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Willow Valley, AZ

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Guide 37 Triplogs  1 Topic
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Payson > Clints Well W
4.4 of 5 by 16
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 3 of 5
Distance One Way 6.5 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,700 feet
Elevation Gain 760 feet
Avg Time One Way 6 hours
Kokopelli Seeds 9.03
Interest Off Trail Hiking & Perennial Creek
Backpack Yes
varies or not certain dogs are allowed
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18  2017-08-13 adv_trev
4  2017-07-22
Flatrock Tank Trail
19  2017-06-17 chumley
6  2017-06-17 MountainMatt
14  2016-07-09
Tramway Maxwell Loop
8  2012-11-24 Slinger05
40  2011-07-31
Shamrock Canyon
19  2011-07-22 metalmansion81
Page 1,  2,  3
Author J&SHike
author avatar Guides 5
Routes 0
Photos 71
Trips 4 map ( 69 miles )
Age 45 Male Gender
Location Prescott, AZ
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
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Preferred   May, Jun, Jul, Aug → 8 AM
Seasons   Late Spring to Early Autumn
Sun  6:13am - 6:24pm
Official Route
3 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Flora Nearby
Geology Nearby
Named place Nearby
High elevation canyon
by J&SHike

Willow Valley sits at an elevation of 6700'. With it's narrows, mandatory swims, boulder hopping, scrambling and some route finding this is a great place for people to get a taste of canyoneering in a great day hike.

My buddy and I did this hike on Labor Day. Neither of us had been here before so we set out early to try and find the canyon. Follow the directions given below. Park your car at the tank (which will be on your right) or park as we did under the big ponderosa on the other side of the road opposite the tank.

To start the hike and the small bit of route finding head towards the tank. You can walk around the tank opposite the road and you'll find a cowboy gate where the fence goes up and over some large rocks. If you look you can find it easily. Close the gate once through and pick your way down the canyon. There is no well defined trail here so just route find your way down the canyon. A hint: Follow the bottom of the canyon don't try and go on the slopes the New Mexico Locust bush is razor sharp and prominent on the slopes, it's less in the canyon bottom itself. Just above the confluence with Willow Valley there is a 10 ft. cliff which you must either down climb or go around and get cut up in the Locust bush. If you look to the left you can down climb this easily (and I'm no climber either).

Once in Willow Valley it's a short ways before you come to three to four swims, the first two you can climb around which are described in Williams book "Canyoneering Arizona" as 5.1 climbs. So just swim for it. It's deep water in all of the pools. The first pool is an easy swim and a flat rock to start your swim off of too. The second pool is a little trickier, you scramble down onto wet rock and go right in. The third pool is a mandatory swim and this one is real tricky as once you scramble down it gets real narrow and the rock sort of goes straight down into the water. There is a ledge you can slide over and onto and start from there or just go feet first into the water. We decided on the ledge. You scramble over a rock and slide down onto the ledge which is slick and under water, if you fall to your right you fall into a 5 foot pool, if you fall to your left (which is the swimming path) then you fall into deep water so be careful, it's only about 4 feet wide for about 10 feet or so. The last pool Williams book said it was a wade but it was way deeper than any wade. We found a way around this one on creek right up a rock slope, over, and kind of spider man your way around a narrow ledge then jump from there onto the beach.

After the swims, which were cold water, you boulder hop and bush wack your way down stream. It widens up a bit and flowing water starts. A trail starts to form here and there as well. Campsites appear on both sides of the creek after a while and of course stupid people trash. For heavens sake people if you don't want to eat your bagel, crackers, or banana take it with you don't leave it for the animals as someone did down here. It makes the animals less scared of you and more apt to go through your pack at night. Yeah and there are bear and mountain lion around here too...

You'll finally come to the origin of West Clear Creek. It's easy to recognize as another stream (Clover Creek) joins with Willow Valley forming West Clear Creek. It's a wide open area with cobble stones everywhere. About a half mile more you come to the Maxwell Trail. It's not marked so pay attention and the trail will be on creek right going up and away just before the canyon makes a sharp left. The Maxwell trail is 0.6 miles up to the trail head and to your shuttle vehicle if you left one, or mountain bike, or road walking (3 miles) back to your car at the start of the hike.

This is a great hike to get your feet wet literally and figuratively to see if you are up to canyoneering. Just make sure it's not going to rain especially in the narrow parts, it rained on us with a thunderstorm in the afternoon and lasted the whole way home. Not cool when lightning bolts and heavy rains are all around you. Outside temperatures should be around 85 to 95 degrees due to the cold waters you'll be swimming in or wading in. It was 86 degrees when we went and I would have preferred 90 degrees or so. Have fun, pick up after yourselves and those "other" non appreciating people of the canyon. We saw no one on this entire hike just what they left behind, no trash up in the narrows all the way down until the campsites appeared.

Check out the Official Route and 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.

2003-09-13 J&SHike
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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 of 18 deeper Triplog Reviews
Willow Valley
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Not an easy "trail" to get to (rough roads, not a lot of road signs, muddy spots if wet), but it drops you into an excellent stretch of canyon, and WCC is always worth the effort. Went downstream to the Clover Creek confluence, then back upstream a ways until thunder and rain convinced us to head back out.
Willow Valley
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This one has been on the list for a while, and Joel and I have been doing creek backpacks at this time of year for the past few years. The weather was perfect for this ... a little warm everywhere, but absolutely ideal to be swimming and wading in a deep canyon.

A couple of things to note. As others have described, the trip down the drainage from Maxwell Tank, while relatively short, is overgrown with uncomfortable prickly things. What apparently nobody else mentioned is that this drainage is choked with unavoidable poison ivy. I mean like the fields of poison ivy. If poison ivy could be harvested for food, this canyon alone could eliminate hunger across the globe. Forever. :scared:

Once into Willow Valley we arrived at the first swimmer which may have been able to be bypassed on the right, but we knew we'd be swimming at some point so we just decided to get it over with. There ended up being four swimmers, and though it was a warm and sunny day, I can't oversell how cold these pools were. Absolutely full-body numbing cold. It was refreshing for about 30 seconds and after that it was a race to get to the other side. If I'm ever up here on a day that is under 85 degrees, I'd consider a wet suit for these.

After the swimmers, it's just wading and sloshing through water or along the shore and enjoying the countless amazing views in this incredibly scenic canyon. The farther down canyon you get the more space there is for camping and bypass trails along the shore. From the highest springfed pool where the water became constant to the confluence with Clover and WCC, there is a reasonably easy to follow use trail. This trail also reintroduces poison ivy, which was largely absent for a few miles, though it's a bit more avoidable than it was in the drainage leading into the canyon.

Things weren't too bad in the canyon, but up on the rim both before and after the hike, the bugs were relentless. Gnats, see-ums, no-see-ums, hear-ums, black flies, horseflies, dragonflies, elkflies, mooseflies, and baby chucpacabra larvae all feasted despite my skin glowing yellow with 106% pure deet. As I write this, I'm honestly not sure which welts are poison ivy and which are bug bites. Interestingly, there were no mosquitos. But I'm going to start breeding bat colonies to bring with me if this kind of thing ever happens again. ](*,)

Despite that, it was a fantastic weekend, and I'd do it again next week without thinking twice! :)
Willow Valley
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Looking for a short day trip to cool off in the clear water of WCC we decided on the Tramway Maxwell Loop. Knowing this was an ideal summer hike for pups, I decided to dognap Cup and Blanco and give them a little exercise in the woods.

Turned out to be a great day. The WCC portion of the trail was more overgrown than I remember with less of a developed route to follow. Especially upstream of Maxwell. But once we reached Willow, there was a surprisingly good use trail most of the way. I actually found this area of canyon to be much more scenic and interesting than the upper WCC part. I'll have to come back and try the loop from farther up that hits the cold swimmers.

There was a lot of algae on the rocks and underwater footing was as slippery as I can ever remember it being. And Willow has a ton of poison ivy. Rumor has it 9L is currently working on his 14th application of Tecnu since arriving home! :)
Willow Valley
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Tried to escape the Valley heat, but was still hot up north until 10PM and hot again by 9AM the next day. Hiked to the tank and headed down the drainage. A little brushier than anticipated, but not terrible. WCC is dry where you first reach it, but there are several initial pools of ice water you have to swim through. Awfully refreshing considering the heat. As you boulder on you eventually run into water. First a little, then it finally starts flowing. Still missed the arch toddak posted. :( Once you reach the flowing creek it is awesome the rest of the way. Headed up the maxwell to breezier weather and cooler temps on Saturday night.
Willow Valley
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The service road to get to the trail took at least an hour. We traveled by truck which is highly recommended for this trail. We arrived after sunset and had to do some night driving for at least 30 minutes. It was cold..very cold in November. I remember scrambling to find wood so we could get a fire going asap.

The trail down the canyon was a little difficult to find without a waypoint. Once you find the trail marker/head it's an easy way down and it's almost impossible to go off the trail. It was quite a hike down but the views are amazing. I'd say it took about 1/2 hour to get to the bottom and about 45 minutes to climb/hike up.

We parked at MGRS: 12S VD 6282 2369 which is about as close to the trail as possible.

There's was little water at the bottom from where we ended up. I'm thinking we were either at the end of the trail.
Willow Valley
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Well I was a little tired from hitting Horsetank Wash the day before but a cute gal talked me into another canyon up on the rim. I choose Shamrock since it was the only WCC canyon I hadn't done already this summer and I felt I could safely get her down canyon with no issues with her limited canyon experience. :)

That 142F is marked well this summer, so making my way up it in my car wasn't a problem at all. After driving a few miles up that road, I parked at a junction near the exit canyon and dropped down east into Shamrock canyon. It's a tad higher up canyon than in Todd's book, but it's a gentle slope and you get to see more of the lush scenic canyon and I get to test out more of her down climbing skills before reaching the main technical narrows. ;) We encountered loads of mossy down climbs, some small narrows that we bypasses, and loads of canyon stew before reaching the first optional rappel. I could of down climbed that initial 10ft drop but no point taking the risk with her and being on rope made it easier to avoid that stinky keeper pothole. And I was able to use the rope to help keep her out of it also. :D The water is only waist deep in a few sections and it's the middle of summer so I opted to forgo the wetsuits but that also meant out skin took more of a beating on the down climbs & pesky vegetation. : rambo : This is soon followed by a mossy chute that requires a controlled slide to land on some submerged logs to avoid getting completely wet. After going thru another vegetated narrows, you hit the first bolted rappel of about 30ft into a waist deep pool with another bolt on the right. Pull ropes and re-rig for at least 100ft of rope both sides so you can get you about 50ft down into the hallway, across that pools, and if you want to avoid the keeper you lean hard right LDC past the arch and over the fin of sandstone. She's not ready for a keeper and I didn't want to carry more than 200ft of rope, so I figured this was the best setup for us. :) Another 30ft log-choked rappel is just around the corner with another 60ft open drop just beyond that. Below is a great sunny spot for lunch and to drop the technical gear before bushwhacking your way to the beautiful West Clear Creek. :D

The technical canyon is short so I recommended we venture up the scenic Willow Valley for a couple hours. It was of course as amAZing as ever with it's many cool swimmers, tall colorful sandstone walls, and lush vegetation. We got a good 2-3 miles upstream before turning around and heading back to WCC. Back at the confluence, we picked up our technical gear and headed downstream a bit for the steep exit canyon. The exit was of course steep and full of more poison ivy & stinging nettle but we were able to avoid most of it thankfully. ;) It was SO nice to be done with that sweaty steep hike out of WCC with less than an hour of light left. :sweat:
Willow Valley
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Took Friday off work and drug a friend along to check out another non-technical canyon up on the rim. Cached some water at the Maxwell trailhead and drove over to the Maxwell tank to drop in. Willow Valley starts of as a pretty nasty bushwhack down a small drainage, but soon opened up into an awesome Coconino sandstone canyon. A few short down climbs to the valley floor and a few minutes of boulder hopping brought us to the first of the 3 swims. Looked for the climbing route to the right mentioned in Canyoneering Arizona, but didn't find anything promising, so we sucked it up and got in the COLD water! We motored through the 3 swimmers quickly and got to boulder hopping through the gorgeous sandstone narrows to warm back up.

Once the valley opened up and the creek showed up it was back to bushwhacking on one side of the creek or the other or wading down the middle. At times the vegetation was very dense and left any exposed skin looking like a gang of alley cats attacked us, one plant we brushed by made us itch like crazy till we rinsed off in the creek. Stinging nettles maybe? Those creek miles feel so much longer than normal miles and it felt like took way too long to get to the Maxwell Trail, but it finally showed up.

We hiked up the Maxwell trail with only a small amount of water left and were very happy to have cached that gallon for the 3 mile road walk back to the truck. Awesome weather all day and a fun canyon. Can't wait to explore further down in WCC and see the White Box and Hanging Garden I keep hearing about!
Willow Valley
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I was looking for non-technical overnighter up on the rim to just getting away from it all and mid-April is usually when all the rim roads re-open so I figured I'd drive up and see how much snow was left and which roads I could access and was pleased to see no snow and the roads pretty much all re-opened. :y:

I worked that Saturday morning, but I drove up that afternoon and got a few miles in on FR142 before parking and beelining across the rim towards middle Tom's Creek and dropped in via a steep side drainage. It'd been SO long since I'd been in WCC that I was quickly enchanted by even a hint of the sandstone goodness yet to come. :D Followed Tom's Creek downstream to its confluence with Clover Creek and continued on to the confluence with Willow Valley and the beginning of WCC and setup camp at a sweet campsite nearby. Nice, it only took 3 hours of scenic rock hopping to get here. :sweat: Heated up a Mountain House, rolled out my bag & pad, made a small fire, watched as the full moon lit up the canyon thru the clouds, and listened to the many canyon sounds. ;)

Woke up early the next cool morning, did the morning rituals, and made an early trek up Willow Valley to the 'springs'. The morning stayed cool and the water was chilly, so I avoided the creek when possible and stuck to less scenic side trails. The deciduous trees and ferns and grass haven't all grown back yet with much evidence of some massive winter flows that rushed thru here, but Willow Valley was still just as amAZingly beautiful as she ever is. :D On the way up, I saw a handful of geese and even a few elk grazing down in the creek. Once at the springs, I chilled at took a lunch break & power nap before returning downstream and taking loads more photos in the better light. At the confluence & back at camp, I packed back up my full backpack and by then I'd decided I wasn't going to return the way I came in but instead continue down WCC and exit up 142E trail and walk 142 back to my car. :sweat: It's been a few years since I'd hiked straight thru this part of WCC so I was kinna surprised and how close every thing was together. :lol: Before I knew it I was passing the Maxwell trail, Tramway trail, the springs and Sundance Canyon already?!? :o I crossed the waist hike chilly creek to enter the Cathedral of lower Sundance Canyon as was treated with the lightly trickling 180ft falls and a 6th high ice/snow mound at the bottom. After checking that out, I continued around the corner and up the 142E trail and was pleased that I'd still have plenty of light for the LONG road walk back to my car. :sweat:

WOW, West Clear Creek always has a way of blowing my mind every spring/early summer with it's amAZing beauty and I can't wait to start canyoneering here again. :y:
Willow Valley
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The bushwhack into the drainage is brutal but short, once in the bottom the going gets much easier. Great water in the creek, a bit cold on the swims but great for wading. Hiked up to the east rim via a cairned use trail (aka Flatrock Tank trail) at the top of the second straightaway that meets the rim at the end of FR9399S - steep and loose but not too crazy. Also did the Tramway Trail.
Willow Valley
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Woo, finally got around to doing the last 'published' technical canyon of WCC! :y: I had been putting this one off because of many reasons like it required 2 long ropes, rough road in, keeper pothole, not rated very high, possibly needed a wetsuit, and it tough to convince someone to tag along... Well today was the day and it'd been WAY too long since my last solo adventure! :D

So that 142F isn't marked too good and I didn't want to beat my car up too much, so I just got out turned on the GPS and huffed an additional two miles to the canyon. I ended up just dropping into the middle section of the canyon and hit a couple nice sections of narrows that I bypassed for the most part before reaching the canyon register. Hmm, no one else has signed in since Steve & Todd were here last summer... :-k The short & sweet narrow section starts with a few downclimbs & pools and then you hit that 40ft rap from a sweet keyhole ledge into waist-high pool. I'm glad I didn't bring a wetsuit because I only got wet up to my waist. ;) Rappel #2 is the 'tricky' one of the day that starts with a 60ft drop, goes thru a pool, and then drops down to that big teardrop-shaped keeper, so I broke out my 2 200ft ropes and set them up for full length. The rappel thru this final section of narrows was pretty sweet, but that keeper is SO easily avoidable it was comical that I'd been fearing it all day. :lol: Maybe if I was with others, I'd give that keeper a try but for now I'll just snap a picture and keep on going. So I rap the additional 20-25ft from that arch ledge and the flipping centermark of my 200ft is sitting on the ground. :x Ohh snap!?! You mean I could have done this canyon with a single 200ft rope and I'm needlessly taking the 2nd one for a walk all day... :roll: Afterwards there were loads of treefall to avoid, a 30ft drop, then a cool 60ft, and then loads of rock/boulder hopping before reaching the amazingly beautiful WCC confluence. :) So I was thinking that if I had time I'd run up Willow Valley a bit, but I ran thru Shamrock so fast I had loads of time left and decided to hit the most scenic section by going a few miles upstream to the 'springs' and back. So I dropped the ropes and gear at a campsite I used the last time I was down here and made the long rock hop upstream. On the way up since it was warmer, I stuck mostly to the creek and did a few swimmers but on the way back I stuck mostly to the trail whenever I could find them avoiding most of the pools. The 'springs' were as amazing as ever, quite the gem to behold! :o After eating a quick lunch and taking a power nap, I turned around and made pretty good time back to the confluence. It was tough throwing those two ropes back on my back especially considering I only really needed one of them today, but I sucked it up and headed downstream WCC towards the steep exit canyon. This is a popular section of the creek so I was able to follow trails most of the way and the exit canyon wasn't too tough to locate esp with a GPS. I broke out the gloves, put the pant legs back on, a longer shirt and made the steep brushy ascent back up to the rim. : rambo : It's not the nicest way out of WCC, but it works and it wasn't too unpleasant and before you know it I'm back on the forrest roads walking to my car after a long exhausting yet highly rewarding day. :D

Permit $$

Map Drive
FR / Dirt Road / Gravel - Car Okay

To canyon trip
Take Hwy 260 East out of Camp Verde and drive until you come to Hwy 87 go left or North bound. Right around the area of Clints well and the Happy Jack information center you'll see a sign for Forest Hwy 3. Turn left (if going northbound on Hwy 87)onto Forest Hwy 3. In about ten miles or so you'll turn left onto FR 81, this is not easy to see but it's not hard either unless your going eighty miles an hour. It's a major forest road. After driving on FR 81 for 3.1 miles veer left onto FR 81E and drive another 3.8 miles to the junction of FR693, stay left and in another 0.5 miles you'll come to the Maxwell Tank road and the Maxwell Trail road. If you want to leave a shuttle vehicle (a mountain bike is good for this one) bear right onto the Maxwell Trail road and leave your vehicle or mountain bike after 1.5 miles at the canyon rim and trail head. If not, bear left onto Maxwell Tank road and drive 0.9 miles and bear left, Maxwell Tank is another 0.4 miles.
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