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Woods Canyon - Upper, AZ

no permit
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Guide 18 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Flagstaff > Munds Park SW
4.4 of 5 by 10
Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
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Difficulty 5 of 5
Route Finding 4 of 5
Distance Round Trip 6.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,295 feet
Elevation Gain -1,140 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 7 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 12.2
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Seasonal Waterfall & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Possible - Not Popular
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15  2014-08-09 desert_boonie
3  2011-07-30 toddak
32  2010-09-05 The_Eagle
69  2010-05-17 Vaporman
12  2007-03-18 dionysius
7  2003-08-10 mcopela
21  2001-07-04 joebartels
Author joebartels
author avatar Guides 213
Routes 824
Photos 10,834
Trips 4,262 map ( 21,474 miles )
Age 49 Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep → Early
Seasons   Early Summer to Late Summer
Sun  6:15am - 6:22pm
Official Route
0 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Painfully beautiful
by joebartels

Likely In-Season!
This trip exceeded my high expectations. Woods Canyon spans fifteen miles. Starting up at mile marker 316 on I-17 down to just south of the Village of Oak Creek. I estimate a one-way trek at seven to ten hours if you're in good shape. Perhaps twelve hours if you're not speedy on the rocks. I'm breaking this up into day hikes. The first was "Lower Woods Canyon". This description covers the upper section where the canyon originates.

I write here with nearly every muscle in my body aching. Poison ivy itching head to toe. A couple blisters and yes... I'm dieing to go back! The excursion was awesome, only comparable with the Superstition Ridgeline east of Phoenix. These two trail-less treks are Arizona at it's finest.

Hike: From the end of FR#80 you have to work your way into the canyon. No trail exists. You will need a topographical map of the area and I highly recommend a GPS receiver. (It saved our lives on this trip) Luckily I soldered a new internal memory battery in my GPS unit the night before. This was after it had sat around for over a year in pieces cause I was too lazy to work on it. According to map FS#80 stops near Robbers Roost at about N 34 51.521', W 111 37.862'. Woods Canyon is barely noticeable zig zagging west. I didn't notice anything significant along the way and the road kind of fizzled out. All the sudden we were driving out in the middle of the woods. I'd say we drove maybe an eighth of a mile on a faint road until we came to a barbed wire fence. Instead of going north to Woods Canyon we went southwest to a tributary. We started at N 34 51.315', W 111 38.306' at 7:23am

"The Dip" - the first destination. 1.1 miles from start - 8:43am
We walked through the forest southwest into a shallow drainage. Followed this drainage a short distance where it met a shallow canyon heading northwest to Woods Canyon. This was easy going in the beginning. Soon we were knee deep in wild grape, thorn bush and poison ivy. As it turned out this was the section we dreaded most of all. You can avoid this by studying a topographical map more then I did!

The tributary coming up from the south dumps into Woods Canyon at what we called "The Dip". The water temp was 63.8 degrees. This is a depression at N 34 51.357', W 111 39.127' We continued on down stream for 0.2 miles to what "Canyoneering Arizona" calls a 70ft sloping fall in the basalt. We didn't have any problems going straight down the center of the falls (or coming back up for that matter). I guess if the creek is flowing you need to scramble on the left.

Coconino Sandstone - 1.6 miles into the hike 9:21am
0.3 miles from the 70ft sloping fall the Coconino Sandstone appears. I guess this is where things start to get good as Tony whipped out the camera and said "wow". Tony is yet another employee I've conned into tagging along. Also a Marine I figured he'd be able to carry me out if things got ugly! (nearly did!) The canyon gets mighty narrow for a short distance. Don't turn around, it just gets better!

Mandatory swim through the narrows - 2.32 miles into the hike
I gotta note that the bouldering in this canyon is more intense than Pumphouse Wash. The boulders are bigger and consistent throughout. No real open stretches. We did get a good running-across-the-boulders rhythm going a couple times (not recommended, unless you're good at running on the small rocks on Camelback) Okay... Contine on 0.72 miles from the beginning of the Coconino Sandstone to what "Canyoneering Arizona" calls the "liquid pool of ice". Temperature being.....ta da.... 68 at worst. (70 on the shallow edge) It's cold at first but nothing compared to the California coast. However, we both agreed it's the coldest 68! I guestimate the length across around fifty yards (using the ol' quarterback eye) It's a mandatory swim as the canyon walls stretch high into the sky. You can barely see straight through as the canyon walls interweave. As of this writing there's a high point in the middle of the pool where you can catch your breath. I recommend a drybag ($10 - $30) from REI for anything you wish to keep dry.

5.35MB 15-second MPEG Video from center pool Comedian Tony version

Here's a couple cool location reports... Shnebly Hill is the mountain rising to the north (you'd never know it because the canyon walls are too steep). The Merry-Go-Round is only about 2.5 air miles from the liquid pools. So you're out in the middle of nowhere but not really.

There is a second narrow with a pool shortly after the first. This one is much shorter and mostly a wade. The water temperature here was 58 degrees in the middle. Now that's cold!

We continued on. As we'd been traveling at a snails pace up until now I quit tracking so much data to speed things up. Constant boulder hopping continued all the way into the Supai layer (red rock). We traveled to N 34 50.866', W 111 40.236' Here, maybe a half mile into the Supai layer, we ran into a small waterfall. The waterfall is just shy of being negotiable. A very inviting pool is below. We both wanted to jump but I didn't think we could get back up. We scrambled up the wall on the left and looked ahead. The red rock is beautiful here and I'm sure there's treasures further on. At 12:12pm about five hours into this hike and only 3.25 miles progress I decided to turn around. Tony was disappointed (so was I), he offered to carry me a few more miles to the ruins (for a small $10 raise that is). However, judging the circumstances it was the appropriate choice. Personally, I was running on only two hours sleep after a twelve hour shift with another lined up.

The pools on the way back where awesome and refreshing. We both felt like we were in basic training.... running, climbing, swimming, over and over. We made excellent time back to "The Dip" in only 2 hrs. On the lift back up I started cramping. I took probably five breaks in the next half mile. Then we couldn't find our cairns where we entered the canyon. Luckily, GPS led us back safely. It took another 1.5 hours from "The Dip" making for a 4 hour return and a 9 hour trip. I believe I could easily go out and back in 6 to 7 seven hours now knowing the obstacles and better prepared.

RatedHike DescriptionPoint to point describedOne-Way mileage
5Woods Canyon (Upper)Upper trailhead to 1st scramble3.25 miles
4Woods Canyon1st scramble to Red Rock Beach7.00 miles
3Woods Canyon Trail #93Red Rock Beach to lower trailhead (in reverse)3.40 miles

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2001-07-07 joebartels
  • wilderness related
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.

Most recent Triplog Reviews
Woods Canyon - Upper
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Why did I want to do this trek? Not really sure, it is a brutal day for anyone that is a guarantee. So lets start with the drive in on FR 80. If you do not have high clearance then you are going to end up hiking a bit more. On the drive in I actually saw 2 vehicles parked on the side of the road that didn't make it all the way in. I got in no problem and parked by the old corral area Robbers Roost. The only thing I didn't like about this drive in was there was no mud.

From there it was just over 2 miles to the drop in at the top of the drainage. I was able to see about 8 or so elk in the distance at two different times so that was a nice start to the day. With about a mile to go to the drainage you cross a pretty well shaped road. I was surprised to see it in such good shape, I could have driven here. Oh well, the hike across country isn't that bad, but a lot of rocks to walk on starts the misery that later comes on the knees.

I make it to the top of the drainage and enter the brushy area. This wasn't pleasant as well, but it goes with the territory. There are a few good size down climbs for sure that most would probably be better off doing a rappel on. One of them I had to take my pack off and toss it a short distance down to negotiate the climb better. This is where more misery to my day was added. On the short toss down it dislodge my mouth nozzle on my bladder leaking out more than half of my 3 liters. Since this was a solo trek and I had 200 feet of rope in my pack and my regular items, this was the first time in a very long time I didn't have a Nalgene or Gatorade bottle as extra. You all know where this is going. I get down from the climb and notice the water. DAM!!!! I secure the end of my hose and fix it there but it was actually broken to where it would leak unless pointed up. I had to do a quick fix there and take a sip of the only little pool of water on the rocks there. Better to have it in me than go to waste. Yum dirt.

After this little problem I make my way down a few more down climbs which are no joke on the slick and loose sandstone. The drainage opens up with an incredible view of the Sedona area and a few small pools are to be passed here before reaching the rappels. I get to the top of the first rappel and see someone down below. Wow, just when I thought I was alone. It had to be the cars parked back on the road. They say they are almost done with the second rappel so I let them take a minute as I rig the 1st rap that could be down climbed but why risk it. I get to the second rappel and see one of the others in the party below me. I know that guy. I say hey from 100ft above.

The 3 rappels that you have to do are all pretty nice. The last one is awesome with the 30ft overhang or so of free rappelling. I get down all the raps and eat my pizza here before making my way down to Woods Canyon.

Great, let the rock hopping begin. After about 20 minutes I catch up to the group of 3 who were taking their lunch. I converse for a few minutes and head on my way. It was funny how up until this point it was overcast with good cloud cover. Even one of the guys said "at least the clouds are cooperating" well shortly after I left them the clouds were gone and it was full sun.

As I approach the first section of sandstone and pools I take a sip and after a second get that not so great sound of an empty bladder. I check to see if it was empty or just pinched since my pack was stuffed. It's empty. Good thing I have 4 miles to go. I had the option of waiting and asking if any of the guys could spare some extra or just go for it knowing I had plenty in the Jeep. I went for it. I was now in the sun but with water around me so I was able to stay cool most of the time. A wet shemagh wrapped around my head helped as well. After 2 hours though the dry mouth was not pleasant. I debated on whether to at least put some of the canyon water in my mouth and spit it out or just go. I didn't risk it, I just went on wanting a drink of water and laughed at the fact I was in water and had it all around me but couldn't take a drink.

I was able to hammer out the day and the last 3 hours without a drink which made seeing the Jeep at the end of the day the best sight ever. I told myself not to chug the water when I got there but take small sips. I tried, the first sip was small but then it was like I need water in my system I drank half a gallon in about 5 minutes. I laid down in the shade and actually fell asleep for about 20 or 30 minutes. Felt weak after I woke up but was able to urinate which told me I wasn't too badly dehydrated. I was going to camp there but wanted some more fluids and since I wasn't too far off the I-17 I headed to Camp Verde to get cold fluids and rehydrate properly. On the drive out I also saw the guys starting their drive out which was good to know they got out no problem as well.

Another good trek in the books I guess.
Woods Canyon - Upper
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First - If you are driving a car, don't even consider driving past the parking area right next to I-17 at exit 315.
Second - If it's at all wet or there's a chance of it being wet, I don't think 4x4 will even help you. If it's dry, high clearance is cool for the brave. All others, hike the extra 4 miles round trip.
Third - If you are a hiker and not a climber/canyon mad man/woman, prepare for some mighty sore quads the next day.

Make sure to follow the GPS track to drop into the first little canyon that roughly travels north to reach Woods Canyon, or else you might get to a spot you can not enter easily.

Prepare for 12 miles of boulder hopping your way to some of the Best Views in the State of Arizona. Also prepare to get wet. On this day we had 3 waders and 2 swimmers each direction. A Dry Bag is just about mandatory, and a nice Wallyworld float might help on especially the 1st swimmer.

The views are un matched... WOW....The carved and weathered red rocks, the green trees, the blue skies, and we were lucky enough for Fraley to make an appearance on the way out to keep it a bit cooler.

Heard some elk bugling in the morning, a raptor calling out, a Garter and my first Arizona Mountain King Snake.

Made it to the Indian Ruins and started eating some lunch while Bob aka "Boulder Bob" aka "Bobby Goat" tried to find a way (with no luck) up the cliff to the Ruins.

The hike back up the canyon was just as beautiful. My quads really started getting rubbery on the way back, butt my two close hiking buddies were patient with me. Joe is normally the butt of the jokes on the hikes, butt this time is was my turn to be the butt of the jokes.

Thanks for the great time gentlemen..... and Dinner Bobby.
Woods Canyon - Upper
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Headed into Woods at 8am with borderline hot weather sweating immediately. This canyon is still a beauty in my vision. The non-stop bouldering is not for the timid. The pools seemed further than anticipated. Luckily they're 10 degrees warmer now than mid to late June. We had a turn around time of 1pm set for the ruins and made there with 8min to spare. Ate lunch while Bob looked for access to the ruins then headed back up canyon. We lucked out with non-forecasted cloud relief on occasion heading back. Many times if felt cooler with the breezes than our early morning jaunt. Under estimated the water needs carrying 5 litters. 6 or 7 would have made the return more enjoyable yet it all worked out. Bob treated at Quizznos in Camp Verde on the drive home. Which really hit the spot :)

Believe this is the first time I've come away from this canyon feeling so well. We didn't press it since Bruce was on his maiden canyon trip this outing. While his legs were sore coming back I think something else hurt more...

Saw an Arizona Mountain King snake (my 4th) and a small guy with a bright orange-ish stripe down his back. On a break at the Dip I spotted one of the maples to be a helicopter variety. The seeds on these were paired and needed to be pried apart to spin.

Wildflowers: A few good sized clusters of red wildflowers and a few tiny white long stem daisies of sorts.

Foliage: I'll go with Isolated since we did see two tiny four foot square areas of maple foliage. Though I'd guestimate 3-4 wks before the show. Not sure what would cause those tiny patches...
Woods Canyon - Upper
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Wow, what a burly long rock hop! :sweat: I had a 3-day weekend from a recent B-day and filled it up with more canyoneering. :GB: I've done the non-technical rock hop & swim down to the Supai Pools a few times over the years, but this was my first shot at the technical loop that drops in via a side canyon below the Supai layer into middle Woods Canyon. My buddy got us along that bumpy FR80 fairly far before we hopped out, geared up and made the almost 3 mile rim walk to the drop-in point. That side canyon is rather bushy with loads of tree fall to push thru before hitting a few 'Todd down climbs'. :o We manage to climb down most of them, but the top one had a good anchor already so we made a 50ft rappel out of it, and another we initially rappelled down but once we saw how easy it was my buddy climbed back up and dismantled the anchor. After we were done with all the down climbing, the canyon opens up with some nice angled Coconino sandstone slabs to descend and small pools to avoid before hitting the first of many drops in the Supai Sandstone layer . There was a good anchor there that we used for this 20ft drop but I suspect this is another 'Todd down climb'. :lol: Right after this drop is a super sweet 80ft rap down a dryfall covered in desert varnish followed quickly by another 80ft rap but the first 40ft are gently sloping until you hit the quick 40ft drop. Thinking we hit the 3 rappels already, we were kinna surprised to hit the final 70ft rappel that was very overhung; it was like rappeling off the edge of a dinner plate. :o The anchor is 30ft back so my 100ft rope barely made it down with only a few feet to spare... My friends isn't too experienced on overhanging rappel, so he butt slide off of it and got scraped up pretty good... After that is was some more down climbing and avoiding a Diamondback before hitting the rocky middle Woods Canyon around 2pm. I've yet to be this far down/up canyon, so it was kinna cool to finally see it and we started the long rock hop upstream before shortly running into yet another Diamondback. :o The coolest part by far was navigating our way thru the Supai Pools area and trying to find the best way to make our way upstream. It would have been nice to play in the flowing pools a bit but we were already pushing to make it out before dusk. We eventually made it back up to the Coconino layer were the canyon narrows up and we encountered a few chilly swimmers and we thru on our 3mm full wetsuits to make them bearable. ;) After nearly freezing our rears off, we slowly made it further up the long rock up as the boulder got slowly bigger and tougher to navigate thru. We eventually reached the basalt layer where the boulders get even bigger until we hit the basalt falls with 3 pools above it that require a wade or swim to get across. Once across those, we quickly reached our exit canyon with a huge pool and falls in upper Woods Canyon were we dropped our wetsuits, hiked up that side canyon a bit before climbing back up to the rim, and making the final 1.5 miles of rim walking back to our vehicle making it back just after sunset. :sweat:
Woods Canyon - Upper
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I hadn't done this canyon in 2 summers and wanted to hit it again before the season is over. I just had my car, so I parked right off of the freeway exit and bushwhacked it towards the entry canyon. It was as scenic and challenging :sweat: as ever with the water levels being down maybe a little. I had it with me but didn't end up using my wetsuit for the two short frigid swimmers. I made it as far down as Supai Pools again with the water being rather murky since its late summer. I always tell myself I'm going to go farther this time, but my legs are so tired from all the boulder hopping that I give up at the same spot every time. :lol:
Woods Canyon - Upper
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We didn't drive to the end of the road due to how rocky it is, so we parked the truck and hiked the rest of the way in. I did the same route and went down to the same destination that I went to last year, but this time I brought a friend. The water level was much lower than last year; it was actually flowing last time. :? I went down to the pool in the Supai layer that most seem to go down to and we scrambled around & down to the pool where we swam and ate lunch. It's pretty sweet to traverse down this canyon thru the three different rock layers: Basalt, Coconino Sandstone, and Supai Sandstone. The skys up to this point had been clear after burning off the morning clouds, but once we finished lunch and scrambled back up from the pool, we saw an ominous cloud that had snuck in above the canyon wall. We planned on a quick trip so as to avoid afternoon monsoons, but they came in a bit sooner than expected. We got sprinkled on a bit, and heard lots of thunder, but we got lucky and avoided any walls of rain or flash flooding. :) Thankfully we had an uneventful hike out and I highly recommend both the wetsuits and helmets that we used on the trip.
Woods Canyon - Upper
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Lower woods canyon adds more boulder hopping to the end of a long day. Luckily, there is a secret shortcut on the west banks that allows you to avoid much of the pain. 90+ temps at this point during the summer should discourage most individuals from attempting this.

Due to construction in Oak Creek, the lower trailhead was closed, so it is only accessible via Hot Loop as of this writing.
Woods Canyon - Upper
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Pretty great area. You start off in pine forests and 40 degree weather on a summer morning. We headed south to the tributary that feeds the canyon, and did some somewhat steep down-bouldering. There is a mandatory swim a few miles in and a mandatory wade just after that. Towards the end you have the option to get wet again or try a thorny bushwhack around. The canyon boxes up on top and is quite beautiful with the black granite boulders contrasting against the yellow coconino sandstone which gives way to the red supai. It's slow going though. I added a mile because we didn't park at the "trailhead".
Woods Canyon - Upper
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What an amazing canyon adventure this turned out to be in another of AZ's secluded, yet gorgeous canyons. This trip turned out to be so much more scenic and energizing than I thought it would be. I had temporarily forgotten how much I enjoyed a good solo excursion every now and then. This canyon feels so remote, yet you are fairly close to Flagstaff, Sedona, I-17 and a few airports.

I drove up the night before and went on the bumby FR80 until I was driving about as fast as I can hike, pulled off the side and spent the night. Early the next morning, I hiked the remaining of the FR until I hit the meadow (here's where I saw a few elk) and then trekked SW until I hit the rim of a bushy side-canyon. The hike down to the bottom and up from this canyon is the toughest part of the trip, but it's not as bad as it looks. I scouted out a good line/game trail to the bottom and hiked down this creek to the confluence with Woods Canyon. This part of the canyon is lined with Basalt cliffs and boulders and you encounter a few pools and waterfalls. At the bottom of the larger falls is a boulder dam that impedes the flow of the water a bit and it doesn't pick back up until you hit the Coconino sandstone. This next section reminded me a lot of a canyon up in Zion NP. It narrows up at least twice and give you some nice pools you have to swim across. The canyon then widens up a bit and you soon hit the Supai sandstone, that's the same stuff you can see in Sedona or Havasupai. You also hit some more scenic pools below small falls in this section. Here is where you start looking for a good turnaround point and I found mine near the bottom of the zigzags in the canyon, which is only a little past where Joe recommends turning around. If you don't mind bushwacking, most of the pools here can be bypassed, but why bother if all your gear is waterproofed anyways. Unless you can't make it back up that waterfall, then you're glad to know there is a way around it. Don't go down anything that you're unsure if you can go back up it. It's a much longer hike to SR179 than I-17.

When you're done just backtrack up to that large pool at the confluence and hike a good 10-15 mintues up that side-canyon or you'll do what I did and hit a cliff band up near the rim. Good/bad thing I'm also a rock climber, so I just climbed up a not so sketchy section. :o Then hike NE back to where you parked your car. Just a reminder from the description, once you hit the canyon it's boulder hopping the whole time you're down there. Unlike Wet Beaver Creek or West Clear Creek, the boulders/rocks in the creek are not slick and provide good traction. No bushwacking required in the canyon, just in that section from the rim down to the canyon. Have fun, be safe, and make wise decisions when hiking in remote locations. I also recommend bringing a helmet and wetsuit in colder/rainy months, both of which I was wishing I had brought. :D

Permit $$

Map Drive
High Clearance possible when dry

To Upper Woods Canyon the arbitrary/unofficial Trailhead
From Phoenix head north on I-17. Take off on exit 315. Go under the highway west and pick up FR#80. Go right (north) on FR#80 and follow to it's end. (at the one fork, stay right)

The road is best suited for high clearance vehicles. When it gets muddy 4x4 is a must and at times not even negotiable. The area is closed to vehicular travel from Dec 15th to Apr 1st as it's a designated "Quiet Area".

From PHX (I-10 & AZ-51) 125 mi - about 2 hours 1 min
From TUC (Jct 1-10 & Grant) 230 mi - about 3 hours 38 mins
From FLG (Jct I-17 & I-40) 27.2 mi - about 31 mins
(Trailhead is generic)
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