With a perennial stream, deep pools, and long stretches of beautifully sculpted narrows, Lower Maidenwater Canyon is a great hike for experienced desert hikers. This hike is recommended for adults in good physical condition who have some experience hiking in slot canyons. Dogs are allowed but may need some help over some obstacles.
The Lower Maidenwater Canyon hike begins at an unsigned parking area along Highway 276, south of Hanksville, Utah.
- Drive south on Highway 95 for 26.1 miles.
- Turn right onto Highway 276 toward Bullfrog/Ticaboo.
- Drive 9.6 miles to the small parking area on the east side of the road.
The parking area is unmarked, but is easy to find. As you drive south on Hwy 276, watch for the signed Maidenwater Springs area on the west side of the road. Soon after this, the road crosses over two deep canyons in quick succession. The first is the North Fork of Maidenwater Canyon and the second is the South Fork. The hike begins about 100 yards south of the South Fork crossing on the east side of the road. If you have a GPS, the coordinates are 37.893643,-110.569422.
From the parking area, begin hiking down the small side canyon directly ahead. A decent trail has formed here but it is still quite loose and rugged. Minor scrambling may be required for the final descent into the canyon. Once at the canyon bottom, notice the interesting tunnel in the rock wall to the left. Instead of building a regular bridge over the canyon, the highway has been built on top of a solid pile of rocks and dirt. To allow floodwaters to pass through between upper and lower Maidenwater Canyon, a deep tunnel has been constructed through solid rock. If you have time, it’s an interesting diversion, but make sure you have a headlamp or flashlight. It may seem that you could walk all the way through without, but there is a deep pit in the middle of the tunnel that could cause serious injury if you fall in.
From the tunnel, continue hiking down canyon for about a half mile to the junction with the north fork and into the main canyon. About a quarter mile past this junction, a large dryfall is encountered (37.897957,-110.561711). Follow a worn path on the left for about 100 yards to an area where it is possible to climb down into the canyon (37.898545,-110.561933). For many, this may be the most difficult part of the hike as the climb down can be a little exposed. A 30-foot length of rope can be very helpful for assisting the less-skilled hikers in your group. If you don’t feel comfortable with the descent, or are unsure you will be able to climb back up, do not proceed. Return to the trailhead the way you came.
Below the dryfall, the canyon narrows, at times constricting enough to enable touching both walls. Many small obstacles are encountered but are usually easy to surmount. This stretch of the canyon is extraordinarily beautiful with deep red walls and a contrasting silver-gray floor – a result of the granitic rocks that wash down from the Henry Mountains to the west.
After about 1.5 miles, the sandy, barren slot canyon transforms into a riparian oasis as cottonwoods and lush vegetation appear along the banks. Soon a spring-fed perennial stream flows through the canyon, creating occasional deep pools that require wading. The depth of the pools varies depending on recent conditions, but expect up to waist deep. It may be smart to have a dry bag for any items that need to stay dry as storms could easily scour out pools to swimming depth.
At times there is a chockstone in the middle section of the canyon that prevents easy travel to the end of the canyon. It is usually easy to get past with assistance, but solo hikers may have difficulty. As of 2012, this obstacle had filled in with sand, but it may return. As with all canyon hiking, if you arrive at any obstacles you don’t feel you can easily climb back up, do not proceed.
After about 3.4 miles, the canyon ends at Trachyte Creek (37.89453,-110.528826). Return the way you came.
Rules and Regulations
- Do not litter.
- Pack out all trash.
- Maidenwater Canyon poses a significant flash flood risk. There are few opportunities for escape throughout the narrow canyon. Do not enter the canyon when precipitation is in the forecast.
- This area can be extremely hot during spring, summer, and fall. Carry plenty of water and wear appropriate clothing.
- Conditions in slot canyons are constantly changing between seasons and after floods. Carefully evaluate each obstacle you encounter and do not descend anything that you cannot easily climb back up.