off the beaten path.
A neighboring finger canyon to more popular Water Canyon, Squirrel Canyon provides another gorgeous, remote hike to find yourself alone in. The numerous mature cottonwood trees along Short Creek and up into Squirrel are particularly enjoyable, while the orange-red sandstone canyon walls entertain and awe with their beautiful patterns and hoodoo towers.
Because Squirrel Canyon begins with a couple miles of sandy double track which I don't like hiking twice, I like to hike Squirrel as the first half of a longer loop hike going UP Squirrel and DOWN Water Canyon. The loop is a really nice way to see more varied landscape, with some excellent slickrock treats in the higher reaches of the hike. If you choose to connect the two canyons, however, be sure to have a map along and know how to use it; the trails of Squirrel and Water Canyons are clear enough, but the terrain between them is not well marked or well travelled.
As the majority of the hike is exposed to the sun, this is NOT a summer hike, but a great one for Spring and Fall. There is no water between Short Creek and the spring in Water Canyon, so pack a minimum of 2 liters between the two water sources.
Moderate out-and-back OR Strenuous loop hike
6 miles (9.7 km) out-and-back, or 11 miles (17.7 km) as a loop
4 - 5 hours (out-and-back) or 6 - 10 hours (loop)
Spring, summer, fall
2900 feet (870 m)
Most of the hike is in the full sun.
N0. Dogs and overnight backpacking allowed without a permit.
Sturdy hiking shoes, ample water, food for a full-day hike, map, navigation skills
Water is available to purify in the first and last two miles of the hike. Bring 2 - 3L for the middle section!
Starts and finishes near Water Canyon Trailhead north of Hilldale, UT
If attempting the loop hike, make sure you have a map and know how to use it. A variety of trails and roads appear and disappear on top of the mountain, and it is easy to get lost.
Spring - Expect higher and colder water flowing due to springtime runoff. North Creek might be too high to cross at times in April and May. Neoprene socks are nice if getting feet wet.
Summer - HOT! The upper section of the hike is extremely exposed and has little water to purify. A summer hike during the afternoon hours is NOT recommended.
Fall - Generally a great time to hike this trail. The plateau can get cold in the late Fall, when temperatures at 6000 drop below freezing.
Winter - Usually cold, snowy and icy. Not recommended unless conditions are unseasonably warm and dry.
The trailhead is about an hour from Springdale. If you have a high clearance vehicle, you can short-cut via Smithsonian Butte Road, which you can pick up by taking a left on Bridge Road in Rockville. Otherwise, drive Hwy 9 west to LaVerkin/Hurricane to pick up Hwy 59, which takes you toward Hildale/Colorado City. Approaching the sister cities, turn left onto Utah Avenue, which heads east, then turns north after approximately 1.5 miles.
Water Canyon Road is a dirt road on your right. Turn right and follow the road to the reservoir. At 3.5 miles on the dirt road, a 4WD road crosses; stay on the main road, pass another intersection, and take the second right turn. There should be a fence and a gate at a small parking area about 50 yards from the main road. There is no trailhead signage.
The Squirrel Canyon Trailhead is not far from the Water Canyon Trailhead. Most people doing the loop hike park their car at the ending point (Water Canyon Trailhead, at the end of the road, next to the small reservoir), and hike back about to the Squirrel Canyon Trailhead. Make sure to note turn off to the Squirrel TR on your drive in, so you don't miss it.
From the Squirrel Canyon parking area, spot an old road across the wash. Descend the wash and cross, picking up the road on the other side. Follow the double track around the large sandstone buttress, leading to Short Creek and Squirrel Creek. Follow the wash and road about 1.4 miles, to an intersection of ATV roads. At this intersection, cross the creek on the left and head north up Squirrel Creek. The trail will initially climb onto a ridge, west of the creek, and then drop down into it below.
At about 2.5 miles, the trail will begin climbing steeply up rocky ledge systems to a ridge. Travel is generally north and the trail is a little overgrown, but fairly clear. Find the path of least resistance and ease. At the top of the ridge, hopefully you will find a trail intersection (an old road still poached illegally by 4x4 enthusiasts). Turn around and head back the way you came OR commit to the loop route.
If you are continuing on, turn left, west, heading toward the slickrock ridge. As the road goes in and out of slickrock areas, it will disappear and reappear. You don't need to follow it specifically, but keep an eye on it. You are shooting for the south edge of the large, hoodoo-speckled mountain ahead.
TRAVERSING THE TOP
After a mile heading west (hopefully on the trail!), look for a trail or route to the left that leads south/southeast along the ridge. You should see Water Canyon below. Stay high and continue southeast. The trail generally hugs the rim, only departing when the route is easier above it, but it returns to the rim. About a mile along the rim, you can look for Water Canyon Arch, near a sandy bowl. To get to the Arch, you must depart the trail slightly, walking to the right of a rock outcropping and dropping down the sandy hill.
From the Arch, look for the White Domes to the north; these are your next destination. Return to the Canaan Mountain Trail. It should now follow a wide slickrock wash for a short time, then ascend left out of the wash, heading up a rocky ridge. The trail (if you're still on it!) is now sandy and heading west to the White domes.
From the White Domes, you will now head generally downhill. Start out down a large slickrock slab to the southeast. Bear left toward the small domes, rather than entering the slot to the right. About a half mile later, you should reach the wash; continue hiking down this drainage. Watch for a wash coming in on the right; about a 1/4 mile downstream of this intersection, find a path up the right side of the canyon to the ridge above. This path hopefully leads you to a large, open lookout with a large, flat rock to rest on.
From the lookout, trace the faint trail south, toward Water Canyon. It steeply descends and becomes much clearer the further down you hike. It is about 2.5 miles from the top to the Water Canyon Trailhead. For more information on Water Canyon, see the Water Canyon trail description.