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Canyons are inherently risky. Flash floods occur without notice on sunny days. Technical skills & surrounding topography knowledge required yet does not eliminate risk.
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!!
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. This canyon's upper segments 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 you won't soon forget.
The hike stats as posted within the guide are one-way from the designated trailhead to the upper waterfall. This guide's designated trailhead 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 will 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 keep coming! It is truly impossible to describe just how deep and gnarly this canyon is. Photos 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. I noticed flood debris jammed in the upper branches of giant 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. There is a definite bypass heading up the left side of the canyon for anyone interested in hiking beyond this point. 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 the route described in the text.
Oak Spring Canyon is a unique 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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