Located on BLM land near the Arizona border several miles south of Zion National Park, accessible from behind the remote town of Hildale, Water Canyon is a beautiful little oasis in the middle of the desert. Reminiscent of The Subway, Water Canyon is a narrow canyon with a clever trail that follows the fractures in the west side of the canyon to make its way to the mountains above. Once out of the canyon, Canaan Mountain is a beautiful and wild island in the sky that beckons for exploration.
Note that Water Canyon is a popular area for Zion outfitters to guide canyoneering trips, so you are likely to encounter other adventurers in the lower sections of the canyon. This description is for the hiking route up and out of Water Canyon, not for a technical descent of the canyon. Once you have hiked above where canyoneers start their descents, you are more likely to have the area to yourself.
If driving from Springdale and the main canyon of Zion National Park, you should allow roughly an hour of driving time to reach the Water Canyon Trailhead. Drive Route 9 west to LaVerkin and Hurricane. Once in Hurricane, take Route 59 southeast for roughly 22 miles until you reach the remote border town of Hildale. Turn left on Utah Ave, which heads due east for two miles before turning north. In less than a mile, turn right at the junction of Maxwell Canyon Rd and Water Canyon Road. Follow the dirt road north for another two miles until you come to the obvious parking area and end of the road. Note: This road is typically accessible by low clearance vehicles, but sections of this road could be treacherous in wet conditions.
Starting from the parking area, hike up the approach trail of use. For the first mile, you will be hiking on the sandy and rocky hills well above the stream, passing through sections of lush veggetation. Soon enough, the trail descends into the watercourse at a beautiful section of canyon where the canyon walls converse reminiscent of Zion's Subway. Scramble up the small cascades, then loop around to the left (west) to make your way further up the canyon. This waterfall area is probably one of the most photogenic parts of the hike, so take your time here and enjoy it. You may get your feet wet, but waterflow rarely hinders access, even during the spring runoff.
Past the waterfalls, you will follow the clever trail for 1-2 hours as it makes its way up the canyon and ascends the west walls of the canyon. Whoever pioneered this trail did a masterful job of finding and working the various shelves and ledge systems to zig-zag up and out of the canyon. While the trail is fairly easy to follow, there are a few sections where you may have to use your hands and do a bit of scrambling, but there is nothing too difficult or exposed. Half a mile from the initial slot section, the trail makes a U-turn as it completely leaves the view of the watercourse and heads south up the hill to make its final ascent. As the terrain slowly flattens out, the official trail begins to fade (and turns into multiple trails of use), but soon enough, you will come to "Top Rock"-- a short and wide hoodooish rock formation that marks the end of the trail. Take a waypoint and remember this spot as it will be crucial for easily finding your way back down upon your return. We don't have to climb up the west walls any more at this point; instead, hike more NNW along the rim to a wonderful slickrock overview that is perfect for a lunch break.
Now it's time to study the map. Lower Water Canyon is mostly north-south, but the open upper sections of Water Canyon are mostly east-west. Our goal is to descend into Upper Water Canyon and cross over it to make our way up to the top of Canaan Mountain. From the little slickrock viewpoint, start hiking roughly NNW through the pleasant tree-speckled hills. You may find yourself in a small drainage; follow it down until your reach the slickrock above Upper Water Canyon. Once the streamcourse is in view, walk the rim to the west until you find an easy way down into the wash. (You should not have to do any major scrambling to get down to the water.) Once in the wash, hike upstream to the west, bypassing any waterfalls or dryfalls by hiking or scrambling around to the north. After about 1/4 a mile of hiking the watercourse, look for a side wash that heads to the northwest and follow it; this is the easiest route out of Water Canyon. Near the top of this side wash, the ground turns to beautiful pure slickrock and you will finally top out at one of Canaan Mountain's more famous landmarks: the White Domes.
You are now on top of Canaan Mountain, a wondrous island in the sky with impressive seas of solid sandstone, hoodoos, moki balls, and sand dunes, as well as great views of Zion National Park's highest formations in the distance. Just north of the White Domes, look for the old jeep road/pack trail and follow it as it heads to the west. The road/trail is fairly level, but it slowly ascends and descends several hills and dunes as it meanders through the beautifully desolate landscape. Roughly 1.5 miles west of the White Domes, the road descends to a section of solid slickrock where the Vermilion Cliffs allow a spectacular peak to the valley 2000-ft below. This spot is known as "The Notch".
Beyond the notch viewpoint, numerous amazing views can be had to the south and also to the north as the shallow drainage above South Creek becomes more visible. Another landmark to look for is the windlass ruins: the remains of an old cableworks system that transported lumber from Canaan Mountain to the valley below (very similar to Zion's Cable Mountain ruins). The ruins are visible from the trail/road, but they could easily be missed if you are not looking for them. If time allows, continue along the road/trail as it begins to head north and then descends to another landmark: Sawmill Spring with the remains of the old sawmill operation. This section of the hike offers great views of Lower Mountain and Zion's West Temple to the north. When you have had your fill, return the way you came and make your way back down to the land of the living.
|Water Canyon and Canaan Mountain Map #1.
Note: While viewing the map, click on the map to return to this page.
|Water Canyon and Canaan Mountain Map #2.
Note: While viewing the map, click on the map to return to this page.
For casual dayhikers, a hike up Water Canyon up the slot section to "top rock" would be a fun little hike. A full day hike can get you to "the notch" and windlass ruins, and if you are a fast hiker and have no navigation problems, you can make it to Sawmill Spring and back in a day. Canaan Mountain is also excellent for backpacking which would allow much more time to explore the vast landscape. Lower Mountain, the valley north of the windlass ruins, and even the mountains south of Upper Water Canyon are all worthy of exploration.
Spring and autumn are probably the best seasons to explore Water Canyon and Canaan Mountain. In summer, Water Canyon is divine, but the top of Canaan Mountain can be brutally hot. Note that since Canaan Mountain is as high as the Kolob Terrace section in Zion (7000+ feet), a lot of snow collects here during the winter and results in some beautiful spring runoff in Upper Water Canyon. That same snow can make hiking the trail/road much more difficult or treacherous. In the drier months, Upper Water Canyon can run dry, but water can be found dripping at Sawmill Spring. Potholes along the rim (most notably at "the notch") can also be good sources of water if there have been recent rains.
Water Canyon to Canaan Mountain is an amazing hike and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to work hard to see some outstanding wilderness scenery. Canaan Mountain is great as a dayhike destination or as a place to go backpacking if you want to explore more thoroughly. Please bring enough water, all of the tools you need for navigation, and keep track of your time so you can make it off the mountain safely.