Devil's Canyon West | Western Swell

Hiking Devil's Canyon West - Western Swell Hiking Devil's Canyon West

Western Swell

Overview

RATING: Moderate/Strenuous Hike
MAPS: BIG BEND DRAW, UT; COPPER GLOBE, UT

Sat

Isolated showers and thunderstorms after noon. Mostly sunny, with a high near 81. South wind 3 to 8 mph. Chance of precipitation is 20%.

81 | 56

Sun

Sunny, with a high near 86. Southwest wind 5 to 9 mph.

86 | 62

Mon

Sunny, with a high near 84.

84 | 62

Tue

Sunny, with a high near 87.

87 | 62

Wed

A slight chance of showers and thunderstorms after noon. Mostly sunny, with a high near 88.

88 | 66

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SEASON: Spring, Fall (Hot in summer). Winter is pleasant if the roads are snow free and dry.
GEAR: Standard Hiking Gear
WATER: None, bring all you need for day hiking. If backpacking, bring a filter. See notes below.
FLASHFLOOD: Low except in a few very short sections.

Sat

Isolated showers and thunderstorms after noon. Mostly sunny, with a high near 81. South wind 3 to 8 mph. Chance of precipitation is 20%.

81 | 56

Sun

Sunny, with a high near 86. Southwest wind 5 to 9 mph.

86 | 62

Mon

Sunny, with a high near 84.

84 | 62

Tue

Sunny, with a high near 87.

87 | 62

Wed

A slight chance of showers and thunderstorms after noon. Mostly sunny, with a high near 88.

88 | 66

View Full Weather Details

Devil's Canyon, though a stone's throw from Interstate 70, is one of the San Rafael Swells often overlooked gems. I had ventured into the canyon early into my first wanderings in the Swell. On that hot summer day, I only made it a couple of miles before the heat deterred me and I retreated. The beauty of the canyon was something I had always wanted to re-visit, but kept putting off. It was good to get back and finally spent some time there in 2024.

This is a long, deep, and dramatic canyon with many side canyons to explore and poke around in. There are a couple of points where you can hear road noise from I-70 above, but it is brief, and most of the canyon has deep desert solitude. The canyon has a couple of sections of narrows, as do the side canyons, but if you are looking for long narrows or slot canyons, this is likely not the hike you are looking for.

Devil's Canyon can be visited a few different ways. From the footprints I saw, most hike down to the first and most dramatic narrows, explore around a bit, then return. This makes for a nice 5-ish mile hike, depending on how much you poke around before returning. This version is suitable for beginners and family friendly if the distance hiking in sand is within everyones ability.

Some choose to backpack the canyon, making about 23+ miles round-trip to Devil's Canyon Spring and back without side trips. The biggest issue with backpacking is water! The only perennial water is at Devil's Canyon Spring, about 11-12 miles from the trailhead. If backpacking, and wanting to explore some side canyons, you should start with 2-days worth of water.

Finally, you can take my approach and do a very long day hike exploring as much as you have time and energy for, then returning. This makes for a long and very physical day, but with lighter backpack.

Note: There are many side canyons coming into Devil's Canyon. I tried to visit most of them on my trip until energy and water were clearly running short. I have labelled them SC# for Side Canyon # and give a brief description of them below. Also, be aware, much of the hiking is in deep sand and the miles might feel a little longer than non-sand miles. The side canyons further down tend to be longer, deeper, and narrower. If pressed for time, you may want to skip some of the higher side canyons.
Water Note: I timed my visit a week after very heavy rains, assuming I could find pools of water along the way to filter, aside from Devil's Canyon Spring. Surprisingly, I did not! The sandy floored canyon bottom seems to soak up the water. I only found one small pool in slickrock, but it would likely dry up fast. Be sure you have enough water!

Getting There

Take exit 116 off of I-70, and head south. This is the same exit as the Moore cutoff road, and about 45 miles west of Green River.

  • Reset your odometer on the south side of the highway. Stay on the main road as it parallels the freeway heading east. ( 12S 507451mE 4300698mN / N38° 51' 18" W110° 54' 51" )
  • 1.4 miles - Pit toilet and large parking area on the left. Stay straight, heading east. The road becomes a tangle of side roads to campsites. Stay on the main road through this section. ( 12S 509213mE 4299569mN / N38° 50' 42" W110° 53' 38" )
  • 2.1 miles - Junction, signed Copper Globe. Go right here. The road turns and begins descending into Devils Canyon. This is the start of the rougher sections of road. High clearance required past this junction. ( 12S 510519mE 4299160mN / N38° 50' 28" W110° 52' 44" )
  • 3.75 miles - Right where the road reaches the bottom of Devil's Canyon, look for a parking spot on the left. This is the trailhead. ( 12S 508825mE 4298721mN / N38° 50' 14" W110° 53' 54" )

Route

From the trailhead, head over to the sandy wash bottom of the now wide Devil's Canyon, and head west downstream. The upper section is wide, with many wild horse trails crisscrossing it. In general, it seemed easiest to say in the main wash bottom rather than try to cut corners.


Narrows in SC1

Narrows in SC1

SC1 - About 1.75 miles from the trailhead, a side canyon comes in on the left.  This one has some short narrows up higher but I thought it was not as dramatic or interesting as some of the canyons below. 

Devils Canyon Narrows

Devils Canyon Narrows

Devils Canyon Narrows

Devils Canyon Narrows

2.3 miles from the trailhead, the best narrows of Devil's Canyon are reached at a dry fall, where the canyon drops into a short section of narrows.  A social trail on the right follows the rim above the narrows. Once you are across from a side canyon, work down a level and then back up canyon. You can scramble in to the canyon bottom just below the dry fall this way. It is class 4 with about 4 m ( 14 ft. ) of exposure, some may want a spot. Be sure you are comfortable going both up and down this since you will need to climb back up it at the end of the hike. 

The narrows of SC2

The narrows of SC2

The lovely SC2

The lovely SC2

SC2 - 2.3 miles - The side canyon mentioned above that comes into the canyon from the left (looking down canyon) is gorgeous and fun to explore. You can get into it by climbing the 5.5-ish slab that has 5 m ( 17 ft. ) or so of exposure. If that seems too hard to climb, or you are worried about down climbing it, you can follow a social trail from the top of the dry fall that starts Devil's Canyon Narrows. The social trail on the left (looking down canyon), goes along the rim for a hundred feet or so, up a gully, then follows a horse trail south and reaches the side canyon right where it opens. You can explore down from the top as far as comfortable and return the same way. The side canyon has a couple of minor obstacles but nothing very difficult. 

The Devil's Canyon narrows are, unfortunately, short-lived but pretty. The canyon bends to the right and opens to a much broader canyon.  

The wider SC3

The wider SC3

SC3 - About 3 miles from the trailhead, SC3 comes in on the left. It is short and ends in a dry fall. Not particularly interesting. 

A short narrow section in SC4

A short narrow section in SC4

Looking down the short narrows of SC4

Looking down the short narrows of SC4

SC4 - About 3.6 miles a short side canyon comes in on the left. This has a very short narrow section and ends at a dryfall. 

The wide SC5

The wide SC5

SC5 - Just past SC4, at about 3.75 miles from the trailhead, is a wide canyon coming in on the left. I went up this canyon a bit. It is wide and deep walled. Pretty. 

Just down canyon from SC5, a short narrow side canyon is on the left a bit up from the Devil's Canyon floor. This is the only place I found water in this section of canyon. If you climb to the base of the small slot, there is a slickrock pool at its base that may hold water for a bit after recent rains, though don't count on it.  Please don't wade in, wash, or do anything with the water except filter it to drink. There were lots of big horn sheep tracks to it on my trip. It is likely one of their only water sources in the area. 

SC6 and the really interesting red stripe

SC6 and the really interesting red stripe

SC6 a very pretty side canyon.

SC6 a very pretty side canyon.

SC6 - About 5 miles from the trailhead, side canyon 6 comes in on the left. This, to me, was one of the best side canyons I visited. Hiking up the bottom, there are several great narrows sections, some with a fascinating red stripped rock layer. After a couple of wedged logs, the narrows culminate in a low-angle dry fall that is maybe 5 m ( 17 ft. ). The dry fall is low 5th class climbing and easily done by experienced desert scramblers, but above the dry fall, the canyon opens broadly and is less scenic. 

Towers in Devil's Canyon

Towers in Devil's Canyon

Below SC6 are a couple of towers high on the right. Not far below them, Devil's Canyon begins to narrow again and become quite scenic. 

SC7 in nice light

SC7 in nice light

SC7 narrows

SC7 narrows

SC7 comes in on the left about 7.7 miles from the trailhead.  I thought this was another very scenic side canyon. The narrows are not as dramatic as SC6, but the broader views above the canyon bottom are pretty.

The obstacle in SC8

The obstacle in SC8

SC8 comes in shortly down from SC7 at about 7.85 miles.  I didn't make it up this one very far due to time and water running short. There is a large boulder that you have to climb on the left, not far up. It may require some team work to surmount. Above looks interesting. 

SC9 the finally major side canyon comes in at about 8.7 miles. This is one of the longer side canyons and looks very pretty to visit. I ran short on time and water and didn't get to visit it. 

From SC9, the Navajo Sandstone walls of Devil's Canyon quickly subside and are replaced with lower, less dramatic slopes from the Carmel Formation.

It is about 11 miles (without any side canyons) from the trailhead to Devil's Canyon Spring on the right and some old water troughs. There are cattle and wild horses in the area, so filter water! Because of the wildlife that depends on the spring, I would recommend not camping right at the spring but giving space for the animals to be able to access it. 

Return the same way. 


Maps

Route To Spring and Back - No Side Trips / 21.75 miles / Elevation Range 5,907 - 6,736 ft.
Printable Maps:
Trailhead

12S 508824mE 4298721mN

N38° 50' 14" W110° 53' 54"

SC1

12S 506970mE 4299511mN

N38° 50' 40" W110° 55' 11"

Narrows

12S 506937mE 4299006mN

N38° 50' 23" W110° 55' 12"

Dryfall

12S 506228mE 4299479mN

N38° 50' 39" W110° 55' 42"

SC2

12S 506182mE 4299427mN

N38° 50' 37" W110° 55' 44"

SC2 Opens

12S 506206mE 4299125mN

N38° 50' 27" W110° 55' 43"

End Narrows

12S 506113mE 4299409mN

N38° 50' 37" W110° 55' 46"

SC3

12S 505605mE 4299452mN

N38° 50' 38" W110° 56' 07"

SC4

12S 505033mE 4299177mN

N38° 50' 29" W110° 56' 31"

SC5

12S 504893mE 4299049mN

N38° 50' 25" W110° 56' 37"

Potential Water

12S 504649mE 4298885mN

N38° 50' 20" W110° 56' 47"

Towers

12S 502563mE 4298054mN

N38° 49' 53" W110° 58' 14"

SC6

12S 503765mE 4298284mN

N38° 50' 00" W110° 57' 24"

SC6 Opens

12S 504213mE 4297979mN

N38° 49' 50" W110° 57' 05"

SC7

12S 501461mE 4297233mN

N38° 49' 26" W110° 58' 59"

SC7 Opens

12S 501837mE 4297167mN

N38° 49' 24" W110° 58' 44"

SC8

12S 501220mE 4297177mN

N38° 49' 24" W110° 59' 09"

Devils Canyon Spring

12S 498480mE 4297662mN

N38° 49' 40" W111° 01' 03"

SC9

12S 500388mE 4296604mN

N38° 49' 06" W110° 59' 44"

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