Desert Highlights' one day and half day canyoneering adventures are a fantastic way to see the backcountry surrounding Moab. The rappels and lofty locations encountered along these routes offer visitors an exciting and unique perspective
Check out the photos below and at our
page to see what you're getting into. You'll find lots of smiles --
always a good sign. You'll also find lots of incredible beauty and
adventure. Perhaps your smile will soon be gracing these pages...
As you can imagine, there are many wonderful canyons out there situated far from the convenience of a road. Some of these canyons descend into larger canyons which contain rivers, large creeks or some other body of water. Often these waterways allow - even require - the use of a boat to traverse. What to do when the canyon you just rappelled down ends up at such a watery terminus? You inflate your packraft, of course!
Packrafts are ultra-lightweight, ultra-durable one person rafts. They weigh less than five pounds and pack down into a neat package not much bigger than a loaf of bread. Four-piece, collapsable paddles - weighing in at only 28-ounces - fit neatly in the sides of a pack and provide the necessary propulsion while on the water. Though small and extremely lightweight, these boats aren't pool toys. They are extremely durable, highly manueverable, high quality watercraft designed for whitewater and remote regions. We use the finest packrafts available, made by a small company called Alpacka Raft in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.
In addition to being great tools for canyoneering, packrafts also can be coupled with mountain bikes to create amazing, self-supported "pedal and paddle" explorations of Moab's legendary bike trails and rivers.
Packrafts make many of the impossible canyons and rides possible. And not only do they make them possible, they make them tons of fun! Combining canyoneering and rafting to accomplish a singular goal of exploring a beautful canyon is one of the most fun, most rewarding days you can have in the backcountry.
If you're looking for a unique, beautiful and exciting day of adventure in the backcountry, join us for a day of packraft canyoneering or packraft mountain biking!
Like torture? Look elsewhere, because the Medieval Chamber
is a very pleasant adventure into one of the area's finest canyons. The
lower canyon is lush, with a clear running stream and a massive natural
arch. The canyon's upper reaches are bounded by an awesome array of
petrified sand dunes. Connecting the two sections, well.....gets
interesting. You see, situated halfway along the canyon's journey to the
Colorado River lie two of the most spectacular rappels found anywhere on
Mother Earth. The first seems to journey right into the very heart of
her. The second reminds you that she is a very exciting and beautiful
After a short hike from the trailhead we reach the route's namesake feature, a deep vertical shaft of sandstone creating the first drop. Indeed, from above it looks ominous and, you're now thinking, well named. After a few minutes of discussing gear and technique you'll clip into the rope and peer over the edge, the light of day obscures your view of what awaits at the bottom. You immerse yourself into its darkness. The overhanging walls and smooth sandy floor of this well-hidden grotto become apparent once your eyes adjust. At the bottom you'll probably think you're in a different world than the others still at the top. You'll probably also think that the rappel wasn't as terrifying as you thought it'd be! Behind you, the Keyhole, a subtle and narrow passageway, provides escape from the Chamber's seemingly exitless confines.
Once all down, we continue on and are soon presented with a very interesting scenario. The massive Morning Glory Arch - despite being the seventh longest arch in the world - is discreetly shoehorned into the canyon and we quickly find ourselves level with the top of the 243' long span. The canyon floor plummets 100 feet below. Since we've just pulled our ropes at the Chamber, there's no way out but to rappel and this rappel is one of the most spectacular in the Moab area. As we walk out on the middle of the arch it becomes obvious that there are no anchors on top. Hmm. Time to find a partner! Next, we'll simply drape the rope over the arch and you and your trusting partner simultaneously rappel off opposite sides and counterweight one another! Well, there's more to it than that, of course, but we'll discuss details in the canyon Needless to say, it's an amazing rappel in a spectacular setting. This special experience, which requires two guides, is only offered by Desert Highlights.
If you're looking for a very unique way to extend your adventure into the Medieval Chamber and turn this into a great full day trip then definitely consider adding an afternoon half-day whitewater Packraft trip to this hike. Rappelling down the Medieval Chamber and Morning Glory Arch and then paddling your own awesome little packraft through rapids on the Colorado River makes for one heck of a day! Read more about this trip on our Packraft Adventures page.
Oftentimes in canyoneering we find ourselves descending
into unlikely places where most folks normally wouldn't desire to go.
Canyoneers get muddy, shuffle through tight canyon passages, rappel down awkward dropoffs and of course wade and swim
through pools of water. Why?! Maybe it's curiosity that compels? Perhaps the chance of
stumbling upon a place more beautiful? If any of this sounds enticing to
you, Entrajo Canyon is the place to be!
In its short length, Entrajo runs the gamut of most everything that has come to define canyoneering: simple hiking through beautiful wide canyons, long mesatop views toward distant mountain ranges, struggling through tight narrow canyon walls and interlocking potholes of water - and, of course, climbing gear. A jaunt through Entrajo Canyon involves the use of ropes, carabiners, harnesses, helmets, spring loaded camming devices, hooks, retrievable Slick!® anchors and other nifty tools of the trade used to allow curious canyoneers access to the desert's deep, dark - and beautiful - recesses.
This route is moderately challenging, yet supremely scenic and rewarding. One short rappel within a series of scoured out potholes is necessary to safely hike through the canyon. The finale of the technical section includes a swim through chilly water - refreshing during the summer months, though this quality prohibits us from comfortably visiting this canyon in all but the hottest months of the year. Pleasant hiking following the swim places us on a bench high above the trailhead. A second rappel here gently brings us to within a stone's throw of the start - a fine finish to a wonderful morning of exploring one of Moab's most unique canyons.
Complementing the scenery are geologic curios that litter the canyon - a stately natural arch perched on the canyon rim, strangely eroded hoodoos, glacial erratics, crossbedded rock layers and Jurassic-aged burrow casts. The geologic story of this canyon is quite different than that of the other canyons in the Moab area and a good bit of time is spent learning about this geologically fascinating area.
| The Pleiades of Greek mythology were the
seven daughters of the titan Atlas and Pleione. Attendants to Artemis,
goddess of the wilderness, the striking beauty of the seven sisters was
legendary. This was not lost on the great hunter Orion who pursued them
fervently the world over. Tiring of their incessant stalker, the girls
prayed to the gods for help. Zeus, in a rare display of lascivious
restraint, helped the nubile nymphs escape the virile archer - not with
his usual modus operandi of hiding them conveniently in his bed
- rather by turning them into...doves? Hey, at least he got Orion off
their backs and gave us a really cool star cluster to admire in the
It almost seems as big a myth to hear tell of a real-world canyon which is befittingly graced with their name. But it's true, Pleiades Canyon exists and it is an unimaginable canyon within an already unimaginable landscape. Within this canyon seven waterfalls - each named for one of the sisters - delicately weave their way through a breathtaking paradise of water-sculpted sandstone. And just like each of the girls, each rappel has its own unique charm.
The first rappel is Alcyone Falls, a short and beautiful drop into a boulder-choked cave. Looking down into the chaotic spray from above may make you wonder just what exactly you've gotten yourself into! You hesitate a bit, not quite sure what to expect. With your harness securely fastened, your descender clipped into the rope and your guide attentively minding your belay rope and offering advice, you eventually descend into the noise. Slowly you enter the water's current and into a seeming deluge of force you'd swear was Niagara Falls. That small unassuming creek you first stepped across at the beginning of the hike seems a whole 'nother animal now! Within seconds you realize it's actually quite manageable and this new sensation becomes comfortable - even peaceful. All too soon you reach the bottom, unclip and think "That wasn't too bad - in fact it was downright exhilarating!" You step off to the side and relish this misty otherworld of water and rock. With camera ready you eagerly await your partners' reactions as they clip in for their descent. Sadly your turn is over; Alcyone Falls is above you now. Nonetheless you quickly realize - with a huge grin - that she's got six sisters and the day has just begun!
The subsequent hike downstream through rocky cascades is lovely. Moss, lichens and a host of other lush flora line the corridor of clear flowing water. You soon note a significant "horizon line" up ahead which provides that subtle hint that the next big descent, Electra Falls, is near. Sure enough, within minutes you're clipped back into the rope and again staring down into that fantastic falling water. This time you can't wait!
The enjoyment in Pleiades Canyon is non-stop. You face rappel after rappel and the excitement is hard to contain. After Electra, the devilish little Merope Falls spits you out onto a large shelf atop Sterope Falls. The shelf here is often embellished with a beam of sunshine creating a fantastic rainbow in the mist. From this vantage the views both up and downcanyon are amazing. At the bottom of Sterope Falls lies an equally impressive scene - a cavernous rock hollow with a delightful clear pool and flat rock ledges. With the wide curtain of Sterope's water as a visual and audible backdrop, this dim misty lair is worthy as the home of any mythical miscreant. It also marks the beginning of a wild rock tunnel within which lurks the dark Celæno Falls. Yes, tunnel. It's eerily spectacular!
Just when you think it can't possibly get any prettier, you reach Taygeta Falls, one of the longest and most elegant rappels of the day. Her gentle lower-angle course sinuously snakes through an ornately polished, narrow flume with lichen covered walls glowing green. Throughout this rappel the water braids between channels and ridges, mixing and splitting in a playful dance with your feet. And don't forget to smile, too!
Brilliant beams of sunshine begin appearing ahead on the canyon walls marking the imminent arrival at the final "exit" rappel where we depart the confines of the narrow canyon. This is the exquisite Maia Falls, the eldest sister and arguably the most beautiful of the seven waterfalls. We could describe this rappel at length, too, but honestly we've simply run out of adjectives. Just compress the preceding half-dozen paragraphs into one sentence and you'll get the idea.
Pleiades Canyon is amazing. It can be enjoyed all year long but without a doubt the most enjoyable time of year is May through September. This is a very special first-class hike and a guaranteed respite from Moab's intense summer heat.
|The Black Hole of White Canyon is one of earth's finest products of erosion. It is perhaps the most beautiful and exciting of all the narrow slot canyon hikes in southern Utah.
Several lengthy sections of this intense one-day hike require swimming through deep pools of water. Wetsuits and PFDs (lifejackets) are always provided, as they are mandatory for safe passage through this remarkable canyon. Dry bags are also provided to help keep all of your gear out of the water.
A journey through the Black Hole is one of lifes sweetest achievements. The rewards of visiting this magical place are beyond description. The canyons ornately polished, convoluted sandstone walls provide a surreal canvas for the dancing reflections of water and light. They also create an ideal sanctuary for your own reflections on the importance of remote and wild places, the remarkable forces of nature and your own personal outdoor accomplishments. Wow!!!
Trips depart early in the morning after a last minute check of the weather forecast. A clear forecast is necessary for safety. An early evening return to Moab follows one hell of a day down in the canyon.
There are no rappels along this route, though there is a fair bit of tricky terrain where short ropes are set for handlines and lowering packs. This is a fantastic trip for ambitious hikers looking for an adventurous introduction to canyoneering!
For some folks, squeezing through narrow "slot
canyons" is the ultimate in Canyoneering. Though typically dry with
no flowing water, these canyons have been carved from several millions
of years of infrequent flash floods. Blarney Canyon, and it's
nearby "big brother" Shimrock Canyon, showcase some of the
narrowest slots in the deserts of Utah.
Interesting geology aside, Blarney is a first-class slot canyon. It is shorter and more casual than Shimrock and, for those joining us for a couple days of adventure (see sidebar on multi-day trips), offers a great first day warmup to the following day's rigors of "Shim." Blarney's charm begins immediately after leaving the car. Switchbacking our way up an immense dome of Navajo sandstone, the distant views get more dramatic with each step. Most notably to the west loom the volcanic Henry Mountains, or simply - the "Henrys." Long considered to be the last of the named and explored U.S. mountain ranges, these 11,000 foot peaks were originally named the Unknown Mountains by John Wesley Powell during his pioneering 1869 exploration of the nearby Colorado River and Grand Canyon. Never one to pass up a great river trip with buddies, Powell retraced his route in 1871. It was at this time, much to the chagrin of longtime local Mr. Jeremiah Unknown, Powell renamed the range after then Secretary of the Smithsonian Institute Joseph Henry.
Upon reaching the top of our ascent of the formidable Navajo domes, the approach hike quickly levels out and our fine views of the Henrys get more of the attention they deserve. Further to the south is Trachyte Point, an impressive uplift of even more Navajo sandstone overlooking the take-out for Cataract Canyon raft trips. Before long we reach the head of Blarney Canyon and the first rappel. And what a nice one it is. If you've never rappelled before, no worries. It's easy, short, secure and with a nice gradual "transition" from flat ground to vertical. Around the corner, however, "the slot" awaits. Out comes the body armor...
You'll quickly learn to love the body armor we provide - basically kneepads and, for truly desperate times, elbow pads. They will save you a lot of skin over the next few hours. For that matter, anyone completing the Blarney & Shimrock Multi-day trip will likely want theirs bronzed afterwards. Chimney after chimney is encountered, all of which are great fun with plenty of problem solving. There's even another rappel buried somewhere in the midst of this madness! Similar to - but much longer than - Entrajo Canyon, this is a fantastic slot for those wanting to get started on a lifetime of exploring technical slot canyons. While these slots can be serious work - they are serious fun! At either one of the two spots in the slot where its wide enough to relax, a well-deserved lunch appears. Life is good.
Afterwards, we often combine a trip through Blarney Canyon with a very short stroll to a nearby pictograph panel appropriately named "Cleopatra." This beautiful rock art is from the Archaic Indians which inhabited the area as long as 6,000 years ago. Nearly as awesome is her surroundings - an enormous sandstone alcove providing the shelter which has kept her looking good for so long. Ah, Cleopatra...
|If youre in Moab during
the hot summer months, dont pass up this trip! All but an hour of
this adventurous day is spent near the refreshing waters of Dipper
Creek Canyon. Several cascades, including a great waterslide
at the lunchspot, lead to the canyons sole rappel. Its
beautiful, fun and wet! Dipper Creek can also be enjoyed during the
cooler months with appropriate footwear and clothing.
The first couple hours of the day have us casually winding our way up beautiful Dipper Creek. Its clear, cool water is somewhat of a treat here in the desert and it's much appreciated during the heat of the summer. Soon enough, the canyon walls close in shrouding us from the rising sun and creating splendid acoustics which echo every little riffle of the flowing water. The sharp "chirps" of the American Dipper (Cinclus Mexicanus), for which the canyon is named, also begin to resound off the walls complementing the tranquility of the water. The bird's constant "dipping" and diving antics never fail to entertain and amaze. Several of their nests are found along the waterway, clinging within pockets in the convoluted walls - reminiscent of the Anasazi's cliff dwellings. Before long, the challenges begin...
Since we begin the day hiking up the creek (without a paddle, no less) to reach the upper section of the canyon, we soon become blocked by a waterfall which we cannot ascend. To get around this and gain entry into the breathtaking upper section, we must bid a temporary farewell to the refreshing waters (but not before soaking our hats, bandanas and shirts!) and clamber our way to the rim of the canyon. This ascent is not to be taken lightly (see sidebar). Once on top, an astoundingly scenic hike along the rim offers incredible views into the gorge itself and of the amazing redrock landscape surrounding us.
Heading downstream now, we soon reach a fun "waterslide" and a fabulous lunch spot. Few words can describe this setting. Needless to say the physical effort required to get here - which is considerable - is well worth it. We soak in the surroundings (literally) for as long as it takes to enjoy a lazy lunch and a couple "laps" on the slide. Then we proceed, once again, downcanyon.
The clamor of falling water in narrow canyons can be heard for quite some distance. Dipper Creek's waterfall is no exception. The canyon's rappel is fairly short, but what it lacks in height it makes up for in excitement! Water pounding on your helmet while on (what may be your first) rappel does tend to grab your attention. Fears of drowning, however, are typically - and usually very quickly - replaced by feelings of sheer exhilaration! It is definitely an unforgettable experience!
On a precautionary note, this route covers ten miles so its not for everyone. It is more of a wilderness hike, with far more time hiking in water than rappelling. There is also some very loose rock on the climb out of the canyon, so its appropriate only for sure-footed hikers. To those willing to put in some miles, the rewards are plenty. Stay cool during your visit to Moab!
|Very few dayhikes contain as many
exquisite natural arches as the journey through Granary Canyon.
And what a journey it is! Six fantastic rappels and a lot of tricky
scrambling are encountered within the depths of this remote canyon,
which houses at least seven major arches and scores of smaller ones.
Over the course of this one-way hike we'll descend over 2,000 feet! And
despite the day's numerous rappels, this hike is within reason for
adventurous first-time rappellers. Are you ready?
One highlight unique to this trip is a serendipitous visit to one of the area's best-preserved Anasazi granaries. This is a prehistoric rock structure (~900 AD) used to store harvested goodies. It'll be right next to us in the canyon, but who will be the first in your group to spot it? Let's Go!
Soon after leaving the trailhead, we'll begin dropping into the canyon. The first rappel provides a great introduction to the day's numerous roped descents. It is short, beautiful and into a fine bowl of slickrock which soon yields the canyon's first spectacular arch.
Further downcanyon, more obstacles present themselves and require us to do a bit of scrambling where ropes are occasionally used for quick belays or handlines. The climbing in this canyon is not too hard - just enough to be interesting! More incredible scenery and arches are passed ("Was that one the fifth or sixth?" someone asks...) before reaching the second rappel.
This rappel (called "The Snail") along with the third ("The Onion") and fourth rappels are in fairly quick succession. They place us deep into the heart of Granary Canyon; a place full of beauty! And, of course, more arches. Somewhere in this vicinity we'll happen upon a scenic lunchspot (there are many) and relax for a bit, admire the surroundings, revel in the remoteness and tally our arches. The enjoyment of lunch hour in canyon country cannot be overstated. It is a time where a "side hike" - to undoubtedly look for more arches - beckon those with energy, while snacks and a quick nap beckon those without.
Whatever your pleasure, more significant obstacles await us immediately after lunch. A rappel or two here, a downclimb there. A rather entertaining, arboreal rappel - in combination with a seemingly magnetic pothole traverse - keeps our hearts pounding, smiles widening and cameras flashing through this, the deepest recess of Granary Canyon.
Upon exiting the heart of the canyon, its streambed snakes across a fine meadow bordered by low cliffs with...alas, no arches. Ironically, the last and tallest of the canyon's rappels occurs in its shallowest section. This in no way belittles the rappel, of course (we figure any 200 foot rappel demands respect!). In addition to the unusual length of this delightful drop, it does contain one final surprise...
Granary Canyon is one of the most beautiful and varied hikes in the Moab area. It is also one of the most remote and challenging. This is a perfect trip for those wanting to get into some very out there backcountry.
|Costs are based upon a two person
minimum unless otherwise noted (10% discount on groups of three or more and repeat guests) and
include all National Park fees and all necessary technical gear
(harnesses, ropes, helmets, packs, drysuits, wetsuits, etc).
Check out our Frequently Asked Questions page to help you decide on trips and what to bring.