Canaan Mountain is located in Southern Utah. This is south of Zion National Park but in the same general area. It is a large mountain that forms a 2,000 foot escarpment above the valley. Canaan Mountain is surrounded by steep cliffs on all sides. There are only a few weaknesses in these cliffs that allow routes to the top of the mountain. The plateau is several miles long and covered with buttes, domes, pinnacles, hoodoos, canyons, and washes. This is a scenic and beautiful area that doesn't see as many hikers. The mountain holds historical importance. There is an old stock trail and abandoned cable works that lowered timber down to the valley. They were used years ago and can be seen today on the plateau.
The mountain is made out of sandstone which is typical of the area. The Vermillion Cliffs are part of the colorful walls located on Canaan Mountain. Smithsonian Butte and Gooseberry Mesa form the westernmost formations of the Vermillion Cliffs. The Smithsonian Butte Back Country Byway goes by all of these areas. Canaan Mountain is an incredible wall that rises above the hills and canyons to the east. To the north are spectacular views of Zion National Park, including the East and West Temples, Mount Kinesava, and The Watchman. You can also see the Virgin River Valley and Eagle Crags.
The mountain is located in the Canaan Mountain Wilderness Study Area. It contains 47,120 acres of land. Another wilderness area is Parunuweap Canyon which is located east of Canaan Mountain. They are extensions of the great and vast wilderness that is near Zion National Park. The only difference is that fewer people hike here. The plateau on Canaan Mountain has groves of aspen, ponderosa pines, and juniper with pinyon woodlands. The wilderness is used mainly for ranching and a considerable amount of off road vehicle activity. When I climbed the mountain I saw several ATV riders.
The north side of the mountain is located near the towns of Grafton and Rockville. Grafton is now a historic ghost town and Rockville has a population of less than 250 people. The south side of the mountain is located above the cities of Hildale and Colorado City. The only thing that separates them is the state line near the border of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. Both cities are known for having some of the largest polygamous communities in the United States. Outsiders are not really welcome here. These two towns were formally known as Short Creek which is one of the large tributary canyons located on the south side of Canaan Mountain.
The name of the mountain comes from Canaan in the Bible and is pronounced as Ka'-nan. The descendants of Canaan were known as the Canaanites. This became a general term for all the inhabitants of the land of ancient Israel, and especially to the tribe who traveled west of the Dead Sea. Canaan is an early name for what is often called Israel or Palestine. The area extends along the coast of the eastern Mediterranean. Lebanon lies to the north and Egypt is to the south, and the eastern border is the Jordan River. It is originally derived from Canaan who was the son of Ham and grandson of Noah.
Here are the most popular trailheads for Canaan Mountain. There are several dirt roads in the area around the mountain. I left out the route from Broad Hollow because it is only used by off road vehicles. The routes that are listed below are for hikers.
Water Canyon Trailhead:
Drive on I-15 and take the exit toward the city of Hurricane, Utah. From here, you will want to take the road that goes to Highway 59 East. Drive to the city of Hildale, Utah. From the highway, enter Hildale and find the Bank of Ephaim and drugstore and turn north onto Utah Avenue. Follow the paved road for about 3 miles, looking for the dirt road on the right that goes to Water Canyon. You will drive passed several large houses in the area. The road will soon become wash boarded dirt. There is an intersection a little more than half a mile up the dirt road. Take the road that goes 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 a parking area for the Water Canyon Trail.
Squirrel Canyon Trailhead:
Drive on I-15 and take the exit toward the city of Hurricane, Utah. From here, you will want to take the road that goes to Highway 59 East. Drive to the town of Hildale, Utah. From the highway, enter Hildale and find the Bank of Ephaim and drugstore and turn north onto Utah Avenue. This road goes east for 1.8 miles to a stop sign. Continue straight through the stop sign and the road start to go north. At 2.8 miles there will be two dirt road intersections on the right. Take the second right onto Water Canyon Road. At about 3.5 miles, the intersection of Water Canyon Road and a 4WD road into Short Creek is passed. Continue left and stay on the main road and just a short distance further another intersection appears. Stay right and straight at this intersection and after just a couple hundred yards there is another road taking off to the right. Take this right turn and drive 50 yards to a parking area near a fence.
Eagle Crags Trailhead:
Drive on I-15 and take the exit toward Zion National Park. Drive north of the city of La Verkin and turn onto Highway 9 and drive toward Rockville. In the town of Rockville, turn onto Bridge Road. It goes south, across an old bridge, over the Virgin River. Shortly, the road turns sharply right, but to reach the trailhead, follow the dirt road straight ahead and do not turn right. The road will climb a steep grade as it traverses up to the head of a large bowl. After driving 1.25 miles you will come to a three way intersection. Continue straight through this intersection. Pass the homes on the right on the way to another intersection. Drive left at this intersection. It passes over the wash and the road now climbs up the hillside and to the northeast. At 1.9 miles there is a small pullout on the right. A narrow four-wheel drive road makes a turn around point here. This is the parking lot for the Eagle Crags Trail. The road may be impassible when it is wet or when it is covered in snow.
There are three main routes that go to the top of the Canaan Mountain plateau. Water Canyon and Squirrel Canyon are located on the south side of the mountain. Eagle Crags is located on the northwest side.
The route up Water Canyon goes along side a narrow slot surrounded by cliffs. The canyon is full of water especially during spring runoff. Then there are switchbacks that lead up the slickrock mountainside. After that, the trail reaches the rim of the canyon. Then you must route find your way through a wash that goes up toward the White Domes. This is located on top of the huge plateau on Canaan Mountain. Once on the plateau, a sandy trail can be followed. This goes near the Black Rocks. Another interesting feature is The Notch which forms a deep cleft in the slickrock overlooking the valley. From there you can hike to the old cable works known as Windlass. The highpoint of the mountain is located farther northwest at Point 7,363. Water Canyon can also be combined with other routes such as Squirrel Canyon as a nice loop hike. A good backpacking option goes up Water Canyon and then down toward Eagle Crags on the other side of the mountain.
Distance is 9 miles to the summit with 3,000 feet elevation gain.
Squirrel Canyon is located east of Water Canyon. The route follows a heavily used ATV trail much of the way which some people may not like as much as the more pristine Water Canyon. The canyon provides an easier route up Canaan Mountain. The sandstone walls and rock formations are still very scenic. The route follows a road and a fenceline through pinyon and juniper forests before descending to cross the watercourse of Short Canyon. It then wanders up through the bottom of this broad canyon, alternating between groves of cottonwood and sandy shrub fields. The conical shaped dome east of the canyon is named The Beehive which seems appropriate in the state of Utah. The route climbs steeply up rocky sandstone ledges to a ridge that is located on top of two drainages. As you hike higher in the canyon the trail starts heading northwest. The route up Squirrel Canyon meets up with route up Water Canyon near the White Domes on the plateau.
Distance is 9.5 miles to the summit with 3,000 feet elevation gain.
Eagle Crags Trail
The Eagle Crags are jagged sandstone spires located northwest of Canaan Mountain. They can be seen while driving to the south entrance of Zion National Park. The most well known Eagle Crag spire is Mrs. Butterworth which does resemble its namesake. The trail is moderately strenuous and in good condition for the first couple miles. It winds its way up through a juniper and pinion forest. There are spectacular views of Zion from here. The trail becomes steeper as it switchbacks up and to the south to the eastern tip of the Eagle Crags. It goes to the top of a ridge that overlooks Lower Mountain and farther beyond to the south is Canaan Mountain. This is where the maintained trail ends and where most day hikers turn around. Adventurous hikers can continue on an old stock trail that requires good route finding skills to navigate to the top of the plateau on Canaan Mountain.
Distance is 10 miles to the summit with 4,000 feet elevation gain.
Other Route Options
Here are a few more route options for those of you who would like to do a loop hike or backpacking trip. SP member Tanya has a Zion National Park website with information for other routes on Canaan Mountain. I provided a link to her pages.
Squirrel Canyon to Water Canyon Loop
This route goes through two scenic canyons located on the south side of Canaan Mountain. The loop can be done either way. You have an opportunity to visit the top of Water Canyon Arch while you are there. The arch is located on the edge of a cliff over looking the canyon. Squirrel Canyon has a trail through it. The descent down Water Canyon requires route finding to find the correct way down to the switchbacks of the canyon. This route is usually done as a day hike.
Distance for the loop is 11 miles round trip with 3,000 feet elevation gain.
Water Canyon to Eagle Crags Thru-Hike
This is the premiere long day hike or backpacking route on Canaan Mountain. It traverses along much of the plateau from the south to the north end of the mountain. You will need two vehicles for this route. This is why this route isn’t done very often. There are several places to camp on the plateau. Somewhere is the vicinity of Sawmill Springs is good for an overnight stay. The descent down to Lower Mountain and the Eagle Crags requires good route finding skills. You won’t see very many people on this route.
Distance is 14 miles from Water Canyon to Eagle Crags with 3,200 feet gain and 4,000 feet loss.
When to Climb
The best time to hike Canaan Mountain is in the spring or fall seasons. This is September through November and March through May.
The mountain can also be climbed in winter depending on conditions. After a winter storm there will be snow on the mountain which may make things more difficult and hazardous. In spring, expect a lot more water in the canyon. This is probably the most beautiful time of the year because several small waterfalls can be seen running down the slickrock. In fall, there is less water but it is still very nice.
Summer is usually too hot for most people to climb the mountain. You'll be out in the open once you are on the plateau so bring protective clothing and sunscreen if you are in the area during this time. A day hike into Water Canyon can be done at any time of the year since much of it is in the shade.
All routes that go to the top of the plateau will take most of a day for the average person. I started hiking in the morning and got back to the trailhead as the sun was setting in Water Canyon. My hiking speed is average at best so you should have no problem climbing the mountain in one day. To traverse the entire mountain is better done as a backpacking trip.
WATER: I suggest carrying all water with you on the hike. There is water available in Water Canyon during winter and spring from runoff of melting snow. Conditions are usually much drier during summer and fall. Once you leave Water Canyon, there are no permanent water sources on the plateau that I am aware of.
Canaan Mountain is administered by the BLM. It is located in a wilderness study area.
No fees or permits are needed to hike to Canaan Mountain.
Off road vehicle use is prohibited in a wilderness study area. Keep this in mind when you see some of the vehicles driving around on top of the plateau. Fires are not allowed in this area. Water is limited on the plateau at Sawmill Spring or potholes after it rains but it is advised that you carry it all with you.
The Saint George BLM Field Office is located at 345 East Riverside Drive in Saint George, Utah 84720. Phone: 435-688-3200.
Campgrounds in Zion National Park include South and Watchman
BLM regulations say that you can camp anywhere as long as you are 200 feet from any road, water source, or trail. The Water Canyon Trailhead has primitive camping in the area.
There are other side roads where you could also find campsites in the area at the southern end of Canaan Mountain. The Eagle Crags Trailhead had some campsites nearby if you are using that trail.
The nearest city is Hilldale on the south side of Canaan Mountain. There are few amenities in this city and there are no motels or accommodations here. The best place to stay at is in the city of Hurricane or other cities farther north.
Smithsonian Butte Back Country Byway
This scenic dirt road has great views of the area around Zion National Park. It can be used to drive between Water Canyon and Eagle Crags Trailheads.
History of Canaan
Here is the Wikipedia page that describes the history of Canaan in the Bible.