Imagine an impossibly narrow canyon with sinewy curved and twisted wind-swept paths, lit with mysterious shadows and hints of light, that tempt canyoneers to wiggle, slither and climb to its finish. Birch Hollow is such a canyon, yet it's a forgotten gem in the canyoneering world, because it doesn't hold the stigma of being within the Zion National Park boundary. Not only does Birch Hollow offer some of the best canyoneering to be had anywhere, it can be combined with two of Zion's magnificent classic canyons, Orderville Canyon and the Zion Narrows.
At a Glance
Never enter a technical canyon without the knowledge and skills needed to safely explore and return. Rappelling and down-climbing skills are required to navigate through Birch Hollow. Do not jump. Jumping in Zion's canyons have resulting in many broken bones. Many technical canyons, such as Birch Hollow, also require gps skills or excellent map reading skills to navigate.
Leave the park from the east gate and drive 2.4 miles. Turn left at the junction of North Fork Road and SR-9. Drive 5.2 miles up the paved road to the Ponderosa Ranch. Don't drive in, but re-set your odometer and continue on the now dirt North Fork Road (may be impassible when wet). When the odometer hits 3.2 miles you are at Birch Hollow. There is a place to pull over on the left side of the road. The wash on the left is where the hike begins.
Birch Hollow - Drop immediately into the Birch Hollow wash and bushwhack downstream. Follow the somewhat vegetated wash for about twenty minutes, passing remnants of an old ramp of 4X4 timbers. At one time, it was used by quads in the bottom of the hollow. The canyon soon becomes less densely vegetated and travel becomes easier.
Obstacle - The first large obstacle will soon present itself. A large bowl headed with a dry fall (waterfall) which can be negotiated by rappelling on natural tree anchors on the right side or can be bypassed by scrambling up and around and down on the left side. There is loose rock in this section and it might be wiser to down-climb rather than rappel. After completing the first obstacle, continue downstream where there are several short down-climbs. Soon the canyon walls come closer together, revealing a glimpse of the fluted and narrowing sandstone that lies ahead. Before long you will be walking in an open canyon floor.
First Rappel - Just a short distance away is the second large bowl and the first required rappel. This rappel is done from a natural boulder anchor in the middle of the watercourse. A genuine slot canyon lies ahead. The rappel into this bowl is accomplished using the large boulder smack in the middle of the wash, but may also be done from one of the multitudes of anchor opportunities that exist nearby. This rappel is about 50' into a grotto at the bottom of the wash.
Rappels 2-4 - Continuing downstream, the canyon will begin to close in and demonstrate fluted sandstone which will be evident for the rest of the canyon. Next comes a couple of 15' rappels using a chock stone anchor 20' upstream from the drop. Soon after is another 15' rappel using a pinched chock stone anchor. Just a short distance further comes a 25' rappel off a two bolt anchor.
Rappels 5-6 - The canyon widens for a bit and shows an amazing Fir forest on the sloping sides of the canyon where there are possible escapes on the left if needed. After .25 miles of this beautiful landscape, the canyon floor drops out abruptly, and a twisted slot canyon below beckons to canyoneers. A 100' rappel from a tree anchor on the left side will bring you to a bowl below and a short walk through the bowl shows a 2 bolt anchor for another 45' rappel as the canyon becomes deeper and deeper.
Seventh Rappel - Just around the corner comes another 45' rappel leading to the sandy wash below. Another possible escape route becomes evident after this rappel.
Eighth Rappel - Continue downstream to encounter a 7' down-climb and soon the eighth rappel. This is 35' and is done using the bolt anchor on the right. This rappel may be down climbable using the two large logs wedged in the watercourse, but not recommended.
Ninth Rappel - Now near the end of Birch Hollow is the grand finale. The final two rappels are absolutely amazing as the canyon twists and deepens. The ninth rappel of 65' ends in a bowl. Look up to view a large round boulder wedged in the tight canyon above and the light filtered through the twisted, sculpted rock.
Tenth Rappel - The tenth rappel of 40' puts you within a stones throw of the famous "Orderville Canyon".
Exit - Take Orderville Canyon, downstream where it connects with the Zion Narrows. Orderville Canyon is a semi-technical canyon, which means it requires some down-climbing and some possible rappels, though less complicated rappels than those round in Birch Hollow. Never jump in a canyon. Either down-climb or rappel. Follow the Zion Narrows to the Riverside Walk Trail which ends at the Temple of Sinawava in Zion Canyon. Catch the Zion Canyon Shuttle and ride back to your vehicle if shuttles are running, otherwise you should have a vehicle parked here.
Parking at Orderville Canyon Gate
Alternate Birch Hollow Option - Quick Trip exiting at the Orderville Canyon Trailhead
At a Glance
Park 1st Vehicle at Orderville Canyon Trailhead - Park the first vehicle at the Orderville Canyon Trailhead. To get there, pass the Birch Hollow Trailhead and continue another 3 miles on the road to the Orderville Canyon Road on the left. The Orderville Canyon Trailhead turnoff is 6.2 miles past the Ponderosa. (11.4 miles from the turn-off from SR-9). This road can be washed out, slippery and difficult to navigate. Make sure you can get out from where you drive to. Close the gate behind you. Keep in mind that rain will make the dirt road conditions worse. Most 4WDs can make it in about 2-miles, leaving a half-mile to hike to the riverbed where the Orderville Canyon Trail begins. If you don't have two 4WD vehicles, park the shuttle vehicle at the gate before dropping into Orderville Canyon.
Park 2nd Vehicle at Birch Hollow Trailhead - Park the second vehicle at the Birch Hollow Trailhead. See instructions above for driving to Birch Hollow. Begin hiking at the Birch Hollow Trailhead. To exit, hike up Orderville Canyon until a 4WD road becomes evident. Follow the road to your vehicle. Hike Birch Hollow and then to exit located the intersection with Orderville Canyon, turning right or up canyon, until the 4WD road becomes evident. Follow the road to your vehicle.
GPS coordinates are only references and may or may not be accurate. Do not rely on GPS coordinates as the sole method of navigation. Always have an accurate, detailed map at hand and have the proper map reading and navigation skills before setting out on any hike. Many of the hikes listed in this guide travel into canyons where a GPS has limited capabilities. Always check your position with a detailed map before dropping into a canyon.
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Suggested Gear: A sturdy pair of shoes are recommend to hike the trails in Zion National Park. Many quality shoes will help grip the rocks and prevent injury.
Zion National Park, Utah
History of the Thunderbird
This is my new favorite quote:
"I don't know who Tanya Milligan is, but I mean www.zionnational-park.com
It's a better site than the NPS's anyway."
Written by the authors of the book: Favorite Hikes in and around Zion National Park