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Winter Cabin Canyon, AZ

no permit
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Guide 3 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Sedona > Sedona NW
3.8 of 5 by 4
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 3 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Lasso-Loop 10.7 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,877 feet
Elevation Gain 2,100 feet
Accumulated Gain 2,450 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 5-9 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 22.95
Interest Off Trail Hiking & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Possible & Connecting
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
editedit > ops > dogs to adjust
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Photos Viewed All Mine Following
18  2014-08-31 desert_boonie
13  2011-10-15 toddak
Author nonot
author avatar Guides 93
Routes 236
Photos 1,969
Trips 476 map ( 4,511 miles )
Age Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   May, Oct → 7 AM
Seasons   Early Autumn to Late Autumn
Sun  6:09am - 6:38pm
Official Route
0 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Geology Nearby
Meteorology Nearby
Named place Nearby
Where's the beef? On the rim!
by nonot

A technical canyoneering trip into Sycamore Canyon.

This trip will require technical gear, which should include helmet, harness, rappelling device, and a locking biner. For this trip add a 60 ft rope, 25 ft webbing, and 2 quick links. The rope pulls should not be problematic, though bringing a backup rope is never a bad idea. A GPS might help, but closely watching for hill 5810 is generally all that is needed for those experienced with back-country navigation.

Canyoneering involves travelling through slot canyons. Always check the weather before departing and do not go if there is any chance of rain.

Heat Warning
I do NOT recommend anyone attempt this in summer, while the canyon itself is OK, the exit hike is way too hot to attempt this in the summer temps. While it is possible you might complete without heatstroke, it will not be enjoyable. If you do go in summer, start at 4AM at first light - seriously!

First descent possibly by Joe and Sara DeSalme.

A word on beta Beta is often passed around, some being more reliable than others. I found the beta I had on this canyon turned out to be quite inaccurate, from the description of the technical features to the recommendations of times of year to attempt this. In this case, it over-exaggerated the canyon, rather than the opposite. Of course, if I had gotten in over my head, it would have been my fault, not the author's. Be careful trusting beta, regardless of the source, it is better to be cautious and go over-prepared than not. Don't blame the beta writers! (Hmm, I wonder what this means to you, reader, sitting there reading this description? :D )

Head down Winter Cabin trail, passing Winter Cabin, and stay on Winter Cabin trail past the junctions with the Hog Hill and Kelsey Winter trail. As you continue to descend the Winter Cabin Trail you will leave the nice forested slopes and get into a shadeless old burn area that is being overgrown by various bushes. In this area is a turn-off to Ott Lake (a seasonal, apparently natural, small lake unlikely to have water in the summer.) The turnoff to see it is neither long nor difficult (nor exciting when it is dry).

As you come down the big switchback below the Ott Lake junction you will approach a right turn in the trail as the WC trail will begin to descend down a drainage. This is the spot as you approach hill 5810 on your topo map. Leave the trail here and perform a short climb to the saddle left of the hill. Finding game trails, you will reach the minor saddle with a tree in a setting that looks like it came out of the creepy character part of some fable. Proceed down the drainage on the other side of the saddle. Game trails will get you most of the way, but there is a little light bushwhacking. After a bit, another drainage will join from your left. Soon, you will be in the main drainage of Winter Cabin Canyon.

As you continue down canyon, you will generally be rock hopping through some minor vegetation. The canyon is generally shaded and pleasant. After a bit, you will reach an easily down-climbed 15 ft ledge and reach, a very short distance later, a crack system you down-climb 6 ft to a ledge on right above a drop of 20 ft. Most will don their harnesses and rappel here, though downclimbing this crack seems possible. Note: it appears obvious from below, but from above it doesn't seem likely.

After this rappel comes more rock hopping along with several minor obstacles ranging from 5-12 ft that can be down-climbed. (Note: beginners may want a belay, as a few are a little tricky.) The canyon really slots up here and is quite pleasant. After a bit you will reach the second and last rappel of 25 ft down a nicely sculpted chute in the sandstone. For this rappel, a natural anchor opportunity is available and will require about 10-15 ft of webbing and 60 ft of rope to rig the rappel. If you cannot find a solution and anchor further back, always remember that you can block your rope and use extra stuff (webbing, cord, shoelaces, pants, bras, harnesses of those down already) to extend the pull side. If you are worried, bring longer rope than I have described above. After this rappel you can take off your harness.

Continue rock hopping down canyon, soon you will reach Sycamore canyon. The Winter Cabin trail is about 20 yards back up the canyon on the north side (it was on your right as you headed down canyon towards Sycamore, and is likely marked with several cairns). Head up the Winter Cabin trail, which is very steep in sections. There is very little shade for the lower half of this trail. For this reason, I recommend an early start to your trip.

Other than the hike out, this canyon is very low in technical difficulty and would be a good lower-intermediate-level canyon to attempt, which adds more physical strenuousness (due to remoteness and the hike/elevation) without amping up the technical difficulty. Always go in a group with an experienced leader. Don't let yourself fall into the beginner leading beginner trap!

Water Sources
Winter Cabin Spring, about 200 ft from Winter Cabin, is fairly reliable. Ott Lake is unreliable. Other sources may be present after a recent rain, but Winter Cabin is almost entirely dry. Some have reported a small section of water in Winter that can be stemmed over. I didn't observe this (it was bone dry on my attempt) but it is certainly possible it will hold water for awhile after a rain.

The TH is not conducive to camping but there are other campsites along the drive in. You may share the area with cattle grazing...Moo!

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

Leave No Trace and +Add a Triplog after your canyon trip to support this local community.

2011-06-26 nonot
  • Sedona Trails 2018
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    Sedona Trails 2018
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
Winter Cabin Canyon
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Day two of the weekend started with driving on into the Winter Cabin trailhead area to start the day. Once I turned onto the road for Winter Cabin there was a car inching its way along and to the side of a huge mud puddle in the middle of the road. So of course I did what anyone in my shoes would have done, I drove past them right in the middle of the mud puddle while waving at them. I was actually impressed they drove in that far with a car. Needless to say, I didn't see them again that day or their car when I drove out later.

Once at the trailhead I was alone again, gathered my things for the day and set off. There was a nice gust of wind that stood tall most of the day which made the first half of the day nice and eerie as I made my way down the swinging trees. I reached the Winter Cabin and checked out the area for a few minutes. Since I wasn't up to date on my tetanus shots I didn't get too close to everything inside. Interesting place and with the spring right down the hill I could see myself staying in the area for awhile.

Continuing on my way downhill, you come out of the trees and see the area open up and get your first glimpse of Winter Cabin Canyon from above. You can also see the bushwhacking section you will have to do. From here you are now exposed to the sun as well, it isn't bad until the hike out, trust me. You pass Ott Lake on the way down as well so I thought I would check the area out knowing I wouldn't see any water. It doesn't take long to get there and the area is just amazing. A lush meadow now and the total feeling of seclusion. And again with the wind gusting it made it a refreshing time.

Now on to the canyon, back on the trail I reach the point to break away and do a short bushwhack to the side drainage which will lead you into Winter Cabin Canyon. Nothing I haven't done before so it really wasn't that bad, I don't even feel the scrapes on my legs anymore. In the drainage and immediately the bottom is a wet clay texture. It felt good to be in the shade and work my way down.

Like Bunker Hill, this canyon is not technically difficult, there are some down climbs to manage and then you hit some amazing sculpted canyon walls, some of the best I have seen form in the sandstone. I reached the point where most do the 1st rappel but I was able to down climb the 15ft drop. You are pretty much in the narrows the entire time as this canyon works it way down. The second drop others rappel I down climbed as well, although here it was a little bit tougher. There is only one pool in this canyon which was knee high and refreshing to get it halfway down the canyon.

I finally reached the big drop in a spectacular sculpted wall. I rig the rappel and couldn't help but using my free left hand to feel the wall on the way down. It was amazing, a very nice area to be in for sure. I pull my rope and finish up the canyon which doesn't have many obstacles to handle. At the bottom there are some more amazing formations in the sandstone. I get to Sycamore Canyon and check out the area at the bottom here. Bone Dry! I was hoping for some water so I could wet my clothing for the hike on out. Oh well, time to take a break in the shade and drink a brew.

Now for the hike out. This hike is brutal this time of year, fully exposed to the sun, very steep at the bottom, and faint in some areas so pay attention. Of course the wind had died down at the time it would have been best to be in. I stopped in the few sections of shade for a minute just to get that second of cooling my body down. Boy does this trail not waste anytime climbing out. Once I made my way up to the point I would get back into the pines and some shade, I ran into a group of 3 hikers making their way from Kelsey Sprint to the bottom of Sycamore to see the pools. I told them it was dry at the bottom but one of them insisted that if you head south towards Clarkdale (his exact words) there is a nice section. I wished them a good hike as that is a long trek they were doing and made my way back to the cabin. I went to the spring and got some water to dump on me.

After refreshing myself and feeling like a million dollars again I made my way on up back to the Jeep. I cooked up the last of my food and chilled there for an hour in the hammock before deciding to finally come back home. Had some fun in the mud on the way out and traffic wasn't bad until south of Sedona. But i'll leave my highway driving rant to myself.

Good weekend.
Winter Cabin Canyon
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Very cool canyon, with a super long stretch of mellow but very scenic narrows. Even better, right now the upper part of the canyon is exploding with fall color (extra rating point for the foliage). No pools to wade, and I only needed gear on the last rappel, down-climbed the others.

Parked just off FR538 and cross-country'd a mile west to the Hog Hill trail head rather than abuse the car by driving to the Winter Cabin trail head. The HH trail is a little faint in places but pretty well cairned.
Winter Cabin Canyon
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The trail and canyon down were easy. I did go to see Ott "Lake" on the way, the lake area must be nicer in spring with water.

The canyon was fairly nice, but it didn't really have any meat to it.

I have never been to Sycamore canyon before. As I left the cooler Winter Cabin Canyon and emerged into Sycamore, it was like being thrown into a kiln. Wow it was hot! :sweat: I was making good time to that point, but on the way out, the hike is steep and it was incredibly hot due to the full sun and lack of shade. I tried to make due with what little shade I could find to try to keep my core temp from going critical and giving myself heat stroke. I spent about 2-2.5 hours, I think, just waiting under meager bushes and shrubs trying to cool off as I climbed a few hundred feet at a time.

I'm rather glad I decided to solo this one and I would've felt guilty making anyone else suffer.

In fall this would be a very pleasant trip. Don't try this in summer!

Saw a kingsnake, a truly beautiful creature. The sleeping bag is still hanging in the cabin!

Permit $$

Map Drive
High Clearance possible when dry

To canyon trip
Take I17 North to flagstaff, enter the city and turn west on route 66, go south on Woody Mtn Rd (FR231) go about 14-15 miles to FR538 on your right, go about 5.5 miles to FR538H (passing FR538D on your left...twice). The TH is a little more than a half a mile up FR538H, but idiots driving in wet conditions have really wrecked the road. Depending on conditions, get as far as you feel comfortable and walk the rest.
page created by nonot on Jun 26 2011 8:28 pm
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