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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Hiking Kanarra Creek Canyon to Kanarra Falls

Hiking Kanarra Creek Canyon to Kanarra Falls near Zion National Park is awesome. The red sandstone canyon is gorgeous. The creek runs year-round. Two 10 to 15-foot waterfalls provide a fun challenge to the hiker and are beautiful photo ops.
Kanarra Falls in Kanarra Creek Canyon with ladder and ropes as of November 2013

Entering a slot canyon for the first time takes your breath away. The rich striking colors, dramatic textures, and marvelous light bouncing and reflecting off towering stone walls of the slot canyons of Utah and Arizona are stunning, fascinating and compelling. They can be mesmerizing to a photographer.
Kanarra Creek Slot Canyon

While many slot canyons require some technical equipment and skill in climbing and canyoneering, the hike to Kanarra Falls, on BLM land near the little town of Kanarraville, Utah, is relatively easy by comparison and the canyon is both dramatic and extraordinarily photogenic. So when we saw an eye-catching photo of Kanarra Falls by David J. West and realized we were very close to this canyon, Randy said “let’s check it out,” and I jumped at the chance.

Formed by water erosion over millions of years, usually in sandstone or limestone, slot canyons are known for being extraordinarily narrow and deep. Sometimes they are barely more than a foot wide. They can be 300 feet deep. Their tall rock walls come in all the colors of sandstone from deep reds and oranges through pinks and even purple.

Reflected light makes the red sandstone almost luminous

This particular hike was about 3 miles round trip to the first waterfall, or one could extend the hike another mile round trip to the second waterfall. The hike starts out on a dirt road at the end of which the canyon narrows fairly quickly. From there the trail is not maintained. It consists of paths where people have scrambled up the banks of the creek, over boulders and fallen trees, through brush, and back and forth across the creek. 

Kanarra Creek below the slot canyon section

Winter was getting ready to close in when we hiked to the first waterfall in mid-November, wearing neoprene booties to insulate our feet - which nevertheless became numb from the cold after walking and standing in icy water for a couple of hours. We followed the path of Kanarra Creek, walking in the creek itself much of the time, and along the trails on both sides. I think there was a trail higher up on the hillside that would have been much drier, but we didn’t want to miss seeing any of the canyon or stream bed. 

Setting up for a photo in Kanarra Creek Canyon

A few hundred yards after entering the slot portion of the canyon, we could hear the sound of Kanarra Falls, and then rounded a couple of bends with the towering red sandstone walls above us, to see the waterfall. 

Hiking in the slot portion of Kanarra Creek Canyon

The log “ladder” that guides had warned “may or may not be present” was not only present, but much improved from photos we had seen - though it was not quite as photogenic as the more makeshift ladder of earlier years, with crooked wood pieces nailed onto the log. Who knows what the ladder will look like after another season and a few flash floods! We were too cold, and it was too late in the day, to climb the ladder and go on, so we did not see the second waterfall on this first trip.

A ladder at Kanarra Falls helps the hiker continue upstream

National Geographic’s AllTrails Journal names Kanarra Creek and Kanarra Falls one of the five best slot canyon hikes in southern Utah. One Zion National Park site rightly calls it the "perfect stop for the amateur looking for professional photo opportunities." Some commentators have called this hike a fun and easy family hike, great for kids. Several call it moderate. Canyoneering USA calls it "mild to moderate." The website calls it a “semi-technical canyoneering adventure.” Photographer Joe Braun calls it “fairly strenuous.” 

If you try this hike, you should be in fairly good shape, and definitely expect to get wet. You cannot see the slot portion of the canyon or the waterfalls without walking in the creek. Read a few accounts of the hike online so you have an idea what to expect and what to wear. By all means check the weather and be aware of flash flood danger. Do not hike in the canyon if there is rain anywhere in the forecast!

A few good websites with more information and some great photos are:
Canyoneering USA: Kanarra Creek
Zion-National Park Kanarra Creek
Utah Trails: Kanarra Creek Canyon
National Geographic AllTrails Journal: Five Best Hikes in Slot Canyons - SW Utah