Water Canyon: To Top Rock

A technical hike up a gorgeous slot canyon, complete with a waterfall and rock scrambling.

Hiking Extreme

Distance
4.9 km
Ascent
465 m
Descent
465 m
Duration
1-2 hrs
Low Point
1.6 km
High Point
2 km
Gradient
15˚
Water Canyon: To Top Rock Map

Sure, "Water Canyon" is a vanilla-sounding name that was undoubtedly assigned to this narrow slot canyon by a person who possessed no sense of poetry. Thankfully, the phenomenal beauty of this slot canyon is anything but vanilla!

Description

If this beautiful canyon hike was situated in nearby Zion National Park, it would undoubtedly be mobbed by thousands of people per day. But tucked away here on the southern side of the Canaan Mountain Wilderness, it's high inconvenient for the hordes of national park tourists to access this area. This relative isolation can pay off massively if you choose to hike this canyon.

The hike begins at a small trailhead at the end of a dirt road just north of Colorado City—home to the largest polygamous community in the USA. The trail begins immediately from the small trailhead, rolling along a sandy track as it slowly begins ascending into the canyon.

Many online sources list the hike in Water Canyon up to the waterfall as "easy," and while it might not be exceedingly difficult, I think most of the people rating this as "easy" haven't actually gone and hiked Water Canyon for themselves. Sure, this trail is relatively easy aerobically (although it still gains a few hundred vertical feet), but the sandy trail tread quickly gets rocky and rough. Loose, sliding rocks and a few steep, chunky pitches can make for challenging footing for the uninitiated. Despite some reports that might encourage this, Water Canyon isn't a great picnicking spot for the whole family... especially if you're trying to push a stroller up the trail while simultaneously lugging bags filled with groceries (true story).

Beyond the trailhead, it doesn't appear that any trail maintenance has been done in Water Canyon anytime recently, and there are no trail markers to follow. In many places, you'll have to choose between several branching trail options. All of these routes come back together, but if you pick the wrong option, you could find yourself sliding down into a steep washout and having to scramble back out.

The eventual destination is worth all the effort required to reach it, though! The small waterfalls in the depths of this stunning red rock canyon provide a cool respite from the harsh sunlight in the lower reaches. This is the perfect spot to stop for a snack and enjoy the stunning beauty of Southern Utah!

But the adventure isn't over yet. The route shown here climbs up above the waterfall and heads for Top Rock, a high point situated on the rim high above the canyon below.

The moment you try to pass the falls, the technical difficulty of this route ratchets up to "Extreme." You'll have to use both of your hands to scramble up steep rock pitches. A narrow rock ledge provides passage above the waterfall, ascending the left side of the canyon. This ledge is dramatically exposed—if you slip and fall off on the upper pitches, you face certain death.

However, after ascending the rock ledge, you'll reach a breather point where the climb levels out on a small landing. Take a break here, as the climb continues in earnest.

The next pitch ascends a steep ridge covered in scrub brush. There are several route options here, a couple of which are eroded and very steep. The best route is non-obvious, and exactly which you prefer—to climb an eroded gully or scramble along an exposed cliffside—depends on the person. Eventually, you'll top out on another landing, with beautiful views of the rocky mountains high above the canyon.

The climb isn't over yet. A series of exposed switchbacks ascend steeply up the canyon wall, making for the upper rim of the canyon and a stupendous view from the also vanilla-named "Top Rock." If you make it all the way to the top, congratulations: this is a climb that few complete!

Note that there's no easy way to loop this trail (at least as a day hike). You'll have to descend the same way that you came up. Bear in mind that descending technical terrain is often more difficult and dangerous than climbing, so take care with your footing on the return trip.

Difficulty

Extreme

Scrambling up mountains and along technical trails with moderate fall exposure. Handholds are necessary to navigate the trail in its entirety, although they are not necessary at all times. Some obstacles can be very large and difficult to navigate, and the grades can often be near-vertical. The challenge of the trail and the steepness of the grade results in very strenuous hiking. Hikes of this difficulty blur the lines between "hiking" and "climbing".

Extreme Exposure

4 out of 4

Some trail sections are extremely exposed where falling will almost certainly result in serious injury or death.

Remoteness

3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December

Features

  • Picturesque
  • Water features

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area