Water Canyon is one of the few routes that cuts through the 2,000 foot cliffs of Canaan Mountain. The route goes up the canyon along the side of a narrow slot. Then there are several switchbacks that lead up the 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 Canaan Mountain plateau that is several miles long.
Once on the plateau, a sandy trail can be followed, for much of the way. 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 that requires a car shuttle goes up Water Canyon and then goes down toward Eagle Crags on the other side of the mountain.
Drive on I-15 and take the exit toward the city of Hurricane, Utah. From here, you will want to take the exit onto Highway 59 East. Drive toward 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 is signed for Water Canyon. Turn here and drive pass several large houses in the area. The road will soon become wash boarded dirt which may be impassable when it is wet. 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 dirt parking area for the Water Canyon trailhead.
Water Canyon: From the parking area, start hiking along the trail that follows the creek. Water Canyon will be directly ahead of you. Be sure to look on the right side of the canyon near the rim for Water Canyon Arch. There is a good trail that goes toward the entrance of the canyon as the walls start closing in. There will be running water along the bottom of the canyon. A nice waterfall is located here which makes the rock a little slippery. There is a dryfall located behind it. Go around it on the left side. The route in the canyon follows a narrow slot on the right side. Farther ahead is another dryfall. You can scramble up the left side near the wall of the canyon to get around it. Once above this, you will be following the left side of Water Canyon for the rest of the route up to the rim.
MoapaPk has added the following information: After a short distance up Water Canyon, you will descend to the stream bottom and pass a bit of water. At this point there is a trail on the left, up some rocks; the dirt from hikers' boots should be pretty obvious. This trail will climb the left (west side); you should follow this trail all the way up past 6500' to the top of the ridge to the west, never descending into the deep slot canyon at right (east).
Unfortunately, there is a branch in the trail, near 6500', that descends all the way down to the stream at 5900'. When I made my trip, this branch was actually more obvious than the spur to the ridgetop. The real trail switchbacks at this pseudo-junction and continues up west to "top rock". Take note that the actual trail is easy to follow in normal conditions. In spring, expect to see a lot of water and snow in the canyon which may make navigation more difficult.
Top of Water Canyon: The route goes near several red and orange slickrock formations. The trail will go toward the head the of the slot canyon. This is a technical slot that is used by guided canyoneering groups. In fact, there was a group descending the canyon when I was there. They were the only people I saw in the whole canyon. The trail begins to follow switch backs up the mountainside on the left looking up canyon. This trail is in good condition by Zion standards. If something looks very difficult you are probably off route so search around for the easiest path. Near the top are some rock ledges that you scramble over. The top of Water Canyon is also known as "top rock". You will get a great view of the surrounding area from here. The plateau of the mountain can now be seen above you.
The Wash: There is no trail in this section of the route from the top of the canyon to the plateau. Make a note of where the white domes are located on the plateau. They are easy to spot because everything else is red and orange. You will be using them as a landmark. From the rim start hiking north toward the plateau. Find the easiest route through the trees and bushes down to the wash. You'll lose a little elevation going down to the wash which will be below. Once in the wash start hiking west. The wash is full of sand and there were a few pools of water when I was there. There will be side wash that meets up with the main wash. It goes up the obvious canyon that is south of the White Domes. Turn here and hike north up this wash. Easy hiking in the sand will lead to more slickrock higher up. Hike up slickrock slabs to the plateau near a jeep trail below the White Domes.
White Domes: The White Domes are light colored sandstone formations located on top of the plateau. Some of them are white while others have orange and yellow swirls in them. It reminded me of the Wave and other places I have been to in Escalante. There is also a good view back toward Zion National Park from here. After taking photos, you should see the dirt trail located behind the domes. This is actually an old cattle trail. Although this is a wilderness study area, there are ATV’s and jeeps that still use it. I saw dozens of them on a nice Saturday afternoon. You'll want to follow the trail west. Expect your pace to become slower due to deep sand.
Black Rocks: The Black Rocks are dark sandstone hoodoos and domes that have a burnt appearance to them. I’m not really sure why they look like this but they are kind of neat. They are located west of the White Domes on top of the plateau. The trail goes over slickrock on some sections but this doesn’t keep the ATV’s away. They just drive right over it. Follow their tracks toward the west side of the plateau.
The Notch: The Notch is also known locally as "The Box". You won’t be able to see The Notch until you are close to it. It’s not far from the trail and it is usually very windy near the edge of it. This is a large notch or cleft in the cliffs of Canaan Mountain. This feature can be seen from the valley while driving toward Hilldale. From the notch, you’ll get a good view of Apple Valley which is located below the mountain.
Windlass: The Windlass is an old cable works used to lower timber down to the valley. It is similar to the one on the summit of Cable Mountain in Zion National Park. The only difference is that the one on Canaan Mountain has the wood construction still hanging directly off the cliff. You may not want to stand too close to the edge since the wood is quite old and not very sturdy. There is also some other equipment located nearby with the cables still attached.
Highpoint: The highpoint of Canaan Mountain is located to the northwest of Windlass. You can get there by following the trail that goes north for a little while. This goes toward Sawmill Spring but you will want to leave the trail before that. Hike toward the highest point on the plateau which is 7,363 feet in elevation. If you brought a GPS, it will be helpful in finding the exact location. It is located in an area of domes and buttes near the rim overlooking the valley.
When to Climb
The best time to climb 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.
Hiking up Water Canyon to the summit 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 not fast so there isn't an issue for hiking this mountain in one day.
Day Hiking Gear: Bring basic day hiking essentials. You'll need food and water for a full day of hiking in the sun. For footwear, all you will need are hiking boots since the scrambling is on fairly easy slickrock. Your feet may get a little wet in Water Canyon and your boots will be full of sand when hiking on the plateau. I suggest having good navigational skills and bringing a topomap. A GPS is optional.
Camping Gear: If you choose to camp on the plateau, bring a backpack, tent, and overnight gear. Camp fires are not allowed in this area so bring warm clothes if the temps are still cold. Outside of the winter season, the temperatures can be quite nice until summer. Water is limited on the plateau at Sawmill Springs or potholes after it rains but it is advised that you carry it with you otherwise.
Water Canyon Trailhead: (37° 02' 16.6" N, 112° 57' 15.2" W)
Top of Water Canyon: (37° 03' 07.3" N, 112° 57' 51.2 W)
Wash Junction: (37° 03' 13.8 N, 112° 58' 21.0 W)
White Domes: (37° 03' 47.0" N, 112° 58' 58.0" W)
Black Rocks: (37° 03' 39.7" N, 112° 59' 57.8" W)
The Notch: (37° 03' 37.0" N, 113° 00' 26.0" W)
Windlass: (37° 03' 39.0" N, 113° 00' 54.0" W)
Highpoint: (37° 04' 26.0" N, 113° 02' 18.0" W)
Water Canyon Slot
Water Canyon is used as a route to the top of Canaan Mountain. It is also a nice slot canyon. The slot basically parallels the right side of the hikers route up Water Canyon. The slot is used by guide companies as a good place to take people on their first canyoneering experience. When I climbed Canaan Mountain, there was a group of them from Zion Adventure Company. They were the only people I saw in the canyon.
SP member 2skinners says that they did 3 rappels down the canyon. The amount of rappels depends on where you begin. The group that I met included eight people and they were all wearing wet suits. They started pretty high in the canyon. The guide told me that there were several rappels that required having canyoneering skills and equipment. I watched them rappel into the top of the slot canyon. I was surprised to meet them again later as I was returning down from Canaan Mountain. Here is the GPS waypoint of their Water Canyon descent point: (37° 03' 12.3" N, 112° 57' 49.7" W)