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James Canyon, AZ

no permit
156 14 0
Guide 14 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Flagstaff > Munds Park SW
4 of 5 by 7
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 4 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance One Way 4 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,686 feet
Elevation Gain -570 feet
Accumulated Gain 180 feet
Avg Time One Way 3-5 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 4.6
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Seasonal Waterfall & Seasonal Creek
Backpack Yes
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
editedit > ops > dogs to adjust
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
7  2019-09-10 GarthNewby
23  2015-09-28
James and Kelly Loop (technical)
5  2012-06-19 Jackemeyer
16  2011-06-06 Hikergirl81
3  2010-08-28 toddak
48  2010-05-09 Vaporman
15  2009-07-26 margotr
14  2009-07-25 AZOutdoorsman
Page 1,  2
Author joebartels
author avatar Guides 213
Routes 824
Photos 10,825
Trips 4,261 map ( 21,471 miles )
Age 49 Male Gender
Location Phoenix, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
Expand Map
Preferred   Jun, Jul, Aug → 6 AM
Seasons   Summer to Late Summer
Sun  6:14am - 6:25pm
Official Route
2 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Summer Fun!
by joebartels

Page data is for a one-way trek from parking at the power lines then down through the entire canyon to the confluence with Pumphouse Wash. One return option is to climb out of the canyon and find a forest road back or follow the rim(~7mi). A better option is to make it a loop with Pumphouse Wash up to and return via Kelly Canyon(8.35mi). Some do it as a shuttle continuing down Pumphouse Wash to 89A(6.5mi).

Boulder scrambling and rappelling is required. Be wary of the forecast and monsoon storms.

Follow the telephone lines south to James Canyon proper. Head down through the dense trees. Soon you come to a short 10 foot down climb into a pool. If you're talented you can shimmy the left wall around. The easy option is a bypass route on the right. Up top a good use-trail takes you over a few hundred feet and back down into the canyon.

Continue down canyon. The terrain of the canyon varies from small boulders to light bushwhacking throughout. In less than a half mile you encounter a 12 foot rappel into a slanted slot. This is immediately followed by an 6-8 foot jump into a pool.

It seems all the good stuff comes quickly. Soon you enter some shallow narrows. I think there was a short swim in another narrows soon after. Followed by some good old fashion scrambling through some more pools. This brings you to another 6-8 foot drop into another pool. The drop is undercut and pinched. Since the water looked too shallow and rocky for a jump I used the rope to ease down.

The Disneyland of obstacles gives way to an easier half mile. Then you come to the largest and last rappel at a good 35ft. As this was a little over my threshold I found a bypass route on the right. It goes up steep and comes down even steeper. It would be borderline doable in reverse.

The fun isn't close to over. You have the coldest and by chance the longest narrows in the final mile and half. It's razor ice cold and about half of it is a mandatory swim. A floaty device might be to your liking. Your feet will get wet a least one or two more times but not in the last mile or half mile.

This is a fun canyon to cool yourself off on those hot summer days. The canyon is not as colorful as my favorite Upper Woods Canyon nor are the walls as high. You could shorten the trip by climbing out of the canyon at several points and following the rim or a jeep road back.

Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.

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

2009-07-18 joebartels
    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
    James Canyon
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    (my 1st entry)
    Chose "Triplog" b/c the category should cover all aspects? including pics?

    Dropped off at 9:30am at Kelly Canyon Rd exit off I-17, S of Flag. Brought 2L of water, a small bag of trailmix, and three small fruits (plums/pears). After viewing a description by joe bartels, I memorized the map and general idea, with goal of following Pumphouse lower and coming out on 89A.

    No ropes, and stayed out of the water until I was so hot at the end I needed a cool down. That meant lots of climbing around canyons instead of rappelling or wading.

    Ran out of (2L) water w/ 1hr remaining while in the Pumphouse Lower section.
    James Canyon
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    I took some climber-buddies down here yesterday... All 3 of them totally new to canyoneering!
    This is a good place to (relatively) safely practice and teach.

    I have been down here 2 times before, but the water was by FAR the lowest this time around!!!
    the jumps became down-climbs, one even requiring a quick hip-belay from above. Despite the water levels, there were still a few swimmers, the final one being as cold as usual!

    For anyone heading down in the future, don't count on the bolt for the first rappel being there... it seemed unsafe! There are plenty of options for natural anchors here, and at the second rappel. Risking injury isn't worth saving $5 worth of anchoring materials!

    Like always, it was a good time. James Canyon definitely seems a lot longer than it is, especially in the last stretch down to Pumphouse Wash! Once we hit pumphouse wash, our 7AM start time became more reasonable, as it wasn't brutally hot once we were out of the wet.
    James Canyon
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    James is a spectacular canyon full of green in an otherwise dreary state. The water was cool and refreshing, still fairly clean in most places, despite being so long since a good rain.

    The last swim though the dark hallway was very refreshing.

    Hiked up Pumphouse, spotted a few people (not sure if they saw me), and up Kelly, where I ran into mountain bikers and climbers.

    Spent time searching elk trails to escape the heat, since the bottom of pumphouse is quite warm with all the dark rocks that absorb and radiate the heat. Much better once you get about 50 ft up and away.
    James Canyon
    rating optionrating optionrated 3rated 3rated 3
    Pleasant little canyon, decent water conditions, cool and fairly clean. Dropped the technical gear at the end of James and continued on down lower Pumphouse to Oak Creek and back, great sandstone scenery in that stretch. Exited via Kelly, also very pleasant. The mountain bike trail in there is so nice I just kept hiking along it without realizing that at some point it had branched off up a side canyon, ended up too far north. Still not sure where the split was.
    James Canyon
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    Such a great canyoneering & creek hiking loop! :D James Canyon was as much fun as ever with a few sweet narrow sections that require some short down climbing, chilly swimmers, and short rappels with easier sections of rock hopping, wading, and bushwhacking in between. My favorite rappel is that 40-footer which is also a great place to warm up and grab some lunch. The water was chilly but not unbearable though that last long narrow swimmer was mighty cold! :o We dropped our gear here since last Fall there were no more swimmers afterwards. Though this spring we ran across a few knee waders and one interesting log jam swimmer that had us log balancing & straddling in our attempt to stay dry. I was pushing the log along like one of those canal boats in Venice and I was almost to the other side when I grabbed the wall for support and the log slide away and rolled me off. :lol: The water wasn't too bad though, only my pants got wet since I stuff my shirts in my dry keg, while Kelli was skilled enough to stay on and I held the log while she straddled it back to dry land. : app : James canyon always seems to take forever and I was afraid we'd be hiking out near sunset, but we finally hit Pumphouse Wash and the rock hop upstream to Kelly Canyon went by fairly quickly. Those falls had been dry the previous times I've seen it, so it was cool to finally see it flowing with a huge swimming hole under it. After James & Pumphouse, the trail along Kelly Canyon was a welcome relief up that scenic little canyon and I lucked out and was able to find the same place I climbed to the rim last time and road walked back to the car with plenty of daylight to spare. :D
    James Canyon
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    This ones been on my list for some time as well... I was looking for an 'easy' canyon to get some canyoneering experience and this fit the bill perfectly. :D The water was a little chilly, but wasn't too bad with a shorty 3mm. ;) The first set of obstacles is a rather fun experience thru some swimmers/waders and a few short rappels thru the narrows. Further downstream is the 40 footer that isn't too bad but I wasn't enjoying the angled start over the lip but after that it's a straight forward rappel. :) James is not terribly scenic and the boulder hopping down James and up Pumphouse Wash can get quite taxing. :sweat: It's been awhile since I've done Pumphouse, so when I got to it I dropped my pack and hiked the half mile or so to that dirty swimmer before turning back. That trail in Kelly canyon was quite nice after all the boulder hopping and I actually found that canyon to be a pleasant scenic stroll before climbing briefly up to the rim and road walk back to my car. :D
    James Canyon
    rating optionrated 4rated 4rated 4rated 4
    We did a loop back through Kelly Canyon via Pumphouse Wash. It seems like the best option IMO. Be sure to go early as the unshaded exposure in Pumphouse gets HOT!

    Did my first, albeit short, rappel on the 12 footer. A little ~four foot hop and skip across the wall followed by a smooth drop. I enjoyed it thoroughly! Of course I had the help of Jeff and Janelle talking me through it ;)

    I tried but couldn't hack the 40 footer. The bypass I found was pretty good but I don't think it's doable in reverse.

    The water in the long narrows was friggen cold as ice :sweat: Passed and startled two rattlesnakes under a rock. In switching directions I lost my balance. My hand landed six inches away from the rattling duo without incident.

    It's good to put this one in the done column after almost a decade of anticipation. Fun day, thanks to Jeff & Janelle for their help! :)

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

    To canyon trip
    About 9-10 miles south of Flagstaff on I-17. Exit 331 (Kelly Canyon Road). On east side of 1-17 about 0.45mi to the power lines and park.
    page created by joebartels on Jul 18 2009 8:56 pm
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