So John had been pining to hike the Honaker Trail since about 2014, and while that one is an absolute gem, it's still a bit far to drive for a 5-6 mile hike. So we decided to tag on this extra hike while we were near the neighborhood.
The forecast called for windy conditions with snow showers Thursday night and Friday morning, and then rain showers Friday afternoon and night. And while not a washout by any stretch, it made us both pile a few extra pounds of clothes and gear into our packs to be prepared. There are no campfires permitted in the backcountry, so cold evenings at camp are especially chilly. On top of that, there are scarce water sources (and the NPS flatly told us to carry all we need and not count on finding any), and it's a poop-free zone, so wag bags were required too. The result was both of us heading out with unusually heavy 45lb packs!
Squaw Flat to Chesler Park CP2
6.67 miles / 2:45
This was an incredible introduction to this spectacular park. The trail jumps right into the thick of things. Despite gray skies above, the colors, contrasts, and geology were amazing. Every little hill climbed and corner turned provided another indescribable scene. After a relatively short first day hike, we quickly found our assigned campsite in Chesler Park and set up camp as the afternoon wind kicked up sand and dust.
CP2 is a fine site, but I would rank the sites in order CP1, CP4, CP2, CP3, and finally CP5. You really can't go wrong camping in Chesler Park, but for views, geology, space, shade, and wind protection, that's how I would rank them.
Joint Trail [ photoset ]
Chesler Park to Squaw Canyon SQ2
5.42 miles / 2:27
This short day started with an easy hike to the junction of the Druid Arch trail where we dropped our packs for a side trip. We managed to get packed up and out of camp before the snow showers, but it wasn't very cold. I'd think it was close to 45 degrees, pretty ideal for hiking! After the trip to the arch, the skies cleared and the sun warmed things up considerably. We enjoyed finally seeing blue skies contrasting the geology here.
Both forks of Elephant Canyon were fantastic. Along the way, we found a lost Dane and admired the elevated EC3 campsite which would be a joy to camp at. The trail climbs up a canyon before crossing a pass and dropping into Squaw Canyon. We learned that these pass/saddle crossings were a highlight whenever we encountered them.
The trail took a couple of ins n outs around geologic obstacles before dropping to the bottom of Squaw Canyon where we immediately encountered enough water to dissuade any fears we had of a dry camp on night 2. With camp set up, sunny skies and plenty of daylight remaining, we each added another day hike to our afternoons before heading back to camp to enjoy the pleasant evening.
Not ten minutes after crawling into our tents, it somewhat unexpectedly started to rain. It continued steadily for a couple of hours providing a peaceful sound on the rainfly to sleep to.
Druid Arch [ photoset ]
Big Spring - Squaw Canyon Loop [ photoset ]
Squaw Canyon to Squaw Flat via Lost Canyon
6.9 miles / 2:45
Our exit day started by exiting Squaw Canyon in another geology-rich side canyon, wet from the overnight rain. After crossing another divide, we dropped down into Lost Canyon, which was a wider canyon with a flatter bottom than some of the others. But the canyon meandered wildly. Some stretches of trail were in sand, but not enough to get annoying. While there had been pools of water in the highest stretches of rocky canyon, the bottom was mostly dry until the camp LC2, which would have been another excellent place to camp.
LC1 was an anomaly, in a thick grove of oaks which so far had not sprouted and left it exposed. In a month, however, it might be the shadiest site in the park! LC2 was set amongst a couple of huge boulders, one of which provided a sheltered cave large enough for one tent. LC3 was a nice site set in some junipers, but it was nearly a mile to water.
From the LC1 site, which is also the trail junction for the west end of the Peekaboo Spring Trail, it's about 3 miles back to the trailhead. We were surprised at the number of ups and downs because the topo map looks fairly benign compared to the rest of this loop. But the variations in topography provided a pleasant hike with inspiring views that continued until we reached the parking lot!
Three 5-7 mile backpacking days aren't that difficult and allow for plenty of time to do some sightseeing and side hikes. While there are constant ups and downs, there are no big climbs. One 400 foot climb -- but mostly not more than 200 feet, so the terrain is generally what I would consider to be easy. More than half of the hiking is on bare rock and all the trails are marked with endless cairns. I actually decided the place should be called Cairn
yonlands. #dadjoke. @bobp
could retire and live out his days here. He would not run out of subjects to practice his art! ;)
In a nutshell, you should plan a trip here. It's unlike anything anywhere and needs to be seen to appreciated. Photos simply don't capture it. I don't think there is any glacial drift in the geologic history here, but 9L was quoted three different times saying this is his new favorite national park. And that's saying something.