Canaan Mountain to Eagle Crags Backpack
This route offers an adventure, unsurpassed for even the most seasoned backcountry traveler. This hike offers a glimpse into the depths of a narrow slot canyon and then traverses massive slickrock bowl scrambles. Hikers will find themselves path-finding through ponderosa dotted dunes, bushwhacking sagebrush valleys, land-marked with unusual domes and hoodoos. The hike ends at a faint and historic Cattle Stock Trail that is an adventure in itself. You will find yourself totally absorbed in this entire journey as some of the most magnificent vistas that anyone could imagine unfold! You will visit remnants of an old logging operation that lowered timber from the top of Canaan Mountain via an elaborate guiding cable to the valley to the south. This can be seen in the form of an old wooden windlass and steel cables, reminiscent of the cable works atop Cable Mountain in adjacent Zion National Park. Even though this BLM designated wilderness area of over 47,000 acres remains pristine, old stock management roads remain and "outlaws" periodically trespass riding ATV's and OHV's. Chances of encountering these trespassers are somewhat remote, but may occur once topping out from Water Canyon until Sawmill Springs. Don't be fooled by the mileage on this hike and attempt to do the whole thing in one day. Day hikers are usually content with visiting the windlass then backtracking to the trailhead. With 3200' of climbing and 4000' of total descent advanced route finding skills are a must.
At a Glance
Trailhead - Hildale, Arizona is located just off AZ Highway 389 between Hurricane, Utah and Fredonia, Arizona. From the highway, enter Hildale using Utah Avenue. Follow the paved road for about 3-miles, looking for the dirt road on the right that leads to Water Canyon. If you see Hildale's city park then you have missed the road to Water Canyon. There is an intersection a little more than a half-mile up the dirt road. Stay left at the intersection. There is a small reservoir about 2 miles up the road. Continue to the end of the road where there is an unsigned parking area for the Water Canyon Trail.
Water Canyon to the Windlass - The hike begins by skirting on the west side of Water Canyon and gradually ascending through the junipers on a well traveled trail. After a mile or so the walls begin to enclose and by looking right, to the top of the large sandstone mountain, a large arch becomes apparent. Further north the canyon encloses more and soon it will be necessary to actually travel in the waterway and up a stepped waterfall. The trail once again scales above the waterway and contours above the ever restricting slot canyon watercourse. The slot canyon below has become a popular destination of canyoneers on guided trips. Now the trail will begin its ascent steeper and steeper as it leaves the canyon bottom, and directs farther north, before it ascends to the rim above Water Canyon. After several switchbacks, the trail arrives at "top rock". From here the views to the east and north show the slickrock fields and watershed that fills the canyon below and has carved the narrow passageway through the soft sandstone.
The trail from this point becomes a bit less obvious as it travels northwest through the forest and begins descending into the wash below. Once in the wash, the trail evaporates and travel is done by following the wash upstream for about .25 mile. Another wash enters from the north (right). Turn right into this wash and you should find that travel is quite easy. After about .5 mile in this wash, begin ascending the slab slickrock on the right. It will be reasonably easy travel up the slickrock in a generally northwest direction toward the white domes and white hoodoos at the top of Canaan Mountain. Just on top at the white domes and just behind, a road appears. The route now follows the road to the west through the "ponderosa dunes" and periodically skirts the slickrock rim. Vistas unfold both north towards Zion National Park and south to the Canaan Mountain ridges and valleys.
The "Notch" - Traveling west, just 2 miles past the white domes, a prominent gap at the rims edge affords a view of Canaan Ranch and the valley to the south.
Windlass - Just a short distance, west, beyond this are the remnants of the cable system that was used to lower timber to the valley below. While these landmarks are of true interest, be sure to soak in the views of Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks and the White Cliffs that rim the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Day hikers will want to turn around at this point, returning the same way you came.
Canaan Mountain Traverse from Water Canyon to Eagle Crags
Sawmill Springs - By following the road to the northwest for another 1.4 miles, Sawmill Springs, nestled in a pine and aspen grove, is found roughly halfway through the trip. Even though the water seeps down the Sawmill Springs Wash to the north, it can not be counted on as a reliable water source. This area provides ample space in the thick-forested area for camping and may be the only source of water available during the hike since leaving Water Canyon.
Day Two - Be sure to leave your camp CLEAN. Fires are not allowed in this wilderness study area.
Lower Mountain - Follow Sawmill Springs Wash to the north and downhill toward Lower Mountain. There will be several slickrock bowls to navigate and dryfalls to skirt but nothing very difficult as travel continues north in the wash. The bowls that lead to the lower plateau afford views that are absolutely stunning. This area is untouched by ATV's and absolutely pristine. After 1.3 miles in the wash, it will be necessary to ascend to the northwest out of the wash and pass to the south of the rock out cropping of Lower Mountain. Do not follow the wash to its end. Once on top of the plateau continue northwest and soon the trail descends into a large basin/drainage. Look due north across the drainage to another rock outcropping of Lower Mountain and on the furthest right side is a red dome.
This dome becomes the landmark to locate the Stock Trail, which descends from atop the plateau. Continue travel out of the basin toward the red dome and once almost at the right base of the dome notice a the cairn (pile of rocks).
Stock Trail - First of all understand that no modern-day cow is going up or down this trail even though it was made, long ago, to move cattle from Springdale to the mountain. How they did this seems impossible when looking at what's left of the trail. Its rugged and steep! The trail begins with a very steep descent through the cliffband in a slot. Look for the "needle hoodoo" several hundred feet below and in front as the descent begins. This hoodoo below, which stands 60 meters high, lets you know that you are on course.
The trail will skirt along ledges in the cliffband as it switchbacks and then eventually begins tight switchbacks down the ridge. Keep your eyes peeled for cairns, as the trail is old and not well beaten. After multiple switchbacks the trail dissolves and it will be necessary to begin travel in a northerly direction. There are cairns that mark the route as it makes its way to the Eagle Crags. For the next 1.3 miles there isn't a formal trail but cairns mark the path as 10-12 drainage's are walked through, bypassed or contoured. The going is somewhat tedious and difficult, but knowing that the 2.5 mile long Eagle Crags Trail is soon to be achieved becomes the light at the end of the short tunnel.
Once at the base of "Aunt Jemima" at the Eagle Crags, the trail is wonderful and very easy to follow back to the awaiting vehicle. After 14 miles of hiking and 3200' of climbing and 4000' of descending, this trail will be one not soon forgotten. This route showcases wondrous topography and beauty beyond imagination!
Hildale, Utah - Hildale is located on Arizona Highway 389 between Fredonia, Arizona and Hurricane, Utah. Hildale is a polygamist settlement at the southern base of Canaan Mountain that encompass the small towns of Colorado City, Arizona and Hildale, Utah. The two towns are really one community, but the state line runs through them, dividing them. The population is just under 2000. map
Rockville, Utah - Rockville is located on the south side of Zion National Park. This is a small community of less than 250 people.
Smithsonian Butte Highway - The unpaved Smithsonian Butte National Back Country Byway runs from Rockville, located on the south side of Zion National Park, for 9 miles. It comes out 8 miles northwest of Hildale (east of Hurricane) at Utah Highway 59 (AZ Highway 389). This scenic drive has great views of Canaan Mountain, the Vermillion Cliffs and Zion National Park. The road was named by John Wesley Powell. map photos
Canaan Mountain Shuttle Set-up - If you are hiking from Hildale to Rockville, station two vehicles, if you are doing a day hike to the windlass and hiking back out the way you came ignore this paragraph and park at Hildale (Water Canyon). Begin by stationing one vehicle (4WD or high clearance) at the Eagle Crags Trailhead located in Rockville which is on the south side of Zion National Park. Once in Rockville, turn south on Bridge Road, and cross the single vehicle bridge crossing the Virgin River. The road turns abruptly right after approximately 200 yards from the bridge. Do not follow the paved road right. Rather, continue straight on the paved road. Do not enter the dirt private drive just to the right and paralleling the paved road straight ahead. The road to Eagle Crags soon begins climbing and turns to dirt and gravel. It is somewhat unmaintained and will climb steeply as it skirts the large bowl drainage on drivers left. Once atop the bowl the road will come to a road intersection. Continue straight and bypass first a road to the right and then a road bearing left. Soon a structure and trailer is passed on drivers left and the road veers right and up a steep rocky section. Another intersection is encountered. Steer left and cross a small wash. The road will soon pass over a cattle guard and continue climbing northerly as it winds up the hill. There is an obscure parking area at the top of the hill, on the right, amongst the trees. This is the trailhead for the Eagle Crags Trail and the trailend for Canaan Mountain.
Next: Drive your second vehicle back down to the intersection of the paved roads just south of the bridge. Turn left on the paved road headed toward Grafton Ghost Town. This road will pass several residences and climb a hill, going left, then drops back down. There will be an intersection with a prominent dirt road turning left off the paved road before arriving at Grafton. This is the Historic Smithsonian Butte Backway . This road will travel south around Smithsonian Butte and after about 8 miles joins Highway 59 at Big Plain Junction. Turn left on Highway 59 headed toward Colorado City. Drive for about 8 miles. Once in Hildale, Utah at the Mark Twain Restaurant, turn left. Follow the paved road for about 3 miles, past businesses and residences and look for the dirt road on the right to Short Creek and Water Canyon. This road again is best suited for 4WD and high clearance vehicles. If you arrived at a city park then you've missed the turn to Short Creek, Squirrel Canyon and Water Canyon. After a little more than .5 miles of travel up this dirt road another intersection appears. Stay left at this intersection to get to the Water Canyon Trailhead. A small reservoir will appear after almost 2 miles on the dirt road. This is the parking area for Water Canyon.
GPS Coordinates WGS84 Datum
Parking in Water Canyon
Stair-step Waterfall in Water Canyon 37°02.977 N
Top Rock (Canaan Mountain):
White Domes (Hoodoos)
Exit Sawmill Spring Wash to the north: 37°05.260 N
Stock Trail Exit Down:
Join Eagle Crags Footpath:
Parking for Eagle Crags TH:
Freestanding Arches in Zion National Park
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
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"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