In my opinion, this is the best way to see the entire Three Canyon. This route accesses the canyon from the head of the canyon and exits the Sneak Route. There are some shallow narrows before reaching a 100 foot rappel, the only technical obstacle in the canyon itself. Below that, there are only minor obstacles including one short and non-exposed class 3 ten foot drop and a short section very minor bushwhacking.
The Sneak Route is used to exit Lower Three Canyon. The route is rated 5.6 and has a few antique bolts along it. If you are using this as an exit route and you don't want to free solo the 5.6 climb, you can fix a rope, handline, or aider at the crux of the route before you climb up it. This is a very fun route, but has some exposure.
The bottom of the rappel in Three Canyon.
Getting ThereSneak Route Trailhead
From the main drag in Green River Utah, located Broadway near Rays Tavern and drive south along Broadway before turning left (just before the railroad tracks and Amtrack Station) onto Green River Avenue. Follow Green River Avenue and turn right on Airport Road. (Besides Broadway, you can also turn south on S Cherry Street or S Long Street [at the Chow Hound] to reach Green River Avenue and Airport Road).
Follow Airport Road for 2.3 miles to a signed turnoff and the BLM/NPS bulletin board on the left for Horseshoe Canyon and the San Rafael Desert.
Turn south on this gravel road (usually in good condition for all vehicles, but after a big rainstorm, it can be impassible) and follow it for 19.2 miles to the bridge over the San Rafael River. Continue on the main road south for 3.5 miles to a minor road on the left that has a sign "Designated Off-Road Route". Turn left and follow the faint track up a steep hill (passenger cars may not make it, but I made it OK in my Subaru). Follow the road 0.2 miles or so until you can look south into the Three and Sneak Canyon area.
Upper Three Canyon Trailhead
From the minor intersection mentioned above, instead of following the "Designated Off-Road Route", continue south along the main road for about 3.7 miles to an intersection. There is good parking near the intersection.
Three Canyon Map. Click for full size.
If you aren't a really competent rock climber, or if you are solo, I'd highly recommend fixing a handline (60' or so) at the crux pitch of the Sneak Route before you drive to the Upper Trailhead and start down Three Canyon. There is a historic, but solid bolt near the top of the crux. This should only take a few minutes and it's a good idea to check out your surroundings at the top of the Sneak Route anyway.
From the Upper Trailhead, locate the wash east of the road junction. Follow the wash east as it slowly descends into Three Canyon. There is one minor boulder obstacle and one bypass to the left at the end of the wash where it drops into Three Canyon.
Once in the bottom of Three Canyon, follow it north as it slowly descends. There are some shallow narrows and very minor obstacles, but it's mostly an easy walk and soon you will find yourself at the top of the rappel.
Part of the upper slot of Three Canyon.
Looking down the 100' foot rappel in Three Canyon.
The rappel is a two staged (one bolt and one piton is used as an anchor) rappel over two potholes. The top pothole is usually dry, but you may get your feet wet in the lower pothole.
The rappel is easy, but if you are worried about pulling your ropes, there is another alternate rappel. From the top of the main rappel, traverse slightly west and along the rim a short distance and locate the alternate rappel. This rappel is more vertical, making rope pulling easier, but the rappel itself is slightly more tricky.
If you leave your rope behind to be picked up later, pulling is not a problem.
Once you are in the bottom of the canyon, follow the canyon downstream. The stream is usually dry at this point.
After just a fairly short distance, you will find a fun ten foot class three downclimb.
The fun little downclimb in Three Canyon.
Not far below the down climb, water begins to flow and the canyon deepens and becomes very beautiful and photogenic. The high walls streaked with desert varnish, the oasis in the desert, the small cascades, deep narrows, and crystal clear running water make the canyon very pretty.
There are two more minor obstacles in the canyon. One is a pool and small fall which can be bypassed on either side. The other is some minor bushwhacking in one area. It isn't bad, but long pants can be useful.
About three miles down from the rappel, a major side canyon will open up to the left. This is Sneak Canyon, which is used as the exit. You may want to take a side trip to the Green River and back (perhaps exploring the other two side canyons as well) before continuing up Sneak Canyon.
Hike up Sneak Canyon. Eventually you will be faced with a dryfall. Backtrack the canyon slightly until you can climb up to the bench (class 3) on the west side of Sneak Canyon. Follow the ledges around the dryfall and drop back into the canyon.
The ledge bypass in Sneak Canyon.
Shortly after the dryfall obstacle, a short ways up canyon, notice and alcove and minor drainage on the right. Just up canyon is the Sneak Route.
Looking down Sneak Canyon from part of the Sneak route.
Climb up the 4th class ledges and slope up to the crack at the top of the bluff. There is some exposure and sticky shoes help here. Climb directly up the crack. There are some old moki steps in the crack and the short pitch is rated 5.6.
Part of the 5.6 section of the Sneak Route. I left the aider because I didn't want to freesolo it alone. Notice the chipped Moki step.
Once you have climbed the crack follow the drainage up and out into open country. The Lower Trailhead is a short hike to the nortwest, where your bike or shuttle vehicle is hopefully located. If not, road walk back to your vehicle.
One 100 foot/30 meter rope (double if you are pulling the rope with you) and normal climbign/canyoneering gear, minus a climbing rack. A second handline and/or aider is very useful for the exit. Bring a 10+ foot sling and rappel rings in case the ones at the rappel are missing.