Wahweap Creek is a major tributary of Lake Powell, flowing all the way from Canaan Mountain into Wahweap Bay of the reservoir. The word Wahweap means alkaline seeps in Piute; early settlers also called it Sentinel Rock Creek.
Of interest to the hikers is a 5-mile section of the creek usptream of Nipple Creek Canyon, which is the home of the world-famous white hoodoos / towers / toadstools. They are remnants of erosion of Entrada sandstone, capped and protected from the elements by brown stone of Dakota formation.
The white sandstone layer becomes more and more prone to erosion with every hundred yards upstream. Therefore, the most robust towers abound near the South end of the hoodoo area, and the most slender, ethereal ones to the North.
The hoodoos are accessed by hiking in the meandering creek bed. There may be more or fewer spots of flowing water, depending on the season, with salt crystals gracing the ground in between, and with abundant sticky mud in places - please watch your steps!
Hike to Wahweap Hoodoos
Walk the creekbed North (upstream) past the mouth of Nipple Creek. Pass BLM vehicle fence in quarter mile. Approximately two miles into the hike, there is a confluence with White Sands Wash coming from the West. Depending on the recent floods history, this wash may look like the main drainage, even though its valley is more narrow. Do not be fooled! If in doubt, locate a prominent rocky escarpment on the East side of Wahweap Creek in a half-mile ahead. It has unmistakeable brown Dakota stone cap, and it is starting to break into tentative hoodoos. This brown-capped cliffside marks the way.
About three miles into the hike a traveller with keen eyes may spot the first real hoodoos on the West side of the Wash. Do not be tempted to shorcut there, trampling the fragile desert vegetation. The next bend of Wawheap Creek will bring you right to the base of these formations of Riverside Cove. While exploring it, please stay on the main footpath and avoid disturbing the cryptobiotic soil downslope from the hoodoos.
The remaining two hoodoo coves are not abutting the creekbed. These formations group around two minor right tributaries of Wahweap Creek. To reach them, follow the footpath in the tamarisks right next to the cliff base.
The Central Cove contains numerous hoodoos and flows on its South bank, and one big toadstool on its North side. There is abundant perennial vegetation in the wash and almost no cryptobiotic soil to worry about, but the white sandstone is getting softer and hikers should avoid trampling on it.
The North Cove is in another quarter of a mile around the corner of sandstone cliff. The formations there are the most-photographed, and also the most fragile. Luckily the nearly 5 mile one-way distance of a hike keeps the crowds away!
The official BLM TH is located at the confluence of Nipple Creek with Wahweap Creek, about 3 miles North from the town of Big Water, UT.
From US 89 between Kanab and Page, turn North to Ethan Allen Drive at about milepost 7.3, across the road from the Visitor Center. Keep left in the end of town, and left again to bypass Wahweap Fish Hatchery Ponds. The road crosses Wahweap Creek half mile short of the TH sign; if the ford conditions are not appropriate for your vehicle, you can as well park before the ford and walk up the creekbed.
There is no trailhead parking, just sagebrush and sand. If you miss the sign and keep going, the road will drop into the creekbed of Nipple Creek in another quarter mile. In dry conditions it is also possible to park in the creekbed there.
The alternative trailhead used to be available upcanyon from the Hoodoos, in approximately 10 miles down BLM road 431 (which is a right (NE) fork off Cottonwood Canyon Road in just over a mile from US 89). But people used to take their vehicles into the creek from there, which is illegal, and BLM is taking steps to prevent any access from that direction.
In dry season, it is also possible to get to the general area of Big Water from scenic Hwy 12 from Cannonville, UT, by following the unpaved section of Cottonwood Canyon Road for nearly 40 miles past Kodachrome Basin State Park. This beautiful road is well graded but its clay soils turn into a jeep trap after rains. An often-told story mentions a fellow who walked out from his stuck vehicle in his socks, after his shoes got stuck in the muck too.
Off-road travel is strictly prohibited