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Hell Canyon - Garfias Wash, AZ

no permit
106 16 1
Guide 16 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Phoenix > Phoenix NW
3.2 of 5 by 5
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 Mine Following
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
7  2017-01-04 MountainMatt
6  2016-12-04
Garfias-Hellgate Mountain Combo
24  2011-03-13 skatchkins
13  2011-03-05
Hells Gate Lost Loop
Page 1,  2
Author JoelHazelton
author avatar Guides 16
Routes 10
Photos 967
Trips 406 map ( 1,971 miles )
Age 33 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  6:18am - 6:25pm
3 Alternative
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 Hellsgate 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 really 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.

    Most recent Triplog Reviews
    Hell Canyon - Garfias Wash
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    Spent a nice weekend camped out in Cedar Basin near the Hell Canyon TH. Both Mornings were SUPER cold with a heavy dew that froze over by morning. We actually hike the loop starting at the Hell Canyon TH heading towards the canyon. After exploring the canyon, which was absolutely beautiful, we back tracked and started heading towards Horse creek. We made our way out of the canyon finally intersecting the road at the first horse creek TH. We then headed back north towards Hell Canyon TH and then to camp. It ended up being a six mile loop...

    over all REALLY enjoyed this loop. it would actually make a really nice, but short overnight. lots of nice spots for back country camping.
    Hell Canyon - Garfias Wash
    rating optionrating optionrating optionrated 2rated 2
    Garfias Wash --> Hells Canyon --> Horse Creek --> Return on Jeep Trail

    I drove out to the trailhead with lights ablaze dodging burros and Javelina along the way. I found the turn-off with no problem, but it was dark and I mistakenly took the old one in the dark. As I geared into 4Lo creeping up the dips along the embankment edge, I tried to remember if the trip description had stated 4WD a must. At the top of the hill I realized there was a freshly grated road awaiting that could have been taken instead. 2WD the rest of the way.
    Parked just uphill from the official TH and ate my dinner fireside. Closed up shop and let the breeze carry me to sleep.

    Dreamt of Pappa Bartel.

    Woke just before sunup- nothing spectacular- back to sleep.

    With the sun now reaching over the hill, I fired up the stove for some oats, took in the surroundings, then hiked down the road to the registry. 2 entries were listed a couple days old- one BLM. I hiked the wide wash along downstream to the small drop with the still full pools. Nothing to exciting along the way. Found a solitary bat in the cave at the confluence of Horse Creek. I wanted to see Hell Canyon proper and kept going. Started finding big cat tracks in the wetter sand less than a day old. So many places for them to hide.
    There was plenty more water after the cave and some fun work arounds as the walls closed in. I got to the exit and the end of Hell's shadowy landscape then turned it back around. I hiked to Horse and took it up. Only at the ending was it closed up brushwise to where higher ground was preferable. Back in the sand, the shade washed away with my new heading. There were more rocks to but going was easy. Just before the topo-listed well, I found some shade to snack in.
    In search of the well I found the remnants of an old cabin and a couple curious leave behinds.
    Shortly after, I scared up some cattle who, acting like they'd never had human contact (or maybe just mountain lion), wouldn't just turn around or wait me out, out of sight, and as a result became my hiking partners for the duration of the trip.
    Nearing the spring, water was seen again but no swimable pools like I'd hoped. The water was coming out the tapped rock pretty well and my wash trail became an old road. When it began leaving the creek (the correct Horse Creek Trail route), I decided to add a little more to my trip and just hike the creek until it met with the road on its own at Horse Creek Tank. We all made it to the road without too much trouble and as I sat under one of the trees around the tank lunching, we talked about our journey together. There may have been some singing too.
    After our long goodbye, I began hiking the road back to the truck. I passed the registry at the official Horse Creek TH. One solitary truck passed me with only a head nod shared. I enjoyed that the road was almost entirely downhill.
    I got back to my vehicle, packed up and took Castle Hot Springs out the opposite way heading Southwest for a different view. I'd actually recommend this way since it was smoother and eventually wider. With no lake traffic, even though a longer distance, 55 could be maintained (if one was so inclined of course).
    Hell Canyon - Garfias Wash
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Hells Gate Lost Loop
    Living in far NW Phoenix, The Hells Canyon Wilderness is as close as it gets to getting away from the City for me.

    According to the BLM, there are 7 trails in this wilderness area. Spring Valley, Burro Flats, and Garfias Wash, I've heard of. Bell, Hellgate, Hermit, and Horse Creek, I have not. Starting at 4 different Trailheads.

    I was taking a crap shoot on this one, wanting to do a loop through the wilderness, seeing as much as possible, scouting for future trips. I traced a route starting at the Castle Creek TH, down the Spring Trail, to the Garfias Wash, West to an unnamed wash, north to a Pack Trail on the TOPO, and into Crater Canyon for the return.

    I really enjoyed this trek. The Spring Trail was in nice shape, and Garfias wash was an easy and interesting hike. In western Crater Canyon, we got to see the ruins of an old two story stone building and Little Hells Gate (Both later found to be on Private Property), and then had a wild time climbing on, around, and under large boulders on our way out traveling east.

    We got to one point in a slot canyon, that we pondered on for awhile. Do we go back and climb up and around... Or, swim in water, that more than likely had ice on it a week earlier. We protected the electronics, wallets, etc and made the 50yard swim. It took a good 15 minutes for my voice to return to normal.

    Turning out of Crater Canyon, into Castle Creek we shortly came upon what I thought to be the deserted, well manicured, Castle Hot Springs Resort. Waiting for us there was a slightly upset lady, informing us that we were on private property. Looking behind us. there were in fact 10 or so No Trespassing signs across the wash. Those were the only signs we saw all day. Joe posted this in his triplog, and I might as well post it here also, to keep others from potentially wandering onto Private Property like we did. ... 10159,1337

    It was a great day in the Hells Canyon Wilderness
    Hell Canyon - Garfias Wash
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    Hells Gate Lost Loop
    Bruce invited me to Hell so naturally I had to check it out. With good intentions and loaded GPS routes we headed in to do a moderate Wilderness loop. During our three hour tour the weather started getting rough and the tiny ship was lost. Due to canyon walls the GPS reception blows and we unknowingly ended up on private property. Not a fence nor a single sign to forewarn the honest neither. After the coldest swim in my life, must have been forty something we thought we were back on track. Only to be greeted by an angry property owner asking us if there was not enough signs to let us know we were on private property. I thought it was a joke until I looked directly behind me and saw a line of signs across the wash. Sheesh ameesha after a lecture we were spared our lives... I can understand the frustration. However we were carrying BLM government issued maps. I'd challenge any land owner or BLM agent to navigate with the issued maps.

    Otherwise a beautiful day and gorgeous country were apparently your only hopes of a glimpse are to be born a cow... c'est la vie! Just beware and stay within the red line.

    Wildflowers were tiny and difficult to see in the few areas where present.

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    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 there are huge canyon walls towering over you. You'll also pass Castle Hot Springs Resort and it's 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 turnoff for the unimproved road. It will be soon after the last of many cement creek crossings. Find a pulloff 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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