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Oak Spring Canyon - Tonto Basin, AZ

no permit
112 6 0
Guide 6 Triplogs  0 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Payson > Payson S
4.3 of 5 by 3
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 3.8 miles
Trailhead Elevation 2,484 feet
Elevation Gain 1,035 feet
Accumulated Gain 1,265 feet
Avg Time One Way 3 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 8.02
Interest Off Trail Hiking, Seasonal Waterfall, Seasonal Creek & Perennial Creek
Backpack No
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
15  2016-12-27 chumley
4  2013-11-30 ssk44
22  2012-09-07 chumley
36  2011-02-12 Vaporman
18  2010-05-01 skatchkins
17  2010-02-05 ssk44
Author ssk44
author avatar Guides 19
Routes 12
Photos 2,250
Trips 274 map ( 830 miles )
Age 44 Male Gender
Location Gilbert, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   Feb, Mar, Apr, May → Early
Seasons   Winter to Late Spring
Sun  6:10am - 6:29pm
0 Alternative
Flora Nearby
Named place Nearby
Water World!
by ssk44

Warning: Oak Spring Canyon is a very rugged and steep canyoneering route. The canyon segment of this hike climbs 540 vertical feet in 1 mile. This hike involves extensive scrambling with frequent hand use. Staying dry is only possible during light to moderate flow. DO NOT ENTER OAK SPRING CANYON DURING HEAVY RUNOFF OR DURING MONSOON SEASON!!

Overview: Oak Spring Canyon is a stunningly rugged and narrow canyon, located in the backdrop of Mount Ord. The route involves numerous short waterfalls and ends at a powerful 90-foot (+/-) cascade waterfall pouring through a deep and narrow slot in the upper canyon. The upper waterfall is truly amazing. The beauty and power of this waterfall must be experienced in person to appreciate. The upper segments of this canyon are fed a steady flow of slow winter runoff from the north slopes of Mount Ord creating a beautiful seasonal stream that typically runs clean clear water from mid winter through early spring. This hike is all about timing for optimal effect. Go too soon after a heavy storm and the canyon will be a dangerous raging tyrant. Wait too long and the upper waterfall won't be nearly as dramatic. The optimal time is roughly three weeks following a snowstorm to allow the heavy runoff time to calm down. Hit it right and your trip will be an experience that won't soon be forgotten.

Hike: The hike stats as posted within the description are one-way from the designated trailhead to the upper waterfall. The designated trailhead for this description is for moderate clearance two-wheel drive vehicles and involves hiking along the 4x4 route of FR598. Individuals with capable stock four-wheel drive vehicles can drive to the access point for Oak Spring Canyon (Lat. 33 Degrees/55'/26.46"/N & Long. 111 Degrees/21'/14.05"/W). Hiking to the canyon access point involves 2.5 miles and 550 vertical feet. Do not take any left turns along FR598. After approximately 2.5 miles along FR598, you will see an obvious right turn heading north. Follow this roadbed for a short distance to a small parking area at a fence line.

Let the games begin! From the parking area, cross the fence and follow that fence line for a short distance northwest and then down into an oak tree filled feeder drainage. Hike down the feeder drainage into Oak Spring Canyon. I am going to give you fair warning right now that this canyon will kick your %## before you're done. Reaching the upper waterfall and back is a full body workout. The initial segment leading to the narrow upper canyon is easy and involves nothing more than boulder hopping and creek dodging. Things change quickly once you start hiking the upper gorge. The farther up you go, the bigger and more numerous the waterfalls become. They just keep coming! It is truly impossible to describe just how deep and gnarly this canyon really is. Photos just don't do it. One segment along the way up follows the edge of a sheer granite wall of over 100 feet in height. The flood stage waterline in places was 15 feet. Noticing flood debris jammed in the upper branches of large sycamore trees sent chills down my spine. I was frankly amazed that this canyon was doable. I kept waiting for the monster obstacle with no bypass. It never came. Every waterfall and pour-over had a manageable bypass.

The main event! Roughly one mile up Oak Spring Canyon is a grotto like area surrounded by ominous towering buttes. This is the location of the cascade waterfall. My jaw hit the ground as I reached this area. Amazing! The elevation drop and topography on my maps hinted that this spot would have a big waterfall, but I never imagined it would be so spectacular in person. For anyone interested in hiking beyond this point, there is a definite bypass heading up the left side of the canyon. It looks nasty, but it will work. The bypass climbs 260 vertical feet up a steep boulder strewn notch. I have to admit, it would be cool to hike around the upper buttes to the top of the waterfall. That would be wild! See maps for further clarification of route described in text.

Summary: Oak Spring Canyon is an unforgettable hidden treasure that very few people ever visit. Truly special... I have been admiring this canyon from a distance for many years. It was finally time to make it a reality. Oak Spring Canyon delivers from start to finish. Count on having it all to yourself if you go. Enjoy!

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2010-02-06 ssk44
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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
Oak Spring Canyon - Tonto Basin
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Jon introduced me to this place four years ago, but it was almost totally dry. I figured with good rain and snowmelt on Mt. Ord there was a chance for some good flow today. I heard the creek running from the trailhead and knew I wouldn't be disappointed.

After reaching the main falls, I decided to try to climb up and get to the top. The scree slope is very manageable and didn't take too long. Up top, I headed back downstream toward the top of the falls, and encountered a series of other falls on the way. All of them were able to be bypassed on the left/north side of the creek, with some steep scree slopes and exposed class-4 climbing along the way.

I enjoyed the upper falls, and the creek up here was more open and picturesque than below. Snow dotted the mountainside above and rough pink granite and smooth grey granite combined to make a nice stretch of creek. I was unable to get to the very top of the 95-foot drop as there was one final fall just above it. This was in a narrow slot with smooth granite and no way down without a rope. There was a nice tree with vibrant yellow just above the top of the big fall.

I headed back the way I came, and did my best butt-scoot/ski on the scree slope. I rode a nice little rock slide/avalanche for about 20 yards along the way. Got cut up a little bit, but otherwise no big deal.

It got dark on me and I made slow progress down creek, alternating between hopping on creek rocks and searching for some kind of cattle path on the side of the creek. The flora here isn't too friendly and I am apparently taller than anything that travels along the creek, so I did a lot of ducking to follow the best paths. Got back to the truck a little over an hour after dark set in. This was just what the doctor ordered for today! :y:
Oak Spring Canyon - Tonto Basin
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Got frustrated sitting at my desk looking out my window and watching it rain all morning. Ten minute break on the landing outside didn't fix the problem. About five phone calls later I decided that I wasn't going to accomplish anything today anyway. Walked into my boss's office and interrupted his viewing of the US Open on (really, was he going to deny my request?) and more or less announced that I was going to leave and play in the rain.

Met Jon a bit later in Fountain Hills, and we headed for Tonto Basin. I knew nothing about Oak Spring Canyon. Never read the description, not a triplog, not a photo, not a glance at a map. Nothing. Made for a little bit of an adventure.

In the end, Mt. Ord had only gotten .24" of rain and subsequently, there wasn't much going on in the canyon. There was a nice trickle of water over the main falls, but otherwise it was mostly just a very cool hike in a nice remote canyon. I'll definitely head back here for spring runoff or after a more substantial (maybe 2+"?) monsoon storm.

Despite a little disappointment in the lack of flow in the canyon, it was an enjoyable hike, and was 1000x better than sitting in my office surfing HAZ while pretending to work all afternoon!
Oak Spring Canyon - Tonto Basin
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This canyon has been on my radar ever since ssk44 posted those sweet waterfall photos last spring and it was great to final technically descend it. :y: In my search for the secret canyons of Parallel Play & Double Play, I thought this canyon might have been on of those but those canyons were later determined to be other canyons. Though this canyon was very recently descended by Todd Martin and names A-Okay Canyon. Well now that I know the rope length needed and the drops all have new anchors, it sounded like a great time to run out there and finally descend it. :sweat:

There's probably a few different ways to get above the narrows of this canyon. Originally I had plotted out hiking up the smaller drainage to the east and scrambling up a saddle and dropping in above the narrows. But on the drive in, I changed my mind and we hiked up the lightly vegetated ridges on the western side of the canyon. And then once above the narrows, it looked like one could also rock hop up this drainage to the 140ft falls and then scramble up a loose scree slope to get up to the first rappel. Our route on the western slope may have been a tad longer, but it seems like the easiest approach of the three. :) When we were above the narrows, we came upon a side drainage that looked interested enough so we dropped in that side canyon and ended up getting an additional 100ft double drop to reach the main drainage. Ohh snap, we dropped in right in the middle of the narrows and missed the upper section. ](*,) Ohh sweet, we can scramble up the eastern ridge and get above the first rappel. :GB: We thru the wetsuits on and I went a bit further up canyon to get a good view down that scree chute ravine and got a rush when I saw the 140ft falls down below. The upper narrows starts with a 25ft slick waterfall rappel followed by two slippery slides. The top of the two slides is a 15ft bumpy ride and ends in a super chilly swimmer that was rather shocking to the system and I banged my elbow pretty good also. :o The canyon mellows up for a bit with loads of rock hopping & light down climbing & plenty of sunshine to warm us back up. Though I was staying plenty warm in my 4/3 even though we were playing in chilly snow runoff. :) The canyon takes a hard right and soon we're hitting the 2nd official rappel (not counting our bonus rappel) of 30ft down another slick falls into a brief narrows section. Very soon afterwards we hit the super sweet big drop down a ~140ft lightly flowing falls. :y: I recently bought a spool of canyoneering rope and this was my 200-footer first canyon and I already put a fuzzy section in the sheath going over a sharp edge of the falls. :roll: ](*,) The technical section was over, but we left the gear on as we continued down canyon thru loads of down climbing & rock hopping and eventually dropped the gear in a sunny section. Further down canyon, the creek hiking got easier and the side ridges dropped lower and we recognized were we crossed the creek and scrambled back out and to my buddies SUV parked nearby.

Woot! Another sweet run down another flowing Mazzie canyon along the Tonto Basin. :D Hmm, I wonder what that nearby steep & craggy Sycamore Canyon barely to the south has in store. :-k Might have to start from the top of Mt Ord to get down into that one...
Oak Spring Canyon - Tonto Basin
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Oak Spring Canyon (02/05/2010)

What a ride! I had so much fun on this hike. The upper waterfall far exceeded my expectations. The momentum of the hike just keeps building as the canyon gets steeper. The waterfalls just keep coming! My 8-inch Gore-Tex Danner boots came in very handy while working my way along the creek. Keeping your feet dry is must in the winter. A single walking staff is a tremendous advantage in a canyon with water! I am not accustomed to standing below large waterfalls. The power, the sound, the wind, and the mist must be experienced in person to truly appreciate! Very cool... Although this is primarily a seasonal hike, I suspect that there is light perennial water flow in the upper canyon throughout the year due to thick vegetation and numerous large sycamore trees. This is a unique special location that not many know about.

Eric (ssk44)

Permit $$

Map Drive
FR / Jeep Road - Car possible when dry

To canyon trip
From Mesa, take Highway 87 to Highway 188. Drive along Highway 188 for approximately 10.3 miles to FR598, which is located just after a major drainage. Go through the gate and drive for approximately 3 tenths of a mile to the designated trailhead located at a turnoff (TH Lat. 33 Degrees/55'/01.77"/N & Long. 111 Degrees/19'/08.18"/W). Reaching the posted trailhead requires moderate clearance two-wheel drive. Cars are not recommended. Park at the gate near the highway if you drive a low clearance car.
page created by ssk44 on Feb 06 2010 12:43 pm
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