Located south of the famous Left Fork of North Creek (aka "the Subway"), the Right Fork is an even more remote and rugged canyon wash that makes for a long and strenuous day hike. Challenges include wilderness route finding, multiple stream crossings, bushwhacking, boulder hopping, and a few tricky scrambling obstacles near the end of the route. And while this canyon may not have the mass appeal that the photogenic Subway does, the Right Fork of North Creek offers a more quiet appeal to seasoned hikers who are happy to work hard to find backcountry solitude.
WARNING: This is a long and strenuous route in some very remote territory and is not recommended for casual hikers with no wilderness route-finding experience.
|Rating:||Long and strenuous day hike in a wet canyon with many obstacles|
|Access:||Right Fork Trailhead (roughly 7 miles up the Kolob Terrace Road from the town of Virgin)|
|Time Required:||9-12 hours|
|Length:||11.7 miles (round-trip)|
|Elevation Change:||400-ft descent from trailhead to bottom of canyon, then gradual 850-ft elevation gain up the canyon.|
|Technical Challenges:||Navigation through rugged and remote terrain, several scrambling obstacles between Double Falls and Barrier Falls.|
|Seasons:||Spring through fall are most likely, although spring runoff in April may make hiking more difficult. The route is possible in winter with adequate cold water protection.|
|Permit Required?||No, you do not need a wilderness permit for a bottom-up day hike.|
|Flash Flood Warning:||Do not do this route if there is a threat of rain.|
A hike up the Right Fork of North Creek could take between 9 and 12 hours to complete; start early and allow for a full day. Bring plenty of food and water as well as navigation aids (GPS, map, compass). This hike starts and ends at the Right Fork Trailhead, located 7 miles up the Kolob Terrace Road from the town of Virgin.
From the small parking area, follow the trail east to the edge of a large lava outcropping where you will be able to see North Creek far below. Now the fun begins! Follow the trail-of-use as it zigzags its way over and around boulders to head down the outcropping. Take care as it's very easy to slip on the loose sand and pebbles along the steep slope. Once close to water level, mark a waypoint as there are no friendly "exit here" signs like there are along the Subway route.
Hike north up North Creek walking in or close to the stream or along the shelf above the west bank (easier) and in only a 1/3 of a mile, you will reach the confluence of the Left Fork and the Right Fork; choose the stream to the right and you are on your way up the Right Fork! The open wash scenery is pleasant enough as you alternate between boulder hopping, walking right in the stream, and walking along a trail-of-use on one of the banks. There is no correct single route; find the easiest path that doesn't trample any new vegetation. Soon enough you will reach a short tall and narrow section of canyon where there was a massive landslide back in 2010. You may need to scramble over or around a few large boulders.
Once you pass Cougar Mountain on the right, the canyon will open up considerably near the mouth of Trail Canyon. For the easiest route through this section, hike cross-country through the open meadow on the north side of the stream. If you stick to the watercourse or head through the south side, you may get caught in a bushwhacking obstacle course through several densely overgrown patches. Beavers have also done quite a job damming up several ponds along the stream.
After you have left the Trail Canyon area, you will be back to hiking mostly in the water with the occasional obstacle or deep water sending you around to the side briefly. Roughly 2 miles beyond Trail Canyon, the Right Fork watercourse will close in with 10 to 20-ft high sandstone walls surrounding you. This is where the scenery gets a bit more interesting, although it's admittedly not as stunning as the Subway. In this section is a short pool that you will have to wade through before stepping up and out the slickrock behind it. Some years, this pool is filled with sand and isn't even worth mentioning, but other years when the sand has washed away, it can be a chest-deep pool with a slippery ledge on the south side. When in difficult conditions, a drybag is very useful to protect your valuables just in case you slide and go for a swim.
After roughly 4 hours and 5.5 miles total of hiking, you will arrive at Double Falls, a beautiful 15-ft tall set of waterfalls that makes a wonderful spot for a break or lunch. You can even hike around into the alcove to see the falls from behind. (Traditionally, "Double Falls" had two main flows, but since 2010, a third flow appeared, so I suppose they are now unofficially "Triple Falls.")
For most hikers, Double Falls is the perfect turn-around spot, but if you are willing to work hard to see the final section of canyon, you can keep going for another half a mile. To get above Double Falls, look back for a trail-of-use walkaround that heads up the steep slope southwest of the falls. There is one sketchy exposed spot that you have to scramble up, then follow the narrow trail-of-use though the thick vegetation as it wanders high above the falls and then back down to the watercourse. If this exposure bothers you, turn around now and don't bother going any further.
This next section is an obstacle course with many piles of boulders to navigate and several small waterfalls that you can climb around (typically on the north side). Evaluate each obstacle carefully and decide whether you feel confident that you can climb back down; this would be a horribly remote area to get injured and require rescue. Also keep an eye out for poison ivy which grows quite well here. Soon enough if the canyon hasn't broken your will, you will reach Barrier Falls, a sloping slickrock waterfall slide that marks the final turnaround point. While it might not be worth it to most people to reach this spot, there is something rewarding about being in a very remote and difficult to access section of canyon.
For the hike back out, take great care as you retrace your steps climbing back down any waterfall obstacles that you climbed up and find the walkaround back down under Double Falls. The rest of the hike out is pretty straightforward, but finding that final trail away from the river and up the lava outcroppings can be challenging if you aren't following your GPS track. (There are a few cairns to help show the way, but they are not officially maintained.) Once you are on the topside of the lava outcroppings breath a sigh of relief as the Right Fork Trailhead is close by.
|Right Fork of North Creek Map.
Note: While viewing the map, click on the map to return to this page.
If you have done the bottom-up Subway hike, think of the Right Fork as the big brother to the Left Fork; it's a similar hike but twice as difficult. While I personally love this canyon, it would not be an overwhelmingly fun experience for the casual hiker. And when you add in the section between Double Falls and Barrier Falls, the work-to-reward ratio for this hike is probably too high for most. And that's what makes this hike awesome...