Buckwater Draw-South Fork


The South Fork of Buckwater Draw is a fantastic technical slot canyon in NW Colorado. The entire drainage is known as Lower Buckwater Draw, the South Fork Magic Chamber is the name of the slot section within the drainage. Slot canyons are canyons that are narrower than they are deep. This canyon is so narrow; you are able to touch both sides with your hands in several sections. Utah and Arizona are well known for slot canyons, but Colorado's slot canyons remain a secret and are very seldom visited. Those who climb only mountains are missing out. This slot canyon is a nice change of pace from the normal climbs of the 14'ers in Colorado. This canyon is very similar to those found in the Escalante or Robbers Roost areas of Utah. This slot canyon is in a very pristine area and until now has not been in any guidebook or website, so please do your part to keep the canyon pristine. Enjoy!

Note: This page describes the South Fork Buckwater Draw. To view the page on the Main Fork click HERE.

Mike Kelsey downclimbing a...Mike Kelsey downclimbing a 5th class pitch in Buckwater Draw-SF.

Getting There

First, you must drive to the town of Dinosaur, which is located on Highway 40 just east of the UT-CO border. From Dinosaur, drive east a short distance to the Visitor Center for Dinosaur National Monument. From the visitor center, drive north on the Harpers Corner Road to the Plug Hat Picnic Area, which is located 4.2 miles from the visitor center.

2nd downclimb. Mike Kelsey...2nd downclimb.

Routes Overview

Several route possibilities are available. All routes require competency of at least 5.7 climbing.

To just do the South Fork from Plug Hat Rock, see the South Fork route page. Breifly put (the route page has more details): From the trailhead, the route follows the rim of Bull Canyon and circles around to the ridge between Lower Buckwater and Bull Canyon, and out to the point near the 6800 foot countour. Once near the end of the point, the rotue scrambles down to the canyon bottom. The canyon slots up shortly and there are many cool downclimbs of up to 5.7 in difficulty. There are a two raps off overhanging chockstones. The canyon gets better and better as you head down canyon, and is a real gem of a slot. You will reach the last rap near the confluence with the main fork of Buckwater. The rap is 30 feet, and this is the highest rap in the canyon, so it can be done with a 60 foot rope. The route heads down canyon. At the first convenient route, climb out of the canyon on the south side. The route heads up to the rim (very steep!) and then head cross country up to the point near the 6800 foot contour where you dropped into the canyon. Expect the route to take 4-6 hours.

If your up to it and still want more you can do both forks of Buckwater in one shot. See the Grand Tour of Buckwater route page for more details.


If time is limited, I feel that the South Fork is the better of the two canyons (Main and South). Here is the recommendation for a quicker look at the best parts of the two Buckwater Draws: Park at Plug Hat Rock. Complete the South Fork to the confluence of the Main Fork. Go up the Main Fork and see the Magic Chamber and the falls. Hike back to the confluence and go down Buckwater to the exit on the South Side. Climb out and back to Plug Hat. You will see the best sections of both canyons (both the Main and South Fork). Unfortuantely, you will also miss the really nice rappel into the Magic Chamber, which is also worth doing if you have the time.

The best sections of the canyon system are as follows:

The South Fork Slot, the Magic Chamber, the deep section of the canyon after the confluence of the two forks, and the rap into the Magic Chamber.

Slot section. Mike Kelsey...Slot section.

Clean Canyoneering Ethics

The canyons in this area are very pristine. Bolts are not needed to descend this canyon, and would detract from the incredibly pristine setting of this slot canyon. We saw no signs of previous descent in October 2003. Please keep it that way. There are plenty of chockstones to wrap slings around for anchors. It would be best to use a retrievable sling system, but if you don't have any experience with this, leave the sling behind at every drop. Try to leave as little behind as possible. This slot is not for beginners; canyoneering techniques must be practiced before going on this trip.

Last rap. Mike Kelsey photo.Last rap.

Red Tape

There are no permits required.

When To Climb

The Echo Park road opens in late April in most years. The best times to do this trip are late April, May, early June, September, and October. The trip can be done in summer, but can be very hot. Take lots of water. DO NOT ENTER THIS SLOT CANYON WHEN THERE IS A CHANCE OF RAIN. Flash floods can make slot canyons deadly.

Pool of water in the slot....Pool of water in the slot.

Equipment Needed

Several slings (bring 60 feet minimum), 6-10 rapid links or rappel rings, one 20 meter (60 foot) rope, and a climbing harness. There may be short wades in the slot, but probably never any swimming, so go prepared for that.

Downclimbing. Mike Kelsey...Many drops can be downclimbed without a rope.


There is a campground at Echo Park in Dinosaur National Monument. There are other campgrounds located to the west and near the Dinosaur Quarry Visitor Center. For more information call the park headquarters at 801-789-2115. There are also informal campsites on BLM land along Hwy 40.

Mountain Conditions

For weather conditions and road conditions on the Harpers Corner Road call the Dinosaur National Monument Headquarters at 801-789-2115 or the BLM White River Field Office in Meeker at 970-878-3601, or see the website BLM.


Weather and climate data for the Dinosaur Quarry is below. *National Weather Service Data 1958-2004.




Children refers to the set of objects that logically fall under a given object. For example, the Aconcagua mountain page is a child of the 'Aconcagua Group' and the 'Seven Summits.' The Aconcagua mountain itself has many routes, photos, and trip reports as children.