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Backpacker Magazine – November 2011

Rip & Go: West Clear Creek Canyon, Coconino National Forest, AZ

Rock-hop and wade your way down a wild sandstone corridor.

by: Courtney Holden (text) and Todd Martin (mapping)

Ponderosa pines & coconino sandstone above the creek (Matt Hoffman)
Ponderosa pines & coconino sandstone above the creek (Matt Hoffman)
Sperry SON-R Buckle ($90,
Sperry SON-R Buckle ($90,
Sinagua rock art (Zach Schierl)
Sinagua rock art (Zach Schierl)

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GPS-Enabled Trip Report
See this trip on a map, download it to your phone, GPS, or computer, and more.

Do it

You’ll get wet on this hike through a rugged gorge cut in Coconino sandstone, but that’s the point (and the payoff when Arizona temps soar). The 9.4-miler is also a great intro to non-technical canyoneering. But don’t let the distance deceive you: Numerous creek crossings and a bit of bushwhacking make this point-to-point a rough haul.

At the left side of the parking area at the end of FR 142E (1), locate an unsigned trail that descends steeply north to West Clear Creek. When you reach the mellow trickle in .3 mile (2), drop gear on a sandy bench in this 125-foot wide section of the canyon, grab dayhike essentials, and head upstream (east). In 100 yards, wander into a side canyon on your right (3) that boasts a 200-foot pour-off (usually dry). A Sinagua Indian petroglyph panel (“See This”) lies less than two miles farther up the main canyon on a prominent use path on the north side, between cairns for the Tramway (4) and Maxwell (5) Trails.

After admiring the art, retrieve your pack and head downstream. Dense stands of alder and willow make travel tricky, as do slippery, algae-covered rocks; to speed progress, look for sporadic stretches of trail. Water levels vary throughout the canyon, from ankle-deep to 10 feet (see “Key Gear,” next page). A little more than a mile from where you entered the canyon, a 40-foot rock spire (6) on the north side is your cue to start scanning upper banks for trails to fire rings among the ponderosa pines.

Next day, point your feet downstream. As the canyon widens, vegetation grows thicker. Avoid the densest stuff by veering right toward a faint, mile-long path. Look for your exit up Calloway Butte Trail #33 (7), marked by a large sandstone cairn on your left (west) and a switchbacking path ascending from water level, 4.7 miles from where you entered the canyon. Climb the unmaintained trail up 550 feet to the canyon rim (or see “Locals Know,” next page, to extend your trip to the legendary White Box and the lower canyon’s Supai sandstone). Crest the canyon lip and head to your car (8).

Trip Planner

Get there From Sedona, take AZ 179 to I-17 S to AZ 260 E. In 3.1 miles, connect FR 144, FR 149, FR 142, and FR 142B (4WD) to drop a shuttle car at the Calloway Butte Trail. Backtrack to FR 142; turn left on FR 142E and go 2.7 miles to the lot.

Gear up Canyon Outfitters, 2701 West State Route 89A, Sedona, AZ. (928) 282-5293


Season May/June and late August through October (July through September has higher risk of flash floods)

Trip data

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AZ Hiker
Jan 26, 2012

You probably won't find a more beautiful place on this planet;-)
If you're looking for a good book on how to not get lost on your hikes, try Felix! the Sugar Glider Be Safe Hike Smart available on Amazon. Don't leave home without it!


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