Sunday, March 09, 2014

Fish & Owl Canyons Hike

Before this trip I had browsed through my collection of books looking for possible hikes to do in this area. One of the ones I had come across was the Fish and Owl Canyons loop in Peter Potterfield's Classic Hikes of North America. I like loop trails since you avoid retracing your steps. A lot of the hikes down here involve require a high clearance four wheel drive vehicle, which doesn't match our Prius too well! This one only had 5 miles of dirt road which I figured we could always hike if necessary. And unlike our higher mileage Superstition hike, this loop is only 27 km (17 miles) and we allowed three days so we had lots of time to explore.

The book talks about how popular and busy this hike is and recommends making a reservation months in advance. (They only allow a limited number of hikers.) That doesn't fit with our unplanned travel but it was off-season and mid-week so we hoped we'd get in. We needn't have worried - we were the only hikers, which suited us perfectly!

follow the cairns
follow the cairns

The descent into Owl Canyon was great. You descend quite a long way on rocky terrain beside small waterfalls. There's a little scrambling but the route is fairly well marked with cairns (piles of rock). One of the several Anasazi ruins on the route is right at the beginning, at the start of the descent into the canyon. We only managed to spot two of the ruins despite being on the lookout for the others. They are often somewhat hidden and blend in well.

Anasazi ruins
1000 year old Anasazi ruins

Once into the canyon it levels out, although there are still a number of drops that you negotiate to one side or the other. Due to the recent rain there was a fair bit of water flowing in the upper Owl Canyon. We camped where Owl Creek joins Fish Creek. After setting up camp we explored a little further down Fish Creek.

Although there hadn't been any rain in the forecast, it clouded up and rained on us a couple of times this first day. We hadn't brought rain gear so we were thankful it didn't amount to much. There's also the risk of flash floods in the canyon to worry about, although most of the time it would be easy to get high enough above the creek to be out of danger. The next two days we had beautiful sunny weather. The desert gets cold at night though, especially this time of year, and we had frost both nights. And there was still ice along the creek in a few shady spots.

waterfall and ice

The next day we hiked up Fish Creek to where it splits, near the ascent route. There were a few campsites here and a few more closer to the ascent. Shelley had a cold and wasn't feeling that great so after we set up camp I wandered up the other branch of Fish Canyon and took way too many photos, mostly of the amazing reflections of the canyon walls in Fish Creek.


The third day it didn't take long to ascend out of the canyon and hike a few kilometers back to the car. The "tricky" bit at the top of the canyon isn't really that bad, but I could see how it might unnerve someone scared of heights and carrying an overweight pack.

a few tricky moves to exit the canyon

We saw a really interesting range of vegetation. On the plateau above the canyons it's a juniper and pinyon pine forest with some cactus and sagebrush. In the wetter parts of the canyon there are cottonwood trees and willows and even cattails and reeds. There are even beavers in Fish Creek. We didn't see any actual beavers but we came across one dam and various chewed trees and bushes. It's amazing what a wide range beavers have, and they were even more widespread before we almost wiped them out to make felt hats.


We'd definitely recommend this hike - beautiful scenery and fun hiking. Because of the scrambling I wouldn't want to carry a big heavy pack on this route - go light and you'll enjoy it a lot more.

Shelley and Andrew at the top of the canyon

See all 66 photos as a slideshow or overview

See also Shelley's blog post

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