The most traveled hike in the area is the Water Canyon, but it is not the only one. The Canaan Mountain Wilderness area is a vast parcel of land, and there are several routes to access it. One of my favorite routes is through Squirrel Canyon. The BLM has recently improved the trailhead with signage and parking. That trailhead offers a variety of hiking options, depending on the length of hike you are looking for. Squirrel Canyon is around three miles round trip and is, perhaps, one of the most beautiful canyons in the area. With running water, dense foliage, and an expansive overlook, this trek gives a spectacular view of the rock formations of the surrounding mountains.
One of the great things about this hike is how wild the area seems. I have traversed it alone many times, and it can feel eerie, simply because of the stillness and low visitation. There is no cell service, so it is important to plan and make sure that you have all the necessary hiking and safety gear. Waterproof hiking boots are recommended because there are a couple streams to cross depending on the season. Starting from the Squirrel Canyon trailhead, it is relatively easy to navigate. There is a map that will give you a good idea of the area. The trail is well defined, aside from a few areas where it can be obstructed by foliage and the creek bed.
The first part of the hike is down into the wash, heading east, and up the other side. The trail then continues east where you come across a barbed wire fence and gate with a yellow sign. Remember to keep the gate closed. From there you descend into another creek bed. This part can be confusing but there is a small tributary wash that leads to a grove of cottonwood trees on the other side, from there you will see the trail. This is the easiest part of the hike, a flat stroll along the creek for nearly one mile. The trail then forks after you reach the second cottonwood grove. This will be the first fork in the trail to the left, crossing the stream. This part can be tricky because it doesn’t look like there is a trail, especially when there are leaves on the trees. Cross the stream and head uphill, which will lead to another stand of trees and a grassy area. Once you are on top, the trail becomes well defined again.
This is my favorite part of the hike, which winds through beautiful stands of cottonwood and oak trees, and numerous small pockets of lush foliage. As you continue up the canyon, there is some masonry work to capture water from the stream. Shortly after that, there is another stream crossing. As the canyon narrows, it becomes more lush and verdant. The canyon walls offer shelter from the summer sun, which creates a mini-climate that seems completely alien to the surrounding areas. Eventually, the trail heads up the cliffside on the right side of the stream. The landscape shifts slightly from season to season, due to rains and the subsequent flooding that occurs in the canyon. The trail appears to be an old cattle trail, where they chipped out the side of the cliff. Flooding has washed out some of it, making it seem precarious, but with a good pair of hiking shoes, it shouldn’t be a problem.
Once you start heading up the cliffside portion of the trail, it is not much longer to reach the top. As you reach the crest, the surrounding canyons and cliffs offer a delightful panoramic view. The gigantic red sandstone feature is known as the beehive, and the trail continues northward, placing you squarely in the wilderness area that extends nearly to Zion National Park. I usually end the hike here, as many of the notable features of the Canaan Mountain Wilderness area are spread out and require route finding. This is an excellent place to take in the scenery and is beautiful at any time of year. If you choose to head northward, the trail is fairly well defined and will eventually lead to a broader view of the area that is breathtaking as well.
This hike, while known to many locals and the more adventurous types, makes a wonderful day hike. It is typically used to access the arch, but that requires a day and route finding but is well worth it. It can also be a loop hike that heads back down through the water canyon. I have not done that yet but it’s certainly on the list.