Upper Little Arches Canyon is an extremely difficult area to hike into which contains towering slot narrows and major dry falls and requires expert bypass skills to fully visit. Difficulties encountered on the hike include using a very challenging long bypass route to access the upper canyon, contending with major dry falls within the upper canyon, and using additional bypasses in order to progress up canyon. A Google Earth map of the upper canyon hiking route (turned to the northwest for better viewing) can be found by clicking on the button above. GPS coordinates for the unclimbable major dry fall are 36° 52.146'N, 117° 9.904'W.
During my February 2014 solo hike into the major canyon north of Palmer Canyon, I had been able to fully explore the lower canyon and partially explore the upper canyon. After seeing firsthand what was in the canyon and consulting with two others who also hiked the canyon, we decided to assign it the informal name Little Arches Canyon. The canyon name was chosen based on what most hikers would see and appreciate the most if they hiked into the lower canyon, which is accessible to family groups, at least up to the boulder gorge. Getting into the upper canyon had required taking the longest bypass that I had ever charted out. During my exploration of the upper canyon, daylight began to fade out and I was unable to finish the hike on that day or trip. Thus, when my November 2014 trip rolled around, one of the hikes I planned was Upper Little Arches Canyon. However, rather than retracing my steps from the previous hike from 9 months earlier, I decided to loop into the canyon by way of Upper Red Wall Canyon. This would allow me to do two canyons in one day, which was nice because taking a second lifetime hike of Red Wall Canyon was high on my priority list anyway. So this trip report essentially continues where the new trip report for Red Wall Canyon ends.
Upon exiting the 3rd Narrows of Red Wall Canyon, we spotted a large boulder that I had identified on satellite imagery and nicknamed "exit rock". In order to potentially crossover from Red Wall Canyon to Little Arches Canyon, I had charted out a route which left Red Wall at "exit rock", hiked along a low ridge for a while, ascended to the top ridge by passing by "crossover rock", and then followed a ridge and gully back down the other side into Little Arches. It was a somewhat complicated route with 600 feet of elevation gain and there was no guarantee that it would actually work. Following the planned route, we found "exit rock" and could see "crossover rock" high above us. The route up proved to be mostly straightforward and only took about 30 minutes until we were on the top ridge. From there, we chose a route down the other side and things became a bit more difficult. The ridge down was steeper and the gully off to the right didn't look any better. On the ridge down, we could see the head of Upper Little Arches Canyon and spotted a major dry fall just below it, close to the spot where we hoped to drop into the canyon. Eventually, we managed to reach the canyon floor. Charlie stayed on the ridge most of the way while I climbed down into the gully and took that down. From beginning to end, the bypass over the main ridge separating Upper Red Wall Canyon and Upper Little Arches Canyon had taken us about an hour. We soon began hiking down canyon. The wash was steep and we both wondered aloud how far we would be able to go before a major dry fall stopped our hike. We realized that if we ran into a major dry fall too quickly, there would be no way out. We would have to hike all the way back over into Red Wall Canyon and call off this portion of the hike. There did turn out to be a couple of dry falls, but they were medium difficulty and we were able to climb down them and keep going. The hike through the upper canyon was outstanding with many sections of beautiful narrows. After a while, the hillside above the canyon on the left appeared to get less steep and we started to see a couple of potential escape routes if we needed to use them. Previously, the terrain above both sides of the canyon had been impassable, so we were glad to see that we likely wouldn't have to return to Red Wall. Just as we began hiking into the most incredible section of narrows yet, we reached the top of a major dry fall which we could not safely climb down. There were two sides to this major dry fall but both looked treacherous with few holds and loose rocks. We noticed, too, that there were no canyoneering slings set up and left behind, meaning that we were likely the first group to have gotten this far into the upper canyon in modern times. Beyond the double dry fall, we could see into some very deep narrows. It seemed like an area of amazing beauty was awaiting us and teasing us by giving us a glimpse of what we couldn't reach. But we were not ready to give up just yet. We backtracked up the canyon a short distance until we found a small gully heading up to the southeastern hillside. The gully had a few tough spots but we managed to attain the ridge and hike along the rim of the canyon. From the canyon rim, the views down into the deep narrows we had missed were stunning. As with my previous hike, the amount of daylight left was once again becoming an issue. As we walked along the rim, we realized that we had just enough light to take the long ridge hike back down to the mouth of Little Arches Canyon. If there were any variations, we would end up hiking down part of the long ridge in the dark. However, because I had already successfully hiked the long ridge in both directions on my February trip and because I had my GPS with marked coordinates with me, we decided to try to finish the hike. Thus, we found a way to get back down into Upper Little Arches Canyon at the exact spot where I had stopped my February hike. From there, we hiked back up canyon to see what was there. We encountered an area where a massive rockslide had filled in part of the canyon. Past that area, we finally entered the deep narrows which we had seen from above the dry fall and along the canyon rim. The narrows did not fail to impress. They were amazing to walk through. Truly some of the best I had ever seen. We ended up making it all the way to the base of the double dry fall with no more problems. From there, we turned around and began the long hike out of the upper canyon, down the long ridge by flashlight, and back to the car from the canyon mouth. The beautiful narrows of Upper Little Arches Canyon had proved to be the highlight of my Fall 2014 trip. Please note that this particular hike is one of the most challenging hikes that is documented here on the site. While it can be done safely if you know what you are doing, it requires extreme caution and excellent bypass and navigational skills. Additional information about reaching the upper canyon can be found on the original Little Arches Canyon report. Our hike took place on November 23, 2014.
Many more photographs taken during our visit are available for viewing for this destination. To see all of them, choose one of the two options presented below. The two options are Slideshow viewing and Trip Report viewing. The Slideshow option allows for viewing larger images with an autoplay option and a full screen option (available on most browsers). This option works very well for large computer screens and tablets. The Trip Report option allows for viewing smaller pictures in a standard scroll-down format and enlarging of any panoramic photos taken during our visit. Click on the option of your choice to view all of our photos from this destination. The Slideshow format opens in a new browser window and the Trip Report format uses the same browser window for viewing.
TRIP REPORT FORMAT