Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
Coconino National Forest
Stage 1 Fire Restrictions Aug 14th to TBD
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.