Hell Canyon - Garfias Wash, AZ

Guide 20 Triplogs Mine 0 1 Topic
3.7 of 5 
no permit
156 20 1
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 1.5 of 5
Route Finding 1 of 5
Distance Round Trip 5.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 2,640 feet
Elevation Gain -200 feet
Avg Time Round Trip 3 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 6.5
 Interest Off-Trail Hiking, Seasonal Waterfall & Seasonal Creek
 Backpack Yes
feature photo
Photos Viewed All MineFollowing
23  2022-02-12
Hieroglyphic Mtns - 3651 and 3392
17  2022-02-12
The highpoint of Hell and 3392
9  2022-02-12
The highpoint of Hell and 3392
15  2020-03-28 LindaAnn
17  2019-01-19
Garfias - Horse Creek - Burro Flat Loop
18  2019-01-19
Garfias - Horse Creek - Burro Flat Loop
20  2018-02-17 BRichard
6  2017-01-20
Garfias-Hell-Gov Peak Loop
Page 1,  2
author avatar Guides 16
Routes 11
Photos 986
Trips 408 map ( 1,989 miles )
Age 37 Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred Nov, Dec, Feb, Mar → 7 AM
Seasons   Autumn to Spring
Sun  5:28am - 7:25pm
3 Alternative
Nearby Area Water
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Culture  Nearby
Come see where the hell the Hell came from!
by JoelHazelton

Ever since I first found out about the Hells Canyon Wilderness, its namesake destination has been on my to-do list. Now that it is open to the public, I finally got my chance to check it out! What I was originally hoping for was the west valley's answer to the Lower LaBarge Box. If you check out the canyon on a topo map you would understand why I was thinking this. While it isn't quite as awesome as LaBarge, it's certainly worth a visit.The hike begins in a very scenic little area called Cedar Basin. If you are searching for a great car camping destination in the desert, it doesn't get much better than this. It's a stark contrast to the previous drive, with creosote bushes, chaparral, and even a few junipers scattered about. The views of the wilderness are huge, and sunset/sunrise here would likely be unbeatable.

From the parking area on top of the hill, walk a couple hundred yards to the trailhead, which is an opening in the fence with a wilderness boundary sign. Continue on the well-worn path to the large cattle tank just beyond the fence. Stop here for a minute. To your east, there is a knoll that the path leads up and then mostly fades off. The wash in which you are standing continues southeast, parallel with the road, but is choked with vegetation. You will want to follow the path east and around the right side of the knoll, and parallel the wash on whatever faint paths you can find. Once it looks like the vegetation clears up enough in the wash, drop-in. This should be around when the wash takes a turn to the east and veers away from the road.

At this point, the bottom of Garfias Wash is very broad and filled with vegetation, although there is a sandy creek bottom that is clear of vegetation that winds through the brush. Once you spot this, hop on and start walking downstream. It's a bit difficult to stay in the main creekbed, but soon the wash will narrow and travel will become much easier.

To your left is Hellgate Mountain, and the rocky, steep peaks of its ridgeline lead down to the bottom of the wash up ahead of you. Garfias Mountain looms to the right but isn't as impressive as Hellsgate and its companions. Both are just begging to be climbed. It would be worth it to check to see if they are on private property before attempting them, though. Continue downstream and the slopes of Hellsgate and Garfias Mountain start to close in on you. Just over a mile in they meet and you enter a very narrow section of the canyon. Here it is necessary to scramble off a 3-4 foot ledge in order to continue. Although this isn't very difficult for most, it will weed out those hikers with really bad knees or ankles. You will most likely have to hop a couple of feet off, and on the return, you must pull yourself up with your arms. Because of the steep and narrow nature of the canyon at this point, there isn't a logical alternative to this. After the ledge is passed the vegetation thickens again and travel is easier on creek right for this section. Soon, after you are past the impressive slopes of Garfias and Hellsgate Mountains, the creekbed widens a bit as it slowly bends south. The gates of Hell Canyon proper come into view and the anticipation builds. There is one final sharp bend to the east before you enter the canyon. There appears to be a path leading up and over the floodplain on creek left that cuts this turn, but it's not worth it. Cows are generally not as tall as people and it is apparent on this path when you're getting stuck in the face by prickly branches.

The narrow canyon is a riparian area with tall, steep walls and perennial water. It had not seen any precipitation for almost two months when I was there and there were large pools of stagnant water connected by small seeps. During the rainy season, it would probably be a very pleasant canyon. With all of the vegetation, the water, and the cows, the smell is rather pungent in the canyon. Travel through the canyon is rather difficult and requires scrambling along the ledges on creek right. I didn't explore very far down the canyon because of time constraints, but it appears to twist and turn for about a half mile before it opens back up again. Be careful about hiking farther east than Hell Canyon; word has it this is private property. After you're done exploring Hell Canyon, return the way you came.

This is a rather short hike, but there is plenty more to explore in the area. Climb one of the peaks or hike the Burro Flats Loop. I know I'll be back for an overnighter in Cedar Basin and some more exploration.

Check out the Triplogs.

Gate Policy: If a gate is closed upon arrival, leave it closed after you go through. If it is open, leave it open. Leaving a closed gate open may put cattle in danger. Closing an open gate may cut them off from water. Please be respectful, leave gates as found.

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

2008-10-11 JoelHazelton
    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.

     Permit $$

    High Clearance possible when dry

    To canyon trip
    High Clearance approach: Follow 17 north from Phoenix to the Carefree Highway, head west to Castle Hot Springs Road, take this north approximately 9.7 miles, then left for another 7 miles. This section of road is awesome, as you're driving through the bed of Castle Creek and huge canyon walls are towering over you. You'll also pass Castle Hot Springs Resort and its perfectly green lawn. After this, the road will stop at a T intersection; turn left ( west ) to continue on Castle Hot Springs Road for another 5 miles or so to an unimproved road on your left. This road is not easy to spot. As of this writing, it is marked by a cairn. If you cross the creek on a small cement bridge, you've gone too far and must backtrack about 200 feet. The unimproved road will immediately cross the dry, sandy creekbed and continue up the hill on the other side. It is about a mile on this road of short, steep climbs and rocky creekbed crossings before you reach the parking area at the top of a hill, immediately before a steep drop to the trailhead. My small Tacoma made it here with only a bit of difficulty driving up one of the hills.

    Passenger Car Approach: Traveling west on Carefree Highway, pass the Castle Hot Springs exit, and continue approximately 17 miles to the western Castle Hot Springs exit, between mileposts 1 and 2. Turn right (north) on a paved road. In approximately 2 miles it will become an all-weather dirt road. Drive approximately 13 miles until you see the cairned turn-off for the unimproved road. It will be soon after the last of many cement creek crossings. Find a pull-off along Castle Hot Springs Rd and hike the unimproved road to the trailhead. This should tack on at least 2 miles to the round trip, depending on where you find a place to park.

    Both approaches require the use of a topo map. The cairned turnoff is where the road first crosses Bitter Creek from the north. It is marked as a jeep trail on the Garfias Mountain topo quad.
    page created by JoelHazelton on Oct 11 2008 1:09 pm
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