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Woods Canyon Loop - Coconino National Forest

Summary: A technical loop hike with 3 rappels (maybe more), down climbing and lots of rock hopping over basalt boulders through a nice and remote canyon. To complete this hike you will need: 1x200' rope (or a 100' rope and 100' pull cord), harness, descender, webbing, helmet, carabiners and a gps unit. A wet suit would be required in cooler, wetter weather.
Download a map of this route here (429k).
Directions: From Phoenix, take I-17 north to Exit 315 for Rocky Park Road. Turn left at the end of the off ramp and drive under the highway. Turn right onto Forest Road #80 (unpaved, rocky and bumpy) which follows I-17 north for a ways before bending left (west). You can drive 1.7 miles and park next to the old coral, or continue on a short distance. The author parked at UTM: 12 S 0441986mE, 3857525mN
Road Conditions: High Clearance Vehicle
Navigation: Difficult
Length: ~8.5 miles, but don't let the distance fool you, this is a long hike
Date Hiked: August 2003
Weather Conditions: Hot and humid
Required Skills:
Hike Description: Before starting this hike mark the location of your vehicle on your gps unit so you can find it again at the end of the day. Done? Then begin walking cross country southwest towards the head of the canyon that will allow entry into Woods. Set your gps to locate UTM:
12S 0439414mE, 3854930mN
It's easy walking through open forests and meadows as you head cross country. Soon you'll cross a shallow drainage, then another slightly deeper one. About 15 minutes after climbing out of the second drainage you'll reach some old barbed wire fence lines and Con Tank. Continue cross country, following your gps until you reach the top of the unnamed canyon shown on the map above. Enter the drainage at a shallow point and begin working your way down stream. The upper portion of this canyon is very brushy and you'll be climbing over large basalt boulders (something you'll become all too familiar with before the end of this hike). As you descend, you'll reach 4 or 5 drop offs of 10 to 40 feet. All of these can be down climbed without too much trouble, however, some may wish to rig a rope for use as a hand line or rappel. Eventually, you will reach the red Supai Sandstone layer and 3 rappels in quick succession. The first is 80' from a sling around a pinch point on canyon left, the second is 80' from two climbing nuts on canyon right (note: rodents have begun to chew the rope on these anchors & they may soon need to be replaced or backed up), the third rap requires 100' of rope and uses a tree located in the middle of the canyon 30' back from the edge as the anchor (this last one is undercut and has a somewhat awkward start). Once down, retrieve your rope, remove your harness and continue down canyon another 10-15 minutes to the confluence with Woods Canyon (it took the group of 5 the author was with 4  hours to reach this point). Turn right and begin rock hopping your way up the dry canyon across the smooth, grey, basalt boulder that line the channel in Woods. Be aware that many of the rocks are not very stable and can roll when you step on them, making a fall a possibility. Other than a few pretty Arizona Sycamores, this lower section is otherwise uninteresting. After about an hour and a half of walking, look to an alcove in the Supai on the left to spot a decent ruin located 40' above the canyon floor. There is no easy way up to the ruin, which is just as well since I'm sure this helps protect it from vandalism. Just above the ruins, the Supai Sandstone appears underfoot and you will pass by a series of scenic pools. All the pools can be bypassed by walking around on one side or the other, unfortunately it is sometimes difficult to know which side to choose. You have a 50/50 chance, if your progress ends in a cliff, you chose the wrong side (just back up and try again, if you get it wrong the second time seek medical attention). Above the Supai, the canyon enters the Coconino Sandstone. This layer forms some moderately narrow sections including a few filled with water that you will be forced to wade and one long section that is a mandatory swim (the water in this pool is reportedly cold most times of the year, but was actually quite refreshing when I was here in August). More boulder hopping and the canyon will become shallower as you enter the upper basalt layer. There is a nice water fall in this section that is easily climbed, followed by a couple shallow pools that can be avoided or crossed with a short wade. When you reach a very large pool, there will be a tributary canyon which enters from the right. Turn right and follow this drainage up until it becomes brushy. Climb out of the drainage on the left back up to the top of the mesa. Set your gps to find your vehicle which you had marked earlier and continue the remaining 0.8 miles back to your car.
Rating (1-5 stars):
This is a nice hike, with good scenery in a remote wilderness setting. The boulder hopping is a bit relentless, but that's the price of admission. The author and his wife completed this hike with 3 other people in 10 hours.
Maps: Coconino National Forest Map
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
Rappel #1 Rappel #2 Cooling off in a Supai
Sandstone pool.
Typical view in
the Coconino.
Near the end of the
one long swim.
Boulder hopping.