Water Holes is a branched drainage that forms several beautiful slot canyons, cutting through the red Navajo sandstone rocks around Lake Powell. It is only a few miles from Page and flows into the short section of Glen Canyon that remains intact; as with nearby Antelope Canyon, the watercourse extends either side of a main road (US 89) and becomes much deeper downstream, with a number of sheer drops. Various narrow passageways both west and especially east of the road have exceptionally pretty rock formations with the curved, delicately colored sandstone characteristic of this region, here nicely illuminated as the canyon although often very narrow is in general not too deep for sunlight to be excluded. Also like Antelope, Water Holes becomes a wide sandy wash above the lower narrows but then splits into a number of upper tributaries, some of which also have slot sections, mostly quite short but still narrow, pretty, and varied in character.
Despite being close to Page and the main highway, Water Holes is not too well known and is visited much less often than Antelope Canyon. The drainage runs east-west about 7 miles south of Page, meeting the Colorado River a short distance above Lees Ferry, passing under US 89 at milepost 542 and extending about 5 miles southeast, where it branches into three main forks, then a dozen or so smaller ones.
All of Water Holes Canyon lies on Navajo land and so a hiking permit must be obtained. The best place to acquire the permit is at the Tribal Parks Office
next to the Leche-e Chapter House, 3 miles south of Page along the Copper Mine Road; it can be purchased at the office on the day of the visit, or in advance by postal applications (see www.navajonationparks.org/permits.htm
). According to a recent (2015) report, the office is closed at weekends. However, although independent hiking has for many years been permitted for the whole area, it seems that since 2010, only the closest narrows section on the east side of US 89 may now be visited; all the upper tributaries are open only to a local tour company, which charges around $100 for escorted tours using 4WD vehicles, in particular to one slot in the middle fork of the upper wash known as Secret Canyon. A newly installed notice beside the traditional parking area at the US 89 bridge advises that visiting this area unaccompanied is a violation of federal and tribal law.
PhotographsWest and East of US 89 Middle Fork of the Upper CanyonWest Fork of the Upper Canyon
MapTopographic map of Water Holes Canyon
Water Holes Canyon has several distinct sections of narrows:
- West of US 89: Between the highway and the junction with Glen Canyon are various vertical drops of up to 50 feet, so following all the way downstream requires use of several ropes, although by a combination of rim walking and use of different entry/exit points to hike along specific sections, a reasonable amount may be seen without rappelling.
- East of US 89: The canyon immediately east of US 89 is less deep, but has nicer narrows and is quite easy to follow. This is the only part of the canyon currently open to unaccompanied hikers.
- West Fork of the Upper Canyon: The west, or main fork of Water Holes Canyon itself splits into three branches, all of which have good, short, colorful narrows.
- Middle Fork of the Upper Canyon: One branch of the upper drainage, three miles from US 89, has a short, deep slot ('Secret Canyon') that rivals Antelope Canyon for nicely lit, swirling formations, while a little way further upstream is the darkest, narrowest slot of the whole system, though rather more effort is necessary to reach it.
|Water Holes Canyon
|Branched drainage that forms several beautiful sections of slot canyon, separated by wide, sandy washes; short, pretty very narrow slots in the upper forks and a deeper, more extended gorge lower down. Only one section (immediately east of US 89) is currently open to unaccompanied hikers; all other areas are closed, though some parts may be visited on guided tours
Length: Lower canyon, west of US 89: 1 mile (to the first rappel point). Upper canyon, east of US 89: 1.3 miles. West Fork: 6 miles. Middle Fork: 4.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy - there are few obstacles in the upper forks. The lower canyon eventually requires rappelling and difficult downclimbing
Management: Navajo Nation
Rocks: Navajo sandstone
Season: All year
Trailhead: Parking area on the east side of US 89; 36.837,-111.508
Rating (1-5): ★★★★★