The Best White Canyon Hikes

The White Canyon complex, located just south of Hite, below Lake Powell, offers incredible hiking opportunities, with something for everyone.

The "Black Hole" (in White Canyon proper), and the "Cheesebox" (a side canyon), are well known, challenging adventure hikes. Some people call the Black Hole the best all-around canyon hike in the world. It's challenging and exciting, but not so intense that you have to be superman to enjoy it. (A log-jam has caused hazardous conditions in the Black Hole. Check with the BLM on current conditions before hiking there.)

For the most part, White and its side canyons are deep, narrow and steep-walled. There are only a few spots where you can enter or exit. Most of the hiking is in the bottom of the canyons. The bottoms are usually dry, but a few pot holes hold water year-round. You can scramble around some of the holes, but you must wade or swim through others. In many places the canyons are so deep and narrow that little sunlight reaches the bottom. The air is cool, even during the summer, and the pot hole water is frigid.

You can have fun frittering around the rims and probing into the canyons, but you can't go far without getting into serious hiking. This isn't an area for beginners. If you stay out of the water you can hike year-round — the area gets very little snow. But part of the fun is splashing through the water, and you need warm temperatures to enjoy that. Even during the hot season hypothermia is a danger — if you come out of the cold water into a cool breeze you can get into trouble fast if you don't have dry clothing available.

Flash flooding is a danger year-round. Don't get into these canyons if then is danger of heavy rain anywhere in the drainage.

To get into these canyons you must scramble over rocks and push through brush. You'll come away with a few scraps, even if you wear long pants. Shorts and sandals are not recommended here. You'll want to wear shoes or boots which provide support and protection for your feet, even when wet. Some leather boots stretch when wet and offer poor support. You will get your feet wet if you hike much here — there's no way you can remove your foot-gear before wading through the pools. There are just too many sharp rocks.

The "Black Hole" is a deep, dark, section of canyon which includes a large pool that is usually so deep you have to swim through it.

Note: Hiking the Black Hole is not recommended at this time because a huge log jam has made conditions hazardous.

Most years the pool is more than 200 yards long — a challenging swim. The canyon narrows toward the middle of the pool, and in one place the sheer walls are little more than 1 1/2 feet apart. To make the crossing more challenging, the canyon makes a 90 degree turn at that narrow point.

You are in the water long enough to get good and cold. When you get out you will be uncomfortable or worse unless you can put on dry clothing — and it's a challenge to get anything (like your camera) through the hole and keep it dry. Put your things into a waterproof bag and tie a life jacket around it, or strap it onto a small tube. It's very difficult getting an automobile-size tube through the narrow passage. It's almost impossible to get a frame pack through it.

Most hikers enter White Canyon via a short side canyon, parking at mile post 57, along highway 95. The trail heads north from the parking area, staying on top for a short ways and then angling down into the canyon. It's a pretty easy hike down-canyon to the hole, and then beyond. Most people exit the canyon near mile post 55, following a moderately-difficult trail out.

As outlined, the hike is only about 7 1/2 miles. That's usually a pretty easy hike, but in this case it will take the better part of a day.

You can make a longer hike by entering at mile post 61, or by continuing down canyon to Lake Powell. It's possible to enter the canyon between mile posts 58 and 59, but the climb out is difficult.

The Cheesebox offers great narrows and deep pools in a spectacular, massive walled canyon. You've got to be able to climb around dryfalls to go very far.

Park at mile post 75 and hike to the rim opposite the mouth of Cheesebox Canyon. Then look for an old, faint trail into White.

Gravel Canyon is a good choice for a more moderate outing. You can hike the lower part with dry feet, enjoying narrow sections and interestingly eroded rock formations. Farther up you will have to wade or swim through pools. To get into Gravel take the dirt Jacob's Chair road at mile post 65. Drive (it's a rough road), bike or hike down to the bottom of White, then walk up canyon. Gravel will be the first side canyon coming in from the left.

There are some good narrows and some Anasazi ruins in Fry Canyon, but you can only get to them by coming upcanyon from White. Hike along the rim of Fry, staying on the east side, down canyon to White, then along the rim of White for about 220 yards until you find a trail down into White. Then hike back downcanyon and into Fry. The ruins are just above the narrows.

There are also some badly deteriorated Anasazi ruins in White, near the mouth of Gravel, but you've got to look pretty hard to find them.

Camp at Hite, on Powell, or stay in a housekeeping unit there, or perhaps you could stay at the Lodge just off the highway at Fry Canyon. The lodge proprietors are a relaxed and friendly bunch who open the business when they feel like it.