Starting the longest rappel in Rock
A Sweet Little Gem. Rock Canyon is a sweet little gem of a canyon, with difficult access. It drops into the East Fork of the Virgin River a few miles east of the Park boundary, from the south side – a dune-sand area known generally as Elephant Cove. All access roads cross long stretches of soft dune sand, requiring a fully-capable 4x4 vehicle to reach the trailhead. Even with good vehicles, the drive from Springdale is long and will discourage many.
OK, how about the good news? Rock is a great little canyon with a four rappels, including one spectacular 110-foot rappel into a dramatic alcove. Close to the East Fork, Rock Canyon goes all riparian on us, with large cottonwood trees, grasses, and horsetail creating a lush, green contrast against the sandstone. Sweet! Once at the East Fork, you can climb a short rock step and return to your vehicle quickly... but why not enjoy the East Fork by sauntering down "The Barracks" section of the East Fork to an exit canyon on the left? This variation leads to a moderate up-climb to the rim, about a mile from your vehicle. There is a lush garden of poison ivy in the exit canyon, so some might want to wear long pants for this section.
Do not underestimate the driving challenges. The drive to the trailhead from Springdale is about two hours twenty minutes. This canyon works out better, logistically, if coming from the St George/Hurricane/Washington area, or from Kanab.
Cold Water Protection
The canyon does not have much potential for holding water. If you proceed down the East Fork, there is wading to knee-deep and much of the hike is in the stream, so wading-compatible footwear is advised.
The roads are exceptionally soft and require a fully capable vehicle. In some conditions, airing down will be a good idea. As of July 2012, the maze of roads was well-marked with route numbers, but this could change.
The Soft Sand Adventure Drive begins at the Elephant Cove Kiosk on the Sand Dunes Road, 4.0 miles west of the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park entrance road. The Kiosk is a sign on the north side of the highway and a parking lot suitable for about 10 cars, and the road we seek there is Road 20.
Drive into the Park and up through the tunnel and out the East Entrance on Highway 9, to Mt Carmel Junction. Fill up the gas tank here. Head south toward Kanab and up the hill. 3.5 miles from the Junction, turn right on the road marked for the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. Follow this road 16.0 miles to the Elephant Cove Kiosk. Allow about one hour ten minutes driving time (to HERE) from Springdale, or 30 minutes from Mt Carmel Junction.
Take Route 59 east and south from Hurricane to Hildale. As the road crosses into Arizona, the road is renumbered as Hwy 389. 4.5 miles south of Hildale, turn left on the Cane Beds Road, County Highway 237. At about 5 miles, the road turns to gravel. Continue up this road, cross the border and it turns back to pavement. A few more miles puts you at the Elephant Cove Kiosk. Mileage from the turn off Hwy 389 to the Kiosk is 12.5 miles. Allow one hour 10 minutes from Hurricane.
Take Route 89 north 8 miles to a left turn on the Hancock Road. Follow this 9.5 miles to the Sand Dunes Road and turn left (south). Drive south 6.6 miles to the Kiosk. Allow 45 minutes to the Kiosk.
YOUR SOFT SAND ADVENTURE DRIVE
There are two possible exits: the Quick Exit; and a longer exit that descends the East Fork for a couple miles, then climbs out French Canyon back to the rim.
The Quick Exit
From the confluence with the East Fork, look for an easily-scaled rock step a few feet up Rock Canyon on the west side (left side). Surmount the wall and hike up the ridge, then up a shallow wash on the right as it develops. Continue up as signs of vehicle travel (might) become evident. Fifteen minutes or 0.3 miles from the bottom, seek out a road/track/ATV path that climbs left out of the wash. Follow this track back to your truck. Total distance about .9 miles, with 500 feet of gain. (If you miss the turn onto the track, the wash soon becomes a large area of slickrock. Continue following the wash/slickrock and it will eventually intersect the same track short of your vehicle.)
French Canyon Exit
From the confluence with the East Fork, stroll down the East Fork, staying mostly in the stream. Your impact on the environment is minimized by staying in the stream as much as possible.
The distance to French Canyon is 2.64 miles. At a casual pace this will take about an hour and a half. This section of the East Fork, called "The Barracks" has short, discontinuous cliffs on both sides that block easy escape from the narrow canyon.
A printable canyon descriptionand map you can take with you.
Have all Zion's classic canyonsin one convenient book.
This adventure is not in the book.
Click on any map to browse a larger view,then right-click to save and print.
I did Rock Canyon with Dean Kurtz in 2006, taking the Quick Exit. More recently, I completed it with Kody Prisbrey and friends from Saint George, in July 2012, enjoying the East Fork and exiting out French Canyon.
The Latest Rave, July 2012 - Tom, Kody Prisbrey and family brave the soft sand of Elephant Cove for Rock Canyon.
The Sniff Test, May 2006 - A Canyon Tale of Tom and Dean Kurtz's trip through Rock Canyon.