, especially if you head for the western wall.
As you near the head of the valley and the cliff walls are more visible to the north and to the east, look for the most prominent fault line with a rockslide and a string of vegetation that leads all the way to the rim; that is our route to the top. While this route may look improbable from a distance, the closer you get, the more doable it will look. Now it's time to do some work. After a bit of bushwhacking and a few sections of slickrock, you will eventually wind up hiking up the steep sandy rockslide. Go slowly and take care here as your footing will often be unstable and you may need to use your hands for support.
Near the top is the intimidating crux of the hike; you have to scramble over a few boulders and odd logs that have wedged themselves into the walls. Soon enough, the obstacles relent and you will be standing on top of the east plateau. Make note of where you topped out so you know where to start your descent. Now on level ground, hike south to get a great view of the canyon below and hike along the eastern rim to see the roof of the Jughandle Arch. You can also explore along the eastern rim to get a nice view of the back side of the arch. Return the way you came.
The Center of the Universe:
If the plateau route didn't intimidate you, you might want to try something spicier than simply hiking back out the Keyhole Canyon approach. One cool alternative is to hike out via the "Center of the Universe" -- the wondrous slickrock gap between peak 6492 ("Aires Butte") and the peak to its south ("South Ariel Peak"). Note: The name "Center of the Universe" comes from a local teen who referred to this spot by name back in 2005. While the name is a bit over the top, I found it so amusing that I'm propagating it here.
From the Jughandle Arch plateau route, hike south to the base of the saddle between the two peaks--a slope of pure slickrock that is steepest at the bottom but gets easier the higher you go. Look for the most reasonable route up the slickrock and start your ascent. The hike up is fairly steep and you may often use your hands for support, but if you find yourself facing any treacherous spot, back up a bit and find an easier way.
Soon enough the angles will level off and you will be standing at the Center of the Universe with the impressive barren sandstone formations and stark vegetation surrounding you. Continue west to begin your descent into the neighboring canyon to the west. Here's where rock-scrambling experience comes to play. Navigate your way down the slopes, looking for shelves and cracks to provide easy access down to the next level. The descent is steep, so you may want to "sit and slide" or do "the crab" in many sections. If you get ledged, do not give up hope; go back up a bit and look for alternatives. There are many reasonable routes to get down to the bottom of the canyon.
Once at the canyon bottom, breathe a sigh of relief; the hard part is over! Follow the canyon down to the road, and then carefully walk the road back to your car which may be parked about a mile away.
Hiking to and around the Jughandle Arch is a great excuse to explore some truly amazing slickrock territory in Zion's Upper East Canyon, but good navigation skills are required to find your way through the various ridgelines and drainages. Do not wander up or down any treacherous sloping cliffs and make sure that you don't descend the Keyhole Canyon technical canyoneering route unless you know what you are doing and have a canyoneering permit.