register help
This is likely a great time to hike this trail!  Check out "Prefered" months below, keep in mind this is an estimate.

Willow Valley & West Clear Creek, AZ

no permit
224 3 2
Guide 3 Triplogs  2 Topics
Rated  Favorite Wish List AZ > Payson > Clints Well W
4.2 of 5 by 5
clicktap icons for details
Difficulty 4 of 5
Route Finding 2 of 5
Distance Shuttle 46 miles
Trailhead Elevation 6,780 feet
Elevation Gain -3,120 feet
Avg Time Hiking 6 days
Kokopelli Seeds 51.2
Backpack Yes
feature photo
Photos Viewed All Mine Following
6  2017-06-17
Willow Valley
7  2009-07-31 toddak
5  2009-07-30 t282828
40  2006-06-17 TM1ssKDMac
172  2006-06-17 TM1ssKDMac
Author TM1ssKDMac
author avatar Guides 9
Routes 10
Photos 4,110
Trips 38 map ( 348 miles )
Age 57 Male Gender
Location Joseph City, Arizona
Historical Weather
Trailhead Forecast
Expand Map
Preferred   Jul, Aug, Jun, Sep → 7 AM
Seasons   Spring to Autumn
Sun  6:13am - 6:22pm
2 Alternative
Fauna Nearby
Named place Nearby
A Wonderful Week of Wilderness!
by TM1ssKDMac

Likely In-Season!
This hike through the full length of Willow Valley and West Clear Creek Canyon was inspired by the photo that graces the cover of the book Canyoneering Arizona by Williams, as well as photos and information about these 2 canyons from the pages here at HAZ and stories about the canyon I have heard from friends and co-workers who had at most, hiked down for a day of fishing or a short overnight camp and then hiked back out, never coming close to fully experiencing all that these 2 canyons had to offer. I wanted to see it all! I love a good adventure and these two canyons seemed to hold the promise of providing a grand adventure and a challenge that few ever undertake.

As a disabled veteran with surgeries on both knees under my belt, I have been forced to replace my heavy old school hiking gear with newer and lighter versions, and I have moved more and more into the ultra-light mode of hiking so that I can continue to hike and be outdoors. Having grown up hiking the forests and mountains of the Colorado high country near Breckenridge and Leadville and having made several shorter hikes through Devil's Canyon, Aravaipa Canyon and the Superstitions more recently, my children and I were ready to take on a longer trip. My youngest son Brandon was a senior in high school and was scheduled to go to Navy boot camp in July following his graduation in May and had expressed a desire to hike West Clear Creek before he shipped out, so Willow Valley & West Clear Creek were selected as our next major hike. Vacation time was scheduled for the third week of June, 2006 and planning for the hike began.

After researching the available information on Willow Valley and studying maps of the canyon I decided that we would start our hike further north than the typically used entrance to the canyon via the trail at Maxwell Tank. I wanted to hike the entire length of both canyons to ensure that we gained an accurate idea of what they had to offer. Our starting point had us entering Willow Valley after being dropped off by my wife Jill, approximately 4.5 miles upstream of the location where the trail from Maxwell Tank enters the canyon. This turned out to be a wise decision. Had we entered the canyon via the Maxwell Tank trail we would have missed the spectacular natural arch that spans the mouth of a side canyon as it enters Willow Valley at approximately 2.6 miles from our starting point. The center of the arch appears to be about 30 feet in diameter with the length and height of the span being approximately 100 feet and forming an almost perfect circle of rock along the west side of the canyon.

Navigating the canyon is very easy, just follow the water, which will be flowing year round. The levels of flow that you see in the photos are the lowest flow of the year, after all the spring runoff is gone and before the start of the monsoon season, fire restrictions were already in place and we were just 5 days prior to the complete forest closure. The only flow left was what is supplied by the springs that flow at a constant rate year round.

Upon completing the hike at Bull Pen there is a cell phone signal available that will allow you to contact your pickup person if you don't have a vehicle staged there. We had a cell phone stashed out among the trees and marked with GPS to ensure we had a phone at the end of the trip that the hike hadn't damaged in some way or another and so we didn't have to carry it. (My brother lives nearby so this was easy to do.) (I would be nervous of vandalism to a car left there for a week. The area's swimming holes draw large groups of fun seekers who sometimes don't respect others property.) Or... if you haven't had enough hiking yet, you can hike out to Camp Verde on the road, as my nephew Ben and I did while every one else waited at Bull Pen for their ride to arrive. This allowed Ben (who had recently made Eagle Scout) to complete the requirements for his 50 mile pack trip badge with the Boy Scouts. In order to conserve space and avoid redundancy I would refer readers to the hike description of Willow Valley and the other fine hike descriptions covering the West Clear Creek Wilderness area. All of these include descriptions of a few segments of the hike through these two valleys. I will confine my comments to information relative to a hike through the entire length of both of these canyons as a single, extraordinary point to point hike. Below you will find information that will help you to safely complete this hike. For a blow by blow of our actual trip please see the trip log for this hike as well as a much more complete set of photos of the canyons in the proper chronological order in my photo set.

This hike is an absolutely beautiful wilderness experience that I strongly recommend to all who can safely accomplish it. I would be afraid to guess how many twists and turns these two canyons take in there respective courses, while winding their way from the heights of the Mogollon Rim to the depths of the Verde Valley, but whatever the number, there are an equal number of picture postcard panoramas opening up before you as you round every bend on your trek towards the terminus at Bull Pen Ranch. I hope that you enjoy the photos of the canyons but keep in mind that they don't come close to doing the true beauty of these canyons the justice that they deserve. If you enter them please don't trash them and help to carry out the trash of those thoughtless enough to leave trash behind. I will say that we found the canyon's condition to actually be very clean; we didn't encounter any litter of significance until we neared Bull Pen Ranch near the end of the hike. We cannot always haul out all the trash that we encounter on our hikes but we make sure that we haul out ours, and then everyone in our group has to carry out a minimum of 10 articles of trash left behind by others without complaint. Beyond that, each person can decide on their own if they want to add additional trash weight to their pack if more litter is encountered (it is encouraged).

I (kneeling) was accompanied by both of my sons, Dustin (4th from left) and Brandon (2nd from left), one of their friends, Josh (far left), my younger brother, Ken (far right) and his son, my nephew Ben (3rd from left). We allowed 7 days to complete the hike and carried supplies for 8 days. We completed the hike in 6 days at a pace that allowed time to stop and play, shoot photos and enjoy the beauty of the canyons. We segmented the hike into sections approximately 6 miles long for each days hike and made sure we had reached that point each day as verified by GPS prior to locating that evenings camp spot. Good camp sites were few and far between, camp sites that would allow the use of a tent were even scarcer, especially through the rocky, narrow central section of West Clear Creek Canyon. If you are using a tent and locate a decent camp site in mid to late afternoon in the section between Wilbur Canyon and Oak Hill Draw don't pass it up! You may find yourself trying to locate a camp site and swim sections of the canyon with your headlamp to guide you, if you do.

We had recently switched from tents to hammocks as a shelter system and it really paid off on this hike as we were able to comfortably camp in places where you could never have used a tent. I love my Hennessey Hammock! (I am not endorsing any particular product in this hike guide but I will point out equipment and gear that have made huge improvements in my ability to continue to enjoy and savor my time in the outdoors, which is what this web site is all about. Any comments made about specific brands and items of gear are made strictly based on my experience with them and to help others also get more out of their hiking experience.)

These canyons are very remote and rugged. A through trip like this is not a Sunday afternoon picnic. You need to be well prepared in all respects before attempting this trip. This is a week long trip where you have been dropped off and basically abandoned! You will not have access to a cell phone signal, a vehicle or any other method of escape or contact with the world beyond the canyon, other than your feet. This is a true wilderness experience. Chances are high that you will not encounter any other people in these canyons until possibly the very end near Bull Pen. All members of your party should be familiar with first aid & CPR, basic land navigation with a compass and map, along with the other basic wilderness survival skills. Only you know if you are up to this hike, or not. I will say that in my opinion, your hiking experience should be at the intermediate level or above and will further say that this is not a hike for beginners or small children. I also don't think that this is a hike that you should take a dog on. I have a large Black Lab and he loves hikes, especially if there is swimming involved, but I wouldn't take him on this trip. There are just way to many obstacles that he would have problems with, and at 125 lbs I am not about to carry him over and around them. A smaller dog would have even more hurdles to leap. From beginning to end you are almost always moving gently down hill, however due to the rugged nature of the canyon, hiking 6 miles a day is comparable to the exertion level of hiking 12 or more miles on a nice level trail, especially on the days with multiple swims.

I would strongly suggest that at least one member of your party be a very experienced hiker with all the skills necessary to be a competent guide for the rest of the party if they are lacking in any of the necessary skills or knowledge needed to safely complete this hike. This hike requires a significant amount of swimming, so non-swimmers should probably think about enjoying this hike through the descriptions of this guide and the photos that have been posted here by other members. Our 4th day into the hike was the day where we negotiated the narrow central section of West Clear Creek with the White Box and we had to complete 12 swims that day, a couple of which were long enough that we would stop to rest while hanging onto our packs for floatation. We were ready for camp that night.

The mileage through the canyons as determined by my DeLorme topo mapping program from our starting point at the beginning of Willow Valley to Bull Pen Ranch was 31 miles. Actual mileage on other hikes measured with this program, using established trails and measured by GPS on the trail, have indicated a need to add approximately 1.75 to 2 miles per every 5 miles indicated on the map for an accurate estimate of the actual trail mileage. This calculation gave us a total mileage of approximately 42 miles from start to finish for this hike not counting side trips and detours. Due to the rugged nature of these two twisting canyons, the lack of a defined trail and the constant need to cross back and forth from one side of the canyon to the other to negotiate the never ending obstacles and pools of water, I believe the actual mileage on the soles of our shoes was probably very close to 46 miles.

Throughout most of this hike there is no trail and working your way downstream along the path of least resistance will require a combination of boulder climbing, rock hopping, fighting your way through sometimes heavy brush that is often laced with heavy growths of poison ivy, wading through the stream bed on slime covered rocks in water that ranges from ankle deep to chest deep and occasionally having to swim sections of the canyon. The areas with heavy growths of willow and poison ivy tend to force you back into the water where the going is easier despite the slippery walking surface. The use of trekking poles in negotiating these canyons proved to be a huge help in preventing slips and falls and I personally never leave home without them. (Goodwill and other thrift stores have tons of used ski poles that work great and the price is right! They don't telescope so you just have to get a set that fits you.)

We did not carry one, but if you want a method of communicating a request for emergency assistance, a satellite phone can be rented on a weekly basis for a reasonable weekly fee on the internet if you so desire. Another more expensive option would be one of the personal, emergency location transmitters that send out an S.O.S. signal and guide rescue personnel to your location. I do not know how the depths of the canyon will affect their performance, however I do know that we often had a difficult time getting a position fix on the GPS unit due to high canyon walls that block reception of satellite signals. So do your homework if you plan on using one of these items and always remember that electronic items can and do fail, due to batteries dying, breakage or immersion in water, so don't entrust your life to them. Always carry a compass and a map and know how to use them. In the event that you should need to exit the canyon due to an emergency such as a snake bite, a broken leg or other such calamity, that is not the time to suddenly be trying to figure out which way north is on your compass. If you do have to exit the canyon remember that you are leaving behind your source of water and you need to have the ability to carry extra water to get you out to the highway where help can be flagged down. Don't leave your gear behind you so that you can move faster. Emergency supplies can't help you if they are not with you and this rugged area of central Arizona has claimed the lives of more than one hiker and you won't be able to get help for anyone, if you don't make it out. Be prepared, be smart, return home alive! Depending on the nature of your emergency you may need to be able to direct rescue personnel back to where your injured party member is awaiting help, so mark your trail and locate landmarks to guide you back. If possible get a GPS location for rescue personnel to home in on and use GPS to guide you out to the highway. Never travel alone if at all possible.

I will raise the issue of potential snake bites for two reasons, first, due to the already noted remoteness and rugged nature of these canyons and the time and effort required to exit these canyons, a rattlesnake bite would be a significantly more dangerous injury than it normally is due to the delay in medical attention and the administration of anti-venom. Secondly I have been warned by at least 5 different individuals that have spent varying amounts of time in these canyons, that there is a significant rattlesnake population within them. Both timber rattlers in the grassy wooded upper reaches of the canyon and diamond backs in the lower sections nearing Bull Pen have been mentioned. We personally saw 4 rattle snakes, all diamond backs and all in the lower half of West Clear Creek. Be alert and avoid the snakes, they will try to get away from you, let them go. If you happen to jump one while working your way through the canyon, just backup a couple of steps and let it move out of the way. They will not chase you, and the largest rattler in Arizona can only strike about 24 inches. You cannot risk a snake bite down in these canyons, or any other remote area for that matter so be alert and give the snakes plenty of room to escape and don't try messing with them. Remember where you are! Make sure that you are up to speed on the most recent protocol for treating a snake bite and have an emergency plan ready to execute if you need it.

Throughout both canyons I have located spots, based on topographical map data where an escape out of the canyon could probably be made in the event of an emergency situation that required a team from your party to exit the canyon to get to help and rescue services. I will include this information below. There is no cell phone service in the canyon and even up out of the canyon along the rim, there is no cell service along most of its length. GPS coordinates are given for all escape route points within the canyons along with bearing and distance to a Forest Service road and directions that will get you to either highway 87, Lake Mary Road or highway 260 and help. The 6 mile points along the hike are also identified with GPS coordinates. All bearings given are true, and magnetic declination will need to be allowed for if using a compass, the electronic compass on your GPS unit, if it has one will automatically give you the true bearing. Declination information will be included below. Note: If any of the terms used in this paragraph are unfamiliar to you or you don't fully understand how they affect you, I would strongly suggest that you bone up on your land navigation skills. Look up "orienteering or land navigation or wilderness navigation" on the internet, make sure that you understand the basics.

I would like to make a few gear recommendations based on our experience in the canyons that you might want to use or not depending on your personal preferences.

This hike keeps your feet wet all day long. We knew this in advance and tried to plan accordingly. All of us used the popular water hiking shoes that allow water to drain via open holes in the shoes (Teva, Keen and Merrell). In retrospect, I absolutely do not recommend these types of shoes or any other open sandal. These types of shoes would be great if you were on solid rock all of the time or on a short day hike. Much of hike through Willow Valley and West Clear Creek requires wading a creek bed that is sandy, gravely or rocky. We were literally, having to stop every 10 to 15 minutes in many sections of the hike to dump rocks and gravel out of our shoes that the drain holes allowed in. This became extremely tedious after the first 156 times that we dumped them! It didn't take long before you just started ignoring the rocks in your shoes unless it was a big one and kept going, hiking on the rocks. The last couple of days were just slightly better than hiking barefoot. We didn't suffer any major blisters or other major trauma mainly because we were moving at a somewhat relaxed pace and dumping the rocks regularly for the first couple of days allowing our feet to toughen up as the miles rolled by. (I suspect that if science could replicate, on a large scale, the calluses that I had on my feet at the completion of this hike, we could manufacture tires that would never wear out!) It was just plain unpleasant hiking in respect to our shoes. I would recommend a mid to high top hiking boot that is not leather, with no holes for water drainage, just a mesh type synthetic upper that will allow water to drain slower but can be tied securely to prevent debris from entering the shoe.

Tent vs. Hammock
This is really a mater of preference; however I will give you my perspective, having used both on several hikes. I currently use a Hennessey Hammock, having discarded my tent in my bid to reduce pack weight on my battered knees. The only area that I have found a hammock to be deficient in is cold weather. Tom Hennessey has come up with a solution to this issue as well with the introduction of the under cover. An additional layer of sil-nylon can be attached on the bottom of the hammock with a layer of open cell foam in between for insulation under you in cold weather. The traditional swaybacked sleeping position of a hammock has been eliminated with the asymmetrical design of the Hennessy hammock. Lying slightly off center, you pretty much assume a horizontal sleeping position. I can set up my hammock in about 3 minutes above rocks, water, brush, mud, a 45 degree slope and all the places that a tent could be set up. In the unlikely event that there are no trees, rocks or other methods of hanging this hammock, it can be pitched like a tent on the ground using your trekking poles or sticks as supports on either end. You have a comfortable peaceful place to sleep at night without having to clear an area of debris and rocks. You have a fully enclosed, roomy, bug free space that is completely weather proof with the use of the rain fly. Additionally your pack can hang under the rain fly at the end of the hammock as well, staying dry and mud free. I have slept warm and completely dry through torrential monsoonal downpours while all those camped with me in tents, were soaked from the runoff water running around and through their tents and caked with the mud that this water was moving. My hammock and rain fly weigh in at just under 2 pounds (30.87 oz). My old tent weighed in at just over 5 pounds (85.5 oz). The rough rocky terrain within these canyons really highlighted the benefits of a hammock vs. a tent. All members of our party used hammocks of one sort or another. 2 of us had Hennesseys, the others wished they did! Food for thought!

Pack Water Proofing and Buoyancy
We opted to avoid using the trash bag method of water proofing gear in our packs as we had done on other canyon hikes due to the length of this hike and the need to repeatedly access our gear throughout the hike. For example I would have to stow my camera prior to every swim and then dig it back out once I was out of the water. Several of our party used the standard vinyl coated dry bags and they worked well, (when properly sealed!) keeping their gear dry through repeated immersions. We had one day when Brandon did not have a good seal on his dry bag and he took on water. Fortunately his food was being stored in a sil-nylon stuff sack and inside zip-lock bags so he didn't lose any chow. His sleeping bag however was drenched. I couldn't get the camera going fast enough when he and Dustin decided to try and squeeze the water out of the sleeping bag. I told them that they were going to hate seeing this photo on the internet! Here it is! (Guess who's getting tossed in the creek next time out!) I used a "Sea to Summit" Ultra-Sil Pack Liner that was significantly lighter than the vinyl coated dry bags but also more susceptible to punctures from thorns and such if I set my pack in the wrong place or got up against the wrong bush. All in all I would use the Ultra-Sil Pack Liner again in the future and cut a new closed cell foam sitting cushion to exactly fit the bottom of my pack and then keep this between the pack and the liner to protect it from punctures when the pack was set down This cushion might have to be held in place with a small strip of Velcro affixed to the inside bottom of your pack to prevent shifting of the pad. A couple of the kids brought extra buoyancy to ensure that their packs would float. This turned out to be completely unnecessary as the natural buoyancy provided by the air within our sleeping bags, clothing and other gear within our packs provided enough buoyancy that the packs sat very high in the water and could be relied on to provide plenty of buoyancy for the pack and the hiker should he need to rest and just hang on to the pack in the middle of a long swim.

Food & Cooking
This also is a matter of preference but I will say that we saved a lot of weight by mainly using freeze dried meals. They were easy to prepare, required less cooking equipment and less fuel and require less time to prepare which allows more time in camp to relax, swim, fish or whatever. There is a huge selection of wonderful meals to choose from so you don't have to have boring food to save weight. We saved money on the freeze dried meals by buying in bulk in the large #10 cans available from some of the emergency preparedness supply companies you can locate on the internet ( We then packaged our own portions in zip-lock bags rather than buying the expensive single or double portion foil pouches available at most sporting goods stores. This also significantly reduced the amount of extra packaging/waste/weight that we were carrying with us and allowed us to custom size our portions as well. A small slip of paper was inserted in each bag that stated how much water was needed to re-hydrate that meal. We re-hydrated the meals in a large Kool-Aid container that each of us carried. These were kept in an insulating cozy made from a cheap 1/4 inch closed cell foam sleeping pad and assembled with duct tape. Using a punch to put a small hole in the bottom of the cozy allowed it to easily be slid on and off the Kool-Aid container to allow for cleaning. The inside of the lid of the Kool-Aid container is marked for, 1 cup and 1/2 cup which makes adding the correct amount of boiling water to your meal an easy task. This system works great and has been used repeatedly with no problems. I no longer carry my old canister stove but rather an alcohol burning Brasslite model that weighs only 1 oz and boils my titanium kettle of water in about 1 minute. This generally gives me enough hot water to re-hydrate my meal and allow a cup of coffee, tea or coco. This stove is not a good choice for actually cooking food but our meals require nothing more than boiling water and in this task the Brasslite excels and has no parts to break or wear out on the trail and it tucks nicely into my cup with my coffee filter. Fuel (methyl alcohol) is easy to obtain, I use "Heet" (the yellow bottle) automotive fuel line antifreeze and water remover, available at stores everywhere, and use 1 oz per meal. A little note on the use of titanium verses aluminum cookware. I use an MSR titanium kettle and cup, if I were buying the items again I would probably opt for aluminum. The only real advantage to titanium is its durability, it's hard to bend and mess up. The aluminum weighs almost the same, is about 1/4th the cost and heats faster than titanium. You decide.

G.P.S. Coordinates for Willow Valley / West Clear Creek Hike
I have listed several items below, to include landmarks, distance markers and escape routes should you need to send for help. You will be in a remote and isolated area where getting help is a major undertaking. All information and advice is posted for your information and use, our hike and situation may be entirely different than yours so use your own common sense and good judgment on this hike. All members of our party carried a compass and a laminated map of the canyon area with a copy of the data listed below printed on the reverse side of the map. We also carried 2 GPS units with us.

Note: All escape routes along Willow Creek are to the east of the canyon or to the left when facing downstream. While there are trails such as the Maxwell Tank Trail that enter the canyon from the west, you cannot reliably count on finding someone that can help you on, or near these trails, or the roads that access them. The distance to a paved highway from this west side of the canyon is much greater that that required to reach a highway, and help from the east side of the canyon. Upon reaching the indicated access road on the escape routes from Willow Valley, travel will be to the east towards Lake Mary Road or hwy 87. Estimated bearings of travel to Lake Mary Road will vary between 070 and 090 true. At the confluence of Willow Valley and Clover Creek the closest route out to help is upstream via Clover Creek and east to hwy 87. Once you have passed downstream of Clover Creek into West Clear Creek, the quickest route out of the canyon to help will be to the south and hwy 260 where you can flag down help. Once again, here along West Clear Creek there are trails that enter the canyon from the North but the distance to a reliable source of help to the north can be as far away as 15 miles by air. Exiting the canyon to the south generally will get you to highway 260 in about 5 miles. Once you are downstream of Clear Creek Spring #3 any run for help will need to go down the canyon towards Bull Pen. Hwy 260 is directly south and runs parallel to the canyon.

Escape routes were determined by topographical map as the easiest route out of the canyon in that area, however the actual obstacles that will be encountered on each escape route are unknown. Good judgment and common sense must be exercised to prevent the need for a secondary rescue or worse. Cliffs in this area can exceed 1,000 feet in height. Turn back if that route is not safe and find another route that works safely. Keep in mind that when following a bearing, there will be obstacles in your way that will prevent you from walking a straight line of bearing. Sight a landmark along your bearing and guide on that, checking your compass often to ensure you don't stray to far off your desired bearing. Repeat this until you reach your destination. If you get confused or disoriented remember you are in an area that is bordered by highway 260 to your south and it runs parallel to West Clear Creek. Always move southward from West Clear Creek and you will get to the highway. You are also bordered in a parallel fashion by highway 87 to your east when in Willow Valley, again Always move eastward from Willow Valley and you will get to the highway.

Turn off from Lake Mary Road, 12S 0468321 x 3831774
Start of hike, 12S 0465980 x 3829536
Start of Willow Valley, 12S 0465750 x 3828400
Escape Route 1 to access road, bearing 152, 3000 feet, from 12S 0464910 x 3827730
6 Mile Point of hike, 12S 0464410 x 3826597
Escape Route 2 to access road, bearing 110, .5 mile, from 12S 0464340 x 3825250 to 12S 0464960 x 3825020 then turn left to bearing 000, for .25 mile to road, follow road left/north and then east to Clint's Well at 12S 0470510 x 3822870
Escape Route 3 to access road, bearing 120, 1.2 miles, from 12S 0464170 x 3824470 follow road east to Clint's Well Confluence of Willow Creek and Clover Creek, start of West Clear Creek and the 7 mile point of the hike, 12S 0462936 x 3823397
Escape Route Clover Creek to hwy 87 just south of Clint's Well. Bearing from confluence of Willow Creek and Clover Creek is 130, travel upstream approx. 2.5 miles to 12S 0465251 x 3821015, then turn left on bearing 045 for approx. 1.5 miles to road, then turn right on road and follow east to hwy 87 about 3 miles, turn left on hwy 87 to Clint's Well.
12 Mile Point of hike, 12S 0461016 x 3823871
Escape Route Bear Canyon bearing 237, for 1 mile, from 12S 0459778 x 3823080 to road, follow road south to hwy 260 about 3 miles bearing west and south at all major intersections
Escape Route Wilbur Canyon bearing 173, about 1.5 miles from 12S 0457950 x 3824370 to road, follow road south to hwy 260 bearing west and south at all major intersections 18 Mile Point of hike, 12S 0457010 x 3824492
Escape Route 4 to access road, bearing 146, for about 3/4 mile from 12S 0455540 x 3824650 to road, follow road south to hwy 260 bearing south and west at intersections
Escape Route Tule Canyon bearing 148 for about 2/3 mile from 12S 0454040 x 3825390 to road, follow road south to hwy 260 bearing west and south at all major intersections Home Tank Draw & 24 Mile Point, 12S 0452095 x 3826365, this draw out of West Clear Creek is to the north and will lead you up and out to Buckhorn Ranch on the rim of the canyon at 12S 0452298 x 3827425. Forest Service road 81A runs past the ranch from east to west this ranch could be used as a staging area for a rescue and possibly provide shelter in ranch buildings, condition and even the existence of such buildings is unknown to me, occupation of the ranch is unknown as well, if possible, avoid using this route to go for help. From this location on the north side of the canyon you would have to travel 15 to 20 miles west to reach a main road. The escape routes heading south of the canyon in this same area only require about 5 miles of travel to reach hwy 260.
Escape Route Meadow Canyon bearing 174, for 2.5 miles from 12S 0451730 x 3820480 to road, follow road south to hwy 260
30 Mile Point of hike, 12S 0448528 x 3824305
Escape Route Maverick Basin, bearing 143, for 1.1 mile from 12S 0445918 x 3825009 to a saddle at 12S 0446998 x 3823564, turn to bearing 170 for .9 mile to Hwy 260 at 12S 0447220 x 3822120
Escape Route Oak Hill Draw, bearing 167 for 1 mile from 12S 0443890 x 3824300 to 12S 0444230 x 3822730 turn to bearing 129 for 1.5 miles to forest road, at road follow south or right on an approximate initial bearing of 195, continue on this road without turning off for 2.25 miles to Hwy 260 at 12S 0447480 x 3818340
36 Mile Point of hike, 12S 0443064 x 3823521
Clear Creek Spring #4, 12S 0442724 x 3822713
Escape Route Clear Creek Spring #3, bearing 137 for 3300 ft. from 12S 0442500 x 3822240 to 12S 0443180 x 3821510 turn to bearing 177 for 1.1 miles to 12S 0443260 x 3819680 turn to bearing 217 for 1.65 miles to Hwy 260 at 12S 0441640 x 3817590 located several hundred feet past a forest road (at this point in the canyon you need to make a judgment call as to whether it would be quicker to exit the canyon via the canyon and Bull Pen or the route out to Hwy 260. I suspect that hiking out to Bull Pen would be just as quick and less strenuous but I have included the data for this route in case it is needed.)
Clear Creek Spring # 2, 12S 0440051 x 3821214
Clear Creek Spring # 1, 12S 0439643 x 3821248
Bull Pen 42 Mile Point 12S 0436270 x 3822320

Determining your current bearing
If you are asking yourself "What direction am I really heading?" you will need to take your compass reading and add your declination value. This is your "True" direction. Meaning, this is your direction with respect to true North. Almost all maps are oriented towards true north (Remember, if you add a negative number, you are actually subtracting a value)

Setting your correct bearing to travel
If you are asking yourself "How do I travel a true 120 degrees?", you will need to take your desired heading of 120 degrees and subtract your declination value. This will compensate for the magnetic error. (Remember, if you subtract a negative number, you are actually adding a value)

Another way to think about this scenario is doing the opposite of your declination value. For example if your declination value is -11, then you will add 11 to the compass bearing to adjust for this error. And if your declination value is +11, then you will subtract 11 from the compass bearing to adjust for this error.

The Magnetic Declination for West Clear Creek as of the summer of 2006 is 11 Degrees East or +11, add 11 degrees to your current bearing to determine your actual bearing. Subtract 11 degrees from the true bearings listed in the escape routes above to determine your correct bearing of travel to the points listed.

Many compasses have an adjustment that allows the magnetic declination to be preset on the compass thus avoiding the process of having to calculate the effect of declination on your compass bearing or a given true bearing. If you are purchasing a new compass this is a worthwhile option to look for.

Check out the Triplogs.

This is a moderately difficult hike.

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

2006-11-16 TM1ssKDMac
    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
    Willow Valley & West Clear Creek
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Over the past two summers, my son (t282828) and I pieced together a full descent of this magnificent wilderness with mostly day hikes, capped off with an overnighter for the final, remote central section. Day trips were accessed using nine different entry/exit points, including (from top to bottom) Willow Valley, Clover Creek, Tom's Creek, Maxwell #37, Tramway #32, FR142E (Point Trail), Calloway #33 (FR142B), Powerline Crossing (FR142A) and Cash Tank/White Box Hanging Garden (also FR142B, note that there are two non-connected segments in this area with the same designation - EDIT: this road now signed as 142J). The final trek from Cash Tank down to Bull Pen Ranch required two full days to cover the roughly 16 mile distance over terrain so rugged we averaged less than one mile per hour. Bittersweet to have no more new stretches to discover, but there's so much variety and beauty in this canyon that a lifetime wouldn't be enough to experience it fully. Flow on, WCC!
    Willow Valley & West Clear Creek
    rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5rated 5
    Willow Valley / West Clear Creek

    The triplog is extensivly illustrated in the 2 photosets I have included of this hike.

    Locations can be closely approximated via the GPS coordinates outlined in the hike guide.

    17-June-2006 - Day One: We turned onto the Forest Service road and soon found it to be a pretty decent road, winding through the forest to its end, and the start of our hike. In dry conditions I believe that most vehicles would have no problems. Only if it was really muddy would the need for a 4x4 be warranted.

    At the end of the road, near the edge of a large area that had been burned by a forest fire several years earlier, we unloaded all our gear from the back of the Suburban. After shooting a team photo of us (my brother Ken, his son Ben, my sons Dustin and Brandon, their friend Josh and myself), my wife Jill, drove away leaving us on foot at the trail head. The quiet of the forest quickly enveloped us, reinforcing the reality of the isolation we would be experiencing for the next several days. My brother Ken turned to me and eloquently voiced our situation, "we're screwed now!" Actually, the fun was just beginning!

    Climbing over and around all the downed timber that covered the burn area, we entered Willow Valley. We began our twisting trek through the depths of two canyons (Willow Valley & West Clear Creek) that are so rugged and remote that few people have, or will ever see, the full extent of their wondrous beauty in person. I was filled with a huge sense of anticipation, wondering what adventures, natural beauty and potential peril lay before us. I had been dreaming of this hike for over 4 years and we were finally here, living the dream.... It wasn't long however, before the reality of our remote location hit home. We had just cleared the burn area and started into the canyon when my youngest son, Brandon, started complaining about feeling sick to his stomach. I thought... great, this is all we need, our first day out and already one of us is getting sick. About 5 minutes later my nephew, Ben, somehow slipped off of a rock he had stepped on and landed right in the middle of a wild rose bush. By the time he had picked himself up and extracted himself from the thorny vines, he had several thorns deeply embedded in his arms and hands. I started to wonder if we were making the right decision by continuing further into the canyon.

    I called a halt, so that Brandon could dig out a snack, hoping that it that would help settle his stomach. Meanwhile, I sterilized the blade on my small, lightweight plastic box cutter knife that I carry on hikes now, as a replacement for the heavy Leatherman that I used to carry... Back when I thought that I needed to be prepared for any contingency on the trail. Possibly including, but definitely not limited to the occasional resurrection and repair of long abandoned mining machinery or the possible need to quickly throw together a small 3 bedroom log cabin should we suddenly find ourselves needing to hold out for the winter somewhere along the trail. Bad knees and a desire to continue to be able to enjoy the outdoors have joined forces to prompt a reevaluation in my mind, of what really constitutes a necessary piece of hiking gear.

    Back to the hike now! Following a short, and not too painful surgery (for me), all the thorns were extracted from Ben, and Brandon was indeed starting to feel somewhat better. We mounted up and headed deeper into Willow Valley. The soft gravely surface of the canyon floor was occasionally pierced by a rough bedrock surface of Coconino Sandstone that showed many curious and interesting patterns of erosion. Much of this surface however was covered by a thick growth of vines and foliage that spread over most of the canyon floor, grabbing at our feet and ankles with every step. At approximately 2.6 miles from the start of our hike, as the canyon made a sweeping curve to the left, there unfolded in front of us, a view straight from the pages of an Arizona Highways magazine, (an event that would repeat itself hundreds of times over the next 6 ½ days!) a magnificent rock arch curved gracefully over the mouth of a small tributary canyon entering Willow Valley. We didn't hike up under the arch but from our slightly elevated vantage point on the opposite side of the canyon, I perceived the arch to be approximately 25 to 30 feet thick at the center and about 75 to 100 feet long and high, forming an almost perfect circle of rock on the west side of the canyon wall.

    Somehow in all my planning, I managed to overlook the hike guide posted for "Willow Crossing" that clearly details a small hike that crosses Willow Valley here and describes this very arch as the main event of that hike. As we departed the arch we actually started climbing up the Willow Crossing trail out of the east side of the canyon before we realized that the trail was headed out and not down the canyon. We then backtracked a short distance to continue our journey down canyon.

    Shortly after passing the arch, Ken, who was on point, flushed a nice bull elk out of the thick brush ahead of us. The rest of us caught a quick glimpse of the bull rapidly disappearing ahead of us, climbing the steep east side of the canyon and putting what he considered a safe distance between himself and us. About a half mile further down the canyon Ken found the whitewashed skull of a small elk with the horns on one side still intact. Had it been the main course of a mountain lion's dinner? Or was he possibly the victim of a hunter's poorly placed shot? Time will never tell!

    The canyon walls on either side of us, quickly rose toward the sky as we moved forward, stimulating a perceived sensation almost akin to that of entering a large cavern or cave. The canyon floor steadily grew more, and more rough, filled with boulders that increased in size as we descended further into a narrowing canyon that was rapidly living up to it's reputation as one of the more beautiful canyons in Arizona.

    The weather was clear and very warm as we continued along and we were sucking water from our water bladders quite often. When we finally came across a small pool of stagnant water we decided to take a break and top off our water bladders. So we paused, and each of us spent a couple of minutes pumping the water filter, all the while, being carefully watched by a small Garter Snake that was swimming in the small pool.

    After several twists and turns through the boulder strewn canyon we passed the Maxwell Tank Trail that is the more commonly used method of entering Willow Valley and shortly thereafter we approached the first of the 4 pools requiring a bracing dip in ice cold water! We knew that the pools in Willow Valley had a reputation for frigid water temps so we were curious just how cold they would be. Josh bravely jumped in as our guinea pig. His shrill squeak and gasping breaths quickly informed the rest of us that the water was indeed cold! I didn't get a temperature reading but I would guess the water temp in the pools of Willow Valley at approximately 50 to 55 degrees, motivating us to swim as if there was a shark lurking in the cold depths! We had to wait until later that night to relieve swollen bladders because all the necessary equipment had moved "south" for the "winter" and couldn't be located!

    The pools are all in close proximity to one another in a narrow and very dramatic section of the canyon that cuts through the Coconino sandstone that is layered here. There are numerous holes, pockets and other odd formations carved into the sandstone floor of the canyon in the area surrounding these pools and I imagine that it would be very beautiful to see this section of the canyon flowing with water if a safe vantage point could be located on the canyon rim above. Tyler Williams in his book "Canyoneering Arizona" describes a climbing route around the right of the first two pools to avoid the cold water. This would be an option for those making a short day trip through the canyon with a light day pack and basic climbing skills. We were all climbers, however we were all carrying larger packs fully loaded for 8 days of wilderness isolation, and swimming the pools was deemed the safest route for our group.

    This was the third week of June, 2006 and there had not been any precipitation in several weeks, all of the spring snowmelt was long gone and the Forest Service had already enacted fire restrictions throughout the forest, we were actually just 5 days away from the total closure of the forest due to the super dry conditions. There was no water flow in the canyon at this point and the water level in the standing pools was down about 5 feet from its normal level when water is flowing through the canyon from runoff. Further downstream on day two as we started passing springs that flow year around, the flow of the creek steadily increased as we passed one spring after another. With no flow through these first pools of standing water however, the water was pretty stagnant looking.

    I was about halfway across the third pool when Josh and Brandon, who were both ahead of me and already out of the pool, started franticly motioning for me to hurry up. They had found an owl perched on a small rock ledge, in a shallow cave on the west side of the canyon just beyond the third pool. I climbed out of the water and quickly dug out my camera and managed to get several shots from about 15 feet away before the owl silently glided over our heads, across the canyon to another perch, a little higher up to watch us from. I am definitely not an orthinologist, but I think that the owl was one of the infamous "spotted owls" that loggers hate and environmentalists love. Middle ground that requires some "give" on both sides, and a heavy dose of common sense, is such an elusive thing!

    These initial swims were the first real test of the buoyancy and water tight integrity of our packs. We were very happy with the performance of our water proof pack liners and the packs all floated very high in the water with lots of reserve buoyancy. We were carrying all of our camp and emergency gear as well as supplies for 8 days, so the packs varied in weight from about 60 lbs for my nephew, Ben's pack to the 25 lbs that my pack weighed, depending on what each individual's definition of essential equipment was and how much gear had been replaced by ultra light equivalents.

    At a minimum, I do require that we all carry, the "ten essentials" as outlined by the "Mountaineers" on all hikes, and other gear as necessary, depending on the specifics of the hike. Items that the kids consider "necessary" luxuries are their choice to carry, or not, keeping in mind that whining about any minor discomfort, perceived or real, especially if it is the result of bringing along unnecessary gear, is absolutely taboo. The kids learned long ago that there are two things that Dad won't tolerate: "whining" and the two words "I Can't". Suck it up, march on, and find a way! What's that old saying? "When the going gets tough, the tough get going!

    We continued down Willow Valley about another mile and verified with the GPS that we had covered the 6 miles that we had set as a goal for each day in order to get us out of the canyon on schedule. We then started looking for a place to camp. On previous hikes we had pushed out 10 miles or more a day without any problems, however we found that we really were not enjoying ourselves, pushing hard to make the distance as if we were on a forced march with a Marine, Force Recon Platoon. We all felt rushed and unable to take the time to really enjoy the hike or stop and play or spend much time exploring anything. As a result, we decided to try 6 miles per day on this hike, knowing that the going would be rough and we would want to take our time to enjoy the sights throughout the length of the canyons.

    We stopped near another stagnant pool of water in a very rocky section of the canyon. We had not yet passed any springs and there was still no water flowing in the creek bed and we needed access to water to fix dinner and top off our water bladders for the next days hike. We were all tired and ready to call it a day anyway, so this was it! We all managed to find spots where we could hang our hammocks up, fixed a hot meal and got changed into our dry camp/sleeping clothes. Ahhhhhhhhh! Throughout the area around our campsite, there were several small tanks hollowed out of the bedrock canyon bottom 1 to 2 feet in diameter and about 3 feet deep, and all of them had about 1 foot of very mossy, green water in them. Unknown to us, they also had several small frogs in them. As soon as it got dark they commenced to croaking and the volume that they could achieve was astounding! Their singing totally filled the canyon. We started looking around trying to figure out what was making the noise but with the sound echoing everywhere, they were hard to locate. We finally spotted one of them in one of the small tanks croaking away and he was only about the size of a quarter! I ended up putting in ear plugs to finally get to sleep as what sounded like a hundred of them sang the night away!

    Day Two: Just after sunrise we packed up our gear, topped off our water bladders and continued down Willow Valley. We had decided that we would stop in a couple of hours to fix some breakfast and take a break. We now had approximately 4 ½ miles remaining to complete our trek through Willow Valley and then begin our westward push down West Clear Creek. Watching the sun slowly illuminate the canyon depths as it rose in the sky, we hiked onward towards the confluence of Willow Valley and Clover Creek, constantly in awe of the beauty of the canyon. How could such a jewel really be so close, to the high, dry, windblown and brown, high desert plains of the Little Colorado River Valley near Winslow? The contrast was simply amazing! We found another pool of water and stopped for breakfast and topped off our water bladders again. The morning was dead calm and the multicolored canyon walls were reflecting perfectly off of the glassy surface of the pools near us. As we mounted up and headed down the canyon again, following breakfast I got a couple of amazing photos of Ken and Brandon standing near one of the pools, looking into it, with the perfect reflection of the canyon wall shining off of the "mirror like" water surface in front of them.

    Continuing downstream we finally passed the point where running water surfaces the canyon floor through multiple springs, we now had water available to us 24/7. We had now arrived at the section of Willow Valley that is known as the "straight-away," where the canyon gradually opens up and the sheer rock walls give way to gentler, wooded slopes climbing upwards away from the stream. The canyon floor here, actually had soil and not just the scattering of rocks and boulders that we had become accustomed to and it was supporting a wonderful carpet of lush, green, vegetation. The steam wandered back and forth across the floor of the valley, alternating between fast-flowing, rock strewn sections and various sized pools of motionless water surrounded by willows, cattails and grasses that were "head" high in places and so green that it was hard to imagine that we were still in Arizona. I was wading through the stream when I looked up and saw that we had a golden eagle gracefully soaring above our heads, just above the trees. Nothing could have looked more natural and perfectly placed as he circled around above us with the high canyon walls, tall pines and deep blue sky as a perfect backdrop.

    About a half mile further downstream Ken stumbled across a matched set of last seasons' elk antler sheds. They were a huge 6x6 set, still shiny and brown and about 3 inches in diameter at the base. I tried to convince Brandon and Ben to carry them out on their packs and even offered them $50.00 each to carry the antlers out for me, but to no avail. Each antler weighed between 15 and 20 lbs and we still had another 4 or 5 days of hiking ahead of us, so they declined. I really couldn't blame them; I wasn't willing to carry them either! So they were left behind near the creek for some other adventurer to find and enjoy.

    A little further down the creek, we found a beautiful spot where we all posed for a team photo in front of a great section of the creek with the gentle, open valley of the "straight-away" as a wonderful backdrop. We proceeded further down Willow Valley, again entering a section of high, vertical cliffs. Near midmorning with the sun beating down on us and not having been forced into swimming any sections of the creek yet this day, we were getting hot and a mite bit sweaty. Rounding a bend in the canyon we found a wonderful pool that had several large logs floating in it. One of them ran from the bank, out into the pool to lie across the other logs that were floating in the pool. This neat arrangement, positioned against the back drop of a vertical wall of rock, hundreds of feet high. We couldn't resist! Every one dropped their packs, stripped down to skivvies and dove in for a little fun!

    We spent a little over an hour swimming and enjoying the pool with the logs. The boys used one of the diving masks that they had brought along and made several attempts to catch some of the crawdads that were skittering about the bottom of the pool. They caught a handful and brought them along with us to add to their dinner fare at camp that evening. We finally saddled back up and headed down stream towards the confluence of Clover Creek and Willow Valley. We continued through the lower section of Willow Valley enjoying the wonderful green vegetation and clear sparkling pools of water set against a constantly varying backdrop of canyon walls that fluctuate from steeply wooded slopes to sheer multicolored vertical rock walls hundreds of feet high. There is no doubt that this canyon will draw us back for future outings.

    We arrived at the head of West Clear Creek in the early afternoon and stopped to enjoy a snack and top off our water bladders in this spacious section of the canyon were Willow Valley and Clover Creek meet to form West Clear Creek. The canyon floor here is covered with football sized river rocks making the footing unstable and stressful on the ankles. Proceeding downstream along West Clear Creek, we passed the Maxwell Trail on canyon right that we would take to exit the canyon if we were just doing a day-hike through Willow Valley.

    Near the trail we met a young man and his girlfriend who had hiked down for a day in the canyon. We progressed down stream about another 2 miles to a location where a GPS fix confirmed that we had reached the 12 mile point and we started looking for a campsite for the night. We didn't have to go far before we found a really nice campsite on canyon left as the canyon swept into a curve to the left. There was a great campfire pit that already had a nice bunch of fire wood laid out just waiting for a match to be set to it. It stayed ready to light for another group since we were hiking the canyon after the Forest Service had already implemented fire restrictions. There was plenty of space and trees for our hammocks and it was all on a nice flat level spot. For anyone using a tent this would be a great spot to spend the night.

    We spent the rest of the afternoon resting and swimming in the nice pool that lies along this campsite. Just upstream from camp the stream flowed swiftly down through a series of small rocky pools and into the big pool next to the campsite. There were several interesting knobs of eroded Coconino sandstone that served as the opposite wall of the pool. The boys broke out the diving masks that Josh and Brandon had included in their gear and the hunt for more crawdads was on. The crawdads were generally a lot quicker than the boys were but they ended up catching several more to add to the handful that they had caught earlier at the pool with the logs. They cooked them up and added the "seafood" to their dinner that evening. While the boys swam the big pool in their search for crawdads, I broke out my new lightweight collapsible fishing pole and "wet a line" in the small pools and rapids above the main pool. I could see several small trout flitting about the small pools, and I got several nibbles but the bait wasn't to their liking and I came up empty handed. Ken meanwhile wandered about exploring the area around the camp and shooting a few photos of the boys and I in our attempts to add another course to our dinner.

    Day Three: Breaking camp, we headed down the canyon and shortly came upon several panels of petroglyphs along the right side of the canyon just upstream of Tramway Canyon. There were hundreds of images in an area about 100 feet long. I did notice several spots where vandals had defaced the panels with their initials and I suspect that some of the images are not original petroglyphs but rather the imitations of more recent visitors. There are many however, that were unmistakably ancient native art. As we explored all the different images we jokingly imagined some teenage native being chastised by the tribal elders for defacing the canyon walls of their home with graffiti!

    Continuing downstream we pushed through deep grasses and willows, as the high canyon walls of Coconino Sandstone guided our progress. This section of West Clear Creek, which lies east of Bear Canyon, is one of the easier sections of the canyon to navigate, with intermittent bits of a trail to follow and relatively few rocky, boulder strewn sections. This part of the canyon is also one of the prettier sections of the canyon, with pool after pool of clear spring water, flowing through the dense foliage being propagated by this abundant water source. This section of the canyon has several fine campsites and some excellent springs flowing nearby.

    Walking along, enjoying the beauty of the canyon, I came upon a large chunk of sandstone that had fallen from the cliff somewhere high above. In separating from the cliff, it had exposed a small cavity that was stained a dark rust color. There were several concentrically stained rings of varying shades of reddish brown radiating out from the cavity, to a diameter of about 12 inches. I am not a geologist by any means, but I love rocks and minerals and have accumulated a fair sized collection over time, so I was immediately drawn to this unique feature on this chunk of sandstone lying along the creek. It was too large to fit into my pack (or the kids!) so I had to be content with a photo or two of the cavity and stain on this rock. I have studied the photos since then and am at a loss as to the origin of the cavity and stain. I have pondered the possibility that a small meteor or some other metallic substance became embedded in the sandstone as it was being formed "a few years" back. Then, as it was exposed to moisture seeping down through the sandstone over the years it slowly began oxidizing and dissolving away, and over time it left a stain in the surrounding sandstone and the cavity where it had been. That's my theory! If anyone out there has a more educated hypothesis as to the origin of this cavity and stain, shoot me a message and bring me up to speed!

    Just upstream of Bear Canyon we discovered a narrow side canyon, on the left side of the main canyon. This side canyon is described on page 130 of Williams "Canyoneering Arizona" Exploring this side canyon we found that it ran only about 100 yards before dead ending in a large open, cavern like area. The canyon walls appear to be at least 300 feet high and seem to lean in at the top, giving the large room a small slit of sky, high above, that allowed a shadowy, diffused light, to illuminate the large cavern like room that forms the end of this side canyon. In times of water runoff from rain or snow there is a waterfall that courses down the south wall of this room and I imagine it would be a beautiful sight to see. Slightly elevated from the floor level, there were what appeared to be, the remains of a small ruin on the southwest corner of the room. I did not climb up to examine it closely and it may be something that other more recent hikers have assembled for some reason or another. This side canyon can be explored via a day trip from the trail that enters the canyon about a third of a mile down stream from it, via Bear Canyon and the trail that enters the canyon from the end of Forest Service road 142e. This road can be accessed from highway 260 to the south of the canyon.

    Heading downstream past Bear Canyon, we hiked through the segment of West Clear Creek that Williams refers to as the upper section of the canyon. This section is noticeably rougher than the previous section, but not the narrow defile that the canyon becomes near the central section. We were constantly wet as we crisscrossed back and forth, negotiating the many pools and bends of the canyon. We hadn't been forced into swimming any pools on this day, but waded chest deep once, in the pool upstream of a large spire of sandstone referred to as "the pillar" that rises out of the center of the canyon floor as if it was planted to grow there.

    We verified our position late in the afternoon and having reached the 18 mile point, we started looking for camp number 3. We ended up finding a nice level bench, within a few minutes on canyon left. There were plenty of nice trees for our hammocks and a great pool along the opposite wall of the canyon for swimming and fishing. Our camp was just upstream from trail #33 and Forest Service road 142B. We set up camp and again enjoyed a great evening, relaxing with full bellies, hot tea and dry clothes as the sun settled slowly into the depths of the canyon below us. As the darkness engulfed us, we climbed into our hammocks. Swaying gently, to the soothing sounds of the canyon, day 3 soon became a memory.

    Day Four: Entering the central section of the canyon we completed the first half of day 4 traversing terrain very similar to what we had encountered on the afternoon of day 3. We were immediately wet and remained so the entire day. The canyon became more and more rugged as we progressed downstream. We occasionally had bare sandstone "sidewalks" above the creek to hike on, which were nice when they were available. Vegetation was becoming sparse along the canyon bottom as it narrowed and became more of a slot as the day wore on.

    Rounding one bend near midmorning, we came upon a wonderful niche carved into the side of the canyon wall, on canyon right. It was about 20 feet wide and deep and about 35 feet tall. The bottom half of it was jammed chock full of driftwood, from previous storms and flood stage water levels. The driftwood had been jammed into the niche in such a manner as to closely resemble a bird's nest, of pterodactyl like proportions. The inner wall of the niche bore some beautiful stains of some sort that were much more vivid than the stains on the canyon walls that were exposed to sunlight. Anyone that harbors doubts as to the potential danger of these canyons during the monsoon rains of late summer need only look at the height of the driftwood jammed into the niche to quickly realize that not much would survive a flood in the bottom of the canyon.

    Moving further downstream, we started encountering deep pools of water surrounded by sheer walls of rock. The boys were quick to jump into these pools from ledges and Boulders as high as 30 feet, as we made our way through the canyon. I sought out the high ground when possible, and kept shooting photos of the others as the canyon began to close in on us the further we went. At one rather long pool, Josh and Dustin opted to stay in the water and swim while the rest of us followed along a small ledge on canyon left. As we progressed downstream, the ledge began to narrow and climb higher above the creek. We finally arrived at a point where we were about 40 feet above the creek and the ledge was about 6 inches wide. This required us to face the rock, and use handholds as we negotiated our way along the ledge. Fortunately, the ledge soon widened and gradually descended back to creek level, saving us from backtracking to where we had started following it. This was a rather fun deviation from our normal routine of wade, swim, wade and wade some more! We negotiated one more ledge shortly after the first, and then headed back to the water so that our newly formed webbed feet wouldn't dry out to much!

    It was about this time that Brandon discovered that his dry bag wasn't so dry! He had taken on a bunch of water while swimming some of the previous pools and his sleeping bag was soaked. He was slightly less than pleased! We stopped to grab a bite to eat, and he emptied his pack to assess the damage. None of his food had been compromised and his sleeping bag had apparently absorbed most of the water. I was trying to get a position fix on the GPS when I happened to look over and see Brandon and Dustin using a very unique technique to extract as much water as possible from Brandon's sleeping bag. I quickly grabbed my camera and started shooting! I informed the boys after they were done squeezing as much water as they could out of Brandon's bag that they were not going to like those photos! They quickly attempted to coerce me into deleting them, to no avail. Not being one to let such an opportunity slip by, I had to refuse the request for deletion, and post the photos to the internet! We determined that Brandon had just a little too much gear in his pack and it was preventing him from getting his dry bag shut properly. I had the lightest pack and some extra room so I took on some of his camp clothing so that he could get a water tight seal on his pack.

    Continuing on we soon encountered a section of the canyon that was almost completely overgrown with willows and other heavy brush, including poison ivy. We quickly gave up trying to force our way through the heavy growth and found our way back to the water where the going was slippery, but faster. In a couple of locations throughout the day, we had observed several, very large logs that had been jammed between the walls of the canyon by flood waters and then left suspended after the water receded. Just down stream of the power lines that cross the canyon high overhead, we came upon a narrow slot, about 6 feet wide and 60 feet long with another large log jammed between the walls at the beginning of the slot. We crossed the log to canyon right and then entered the deep water under the log and swam the slot to where the canyon opened back up and we were able to walk again.

    As we neared Home Tank Draw, and the central section of the canyon that turns and runs south, the canyon began to become noticeably more rugged and narrow. We now were progressing downstream mainly through the creek, hopping from rock to rock, wading and occasionally fighting our way through heavy brush as the canyon walls closed in. We arrived at a pool that was several hundred feet long and spanned the whole width of the canyon. It was not deep enough to require a swim, but did require chest deep wading. Brandon was slightly paranoid at this point and was trying to avoid the water as much as possible due to his previous dry bag leak, so he and Josh detoured around the pool via a wide, but rather high shelf on canyon left. They then had to down climb a steep rock face at the end of the shelf, aided by several tree roots, to rejoin the rest of us at creek level.

    Just below this point, and about 1 mile from the southward bend of the canyon, most of the vegetation disappeared and the canyon bottom became very narrow with sheer vertical walls, often less than 20 feet apart, and the canyon bottom was strewn with a jumble of large boulders and short deep pools that offered no alternatives to swimming. The water in these pools seemed to be slightly colder than the creek had been upstream, but I believe that this was probably due to the lateness of the afternoon and the fact that the sun was not penetrating the narrow depths of the canyon here.

    We pushed forward through the narrow canyon, climbing over and around the endless boulders and swimming at least 5 more pools. We were all pretty well worn out at this point and really looking forward to camp. It was plainly obvious that if we found a camp site that would accommodate us we had better not pass it by! There were no trees or other locations to hang a hammock, and definitely no place where a tent could be set up. We pushed forward and finally made the last swim before arriving at Home Tank Draw where the canyon bends to the south. This was the 24 mile point and our spot were we had covered enough ground to start looking for a camp site. Coincidentally there happened to be a small sand bar with about 4 small trees on canyon left, right across from the mouth of Home Tank Draw so we were able to stop for the night and set up our hammocks using the trees and some sticks jammed between boulders for anchor points.

    Later after we had eaten dinner and the sun had set, I got a fire going and Brandon and I worked on getting his sleeping bag dried out while everyone else crawled into their hammocks and crashed. We had his bag dry in about 45 minutes and the fire was doused, before we too called it a night.

    Day Five: Feeling refreshed and rested, we had a hot breakfast, and then began the days hike through the roughest section of the entire canyon. This day would see us completing the most mandatory swims of any day of the hike. We counted 12 before we set up camp on this day. (A swim had to be water over chest deep and this count does not include any of the numerous sections that had to be waded at depths less than chest deep.) It wasn't long before we had arrived at the famous "White Box" and it lived up to its name and reputation for being a long cold swim through a narrow slot of white sandstone. It was really beautiful! This almost 2 mile long section of the canyon south of Home Tank Draw, with its multiple swims requires the largest expenditure of energy per mile than any of the rest of the canyon from top to bottom.

    At the bottom of the southward run of the canyon, where it again turns west, just east of Meadow Canyon, we arrived at the also famous, "Hanging Gardens" and the spring that feeds them. There is a nice place to camp there, with lots of trees and plenty of level ground to set up a tent on the creek bank opposite the spring and gardens. We paused here for a while, enjoying the beauty of the ferns and flowers of the gardens, and the veil of water flowing over the lip of the gardens and into the creek below. We grabbed a snack and then climbed up above the gardens on canyon left, and found where the spring comes out of the ground under the roots of big tree. This spring, and the gardens are a very spectacular feature of the canyon, and are well worth budgeting some time for a pause here.

    The canyon opens up to the west of the hanging gardens, and again is filled with trees and other vegetation. We pushed through several pools that required wading to chest deep and a few feet of swimming. Brandon's dry bag was now working as intended and we were smoothly rolling along. Smoothly, except for the repeated stops to dump the gravel out of our shoes every few minutes as we had been doing since the second day of the hike when we first hit flowing water (see the gear recommendation about shoes in the hike guide). About mid-morning we started seeing outcroppings of the red Supai sandstone and it gradually took over the canyon as the day wore on. We started to see some spectacular pools lined with huge red rock ledges. Most of the pools could be skirted by staying high and walking along the top of the shelf that seemed to follow along about 20 to 30 feet above the canyon bottom. There were a couple of spots however that offered no way around the pools and we had to swim.

    We were all having a great time swimming and jumping into the pools from the rocks and I just kept shooting photos as we moved along. We arrived at the 30 mile point in late afternoon but we were in a section of the canyon then that offered slim pickings in the way of campsites so we continued on downstream for about a half a mile before we found a spot where there were enough trees for us to all hang up hammocks. This had been another long day of swimming and picking our way through a pretty rough section of the canyon, and we were ready for that campsite! The area where we stopped was littered with rocks and it was not a site that was suitable for a tent but we were too tired to be picky and our hammocks had us up above the rocks anyhow, so it made for a welcome and comfortable camp.

    We got camp set up, and completed our evening routine before settling in for another great nights sleep in our hammocks. We had all been in the sack for less than 30 minutes when I heard a loud ripping sound and a thud, quickly followed by some explicatives from Josh! His imitation Army Surplus, jungle hammock had ripped out and dumped him on the rocks. He and Dustin took the hammock down and managed to clear most of the rocks out of the one small spot just big enough for Josh to lie down on, anywhere near our camp where there was a little sand and he could halfway be comfortable. After he got somewhat settled in his spot on the ground we were finally able to get some much needed sleep.

    Day Six: Waking to another beautiful morning of clear skies and clean air, we rolled out of our bags to prepare our breakfast and get our packs ready for another day in the canyon. Josh was looking "slightly less" than rested and was starting to display a desire to be done with the hike and get back home. The rest of us had gotten a much better night's sleep and were displaying slightly more rosy dispositions, but we were all starting to look forward to a hot shower, a dry day, and some real food!

    We departed camp and headed down stream in the coolness of the early morning. Rounding the first bend in the canyon about 100 yards from our camp we were faced with the first swim of the day. Well the dry clothes were nice while they lasted! We continued on through a canyon that was beginning to open up into a wide valley covered with lots of cactus, dry grass and juniper trees. The widening valley still retained the slit of the creek cutting into the valley bottom through the Supai sandstone layer and forming some very beautiful pools, falls and bubbling stream sections of clear water against the deep red color of the Supai layer. The going was much easier on this day. There was still lots of climbing up, down and around some large boulders but these now tended to be mainly sandstone and were more flat and offered better traction than the smoother, rounded boulders of basalt we had grown used to, higher up in the canyon. We were now having some nice stretches of smooth sandstone benches and shelves 15 to 60 feet above the creek level and our rate of progress downstream was significantly faster than what we had been able to accomplish the previous day.

    About 2 ½ miles into our day we arrived at a section of the canyon where the water had cut deeper into the red sandstone forming some wonderful pools about 60 feet below the shelf of flat sandstone that we had been following along the creek. Ken was leading at this point and he and the boys followed along the creek staying close to the bottom of the cut, while I stayed high above them and used the higher vantage point to get a better view and perspective for the photos that I was taking. At the head of this particular section there was a very pretty twin water fall cascading down over the red Supai. Near the center of this cut there was a wide, deep pool that was fed by water being channeled through a narrow slot that formed a great natural water slide. The boys dumped their packs and spent about a half an hour sliding down into the pool and climbing back up to do it again. I stayed right above them shooting photos while Ken crossed the creek below the pool the boys were in and found a steep narrow crack in the rock face where he could climb up to the top of the shelf that I was on to join me, and we continued down past the deep cut.

    After all the fun that the pool and slide in the cut had been, we were surprised about ½ a mile further on with what I have determined to be the absolute best swimming hole that I have ever had the pleasure of swimming in! It is at Maiden Falls, a wonderful set of two pools separated by an extremely picturesque waterfall about 20 feet high. The upper pool is calm, clear, about 4 feet deep and 25 feet across. On the downstream end of this pool the bottom curves up to form a lip for the water to flow over and down to the lower pool. Directly below the waterfall there is a nice ledge that you can walk around on in knee deep water. There is a crack in the ledge right under the waterfall that is about 3 feet wide and 8 feet deep. This crack runs the width of the ledge. The lower pool below the shelf is about 30 feet deep and about 50 feet across and long with rocks of various heights on either side of the creek to jump from. The whole setting is absolutely beautiful with the red sandstone, the waterfall and the deep clear water in the pools. We ended up spending about a couple of hours there jumping off the rocks and playing in the waterfall. You could easily climb out of the lower pool by first climbing out on the submerged ledge below the waterfall and then bridging yourself across between the rock face of the waterfall and the large rock on creek right. Once you were up on that rock you could access the rocks on either side of the creek by walking along the rim of the waterfall to jump into the lower pool again!

    We finally managed to pull ourselves away from the pools and Maiden Falls and headed downstream again. The rest of the day's hike was rather uneventful. We continued towards Bull Pen hiking alongside and through the creek and several clear pools and past numerous small waterfalls tumbling through the jumble of broken and water carved Supai sandstone. Near mile 5 of the days hike we came upon a troop of Boy Scouts that had hiked up from Bull Pen. They had come in about 7 miles from Bull Pen carrying packs and tents and rubber rafts and beach towels and the kitchen sink and..... We stopped for a short time and chatted with them, answering their questions about our hike up to that point. After we left the scouts we hiked on another mile and passed the point where trail #17 drops down into the canyon from the rim on canyon right. Throughout the next day we would have intermittent sections of trail available to us where it hadn't been washed away. Verifying our location via a GPS fix, and having completed our 6 miles for the day we started watching for a camp site.

    It wasn't long and we found a large open area that was scattered with lots of worn river rock and had several trees scattered about its perimeter for the hammocks. The rock structure in this area was a weird conglomerate that really reminded us of concrete with large rocks thrown in with the smaller gravel. There were several huge boulders comprised of this strange mix about 25 feet in diameter scattered about the large open area in which we were camped. Along the cliff face on canyon left there were a couple of caves that went back into the cliff about 25 or 30 feet. We got our hammocks hung for our last night in the canyon and prepared our last evening meal, knowing that the next night would bring the pleasure of a pizza or something! We all hit the hay as it started getting dark and drifted off to sleep.

    Day Seven: Rising with the sun we ate, broke camp and started downstream towards Bull Pen. The canyon continued to open up into a rather wide valley that was hot and dry with the exception of the area right along the creek which remained green and lush. We still had to cross the creek several times as it wound its way back and forth across the bottom of the valley cutting into the Supai sandstone. We now had a trail to walk on and far less obstacles in our path so we were making pretty good time. This section of the canyon has some really pretty pools and small falls of sparkling clear water contrasting beautifully with deep red of the Supai. In the early afternoon we arrived at the wilderness boundary at Bull Pen Ranch. We had made it! We had pushed through 46 miles of two of the most beautiful canyons in Arizona. We were all filled with a huge sense of accomplishment in our successful completion of this hike through Willow Valley and West Clear Creek.

    This hike truly was a wonderful week of Wilderness!

    Permit $$

    Map Drive
    FR / Jeep Road - Car possible when dry

    To hike
    To reach the start of the hike, from Flagstaff travel south east on forest road 3 (Lake Mary Road) and after approximately 48 miles turn south off of Lake Mary Road onto an unmarked Forest Service Road at: 12S 0468322 x 3831775. Or from Clint's Well follow Lake Mary Road west 5.7 miles to your turn south or left on to this road. This road is lightly traveled but not terribly rough, and can be accessed by any high clearance 2 wheel drive vehicle and probably a lot of cars if they are not real low. If it is muddy you might want 4x4 but there are no significant hills to climb just a Forest Service dirt road. Follow this road for approximately 2.25 miles to its end at: 12S 0465979 x 3829536, the start of the hike. From this location hike SW on a bearing of 188 degrees (true) and enter the upper end of Willow Valley at 12S 0465750 x 3828400. Once you enter the canyon, route finding is relatively simple in that you just follow the canyon downstream and negotiate the obstacles within the canyon itself.
    help comment issue

    end of page marker