Willis Creek Narrows

Overview: On this fine short hike there is no particular destination other than the narrows of Willis Creek. Go as far as you wish; you will find the best narrows along the first 1.3 miles.

Start: Willis Creek Wash

Distance: 4.8 miles round trip

Approximate hiking time: 2.5 hours

Difficulty: Easy

Trail surface: Wash route

Trailhead access: 4WD advised when the road is wet

Best seasons: April through mid-June; September through October

Canine compatibility: Dogs permitted

Water availability: Seasonal intermittent flows in Willis Creek and Sheep Creek; treat before drinking, or bring your own

Hazards: Flash-flood danger

Topo maps: Bull Valley Gorge USGS quad; BLM Kanab

Finding the trailhead: From UT 12 in the Bryce Valley town of Cannonville, Utah, 33 miles east of Panguitch, Utah, and US 89 and 36 miles west of Escalante, Utah, turn south onto Cottonwood Canyon Road, signed Kodachrome Basin–9. Follow the pavement through Cannonville, then through the broad valley of the upper Paria River. After 2.9 miles Skutumpah Road branches right (southwest), signed Bull Valley Gorge–9, and Kanab–61.

After turning right onto this road, the road immediately dips down to cross Yellow Creek Wash, then rises to the boundary of Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument after 0.25 mile. After 3 miles, you cross the runoff below the spillway of a dam spanning broad Sheep Creek Wash, ascend to a ridge, then drop down to the dry wash of Averett Canyon after 4.7 miles. After 5.5 miles, avoid a graded road that branches right near the crest of a ridge. Bear left there and descend to the wash of Willis Creek, 6.3 miles from Cottonwood Canyon Road. Parking is available on either side of the wash.

The trailhead is also accessible from US 89 in the south. From US 89 turn north where a sign indicates Johnson Canyon, immediately east of milepost 55 and 8 miles east of Kanab, Utah, or 64 miles west of Page, Arizona. Follow this paved road as it gradually ascends Johnson Canyon for 16.2 miles to a signed junction. At the junction, turn right onto the good gravel road (Skutumpah Road), signed for Deer Springs Ranch and Cannonville.

After driving 11.5 miles from the junction, avoid several prominently signed spur roads leading to the private property of Deer Springs Ranch. You reach Willis Creek wash 26.5 miles from the pavement and 42.7 miles from US 89.

Drivers approaching from either direction will find numerous undeveloped campsites in the pinyon-juniper woodland, many with fine views of the Pink Cliffs of Bryce Canyon National Park.

Hike Information

Some of the most dramatic slot canyons in the world have been carved into the White Cliffs of the Grand Staircase in southern Utah. Many of these slot canyons are accessible only to veteran canyoneers well versed in a variety of rock-climbing techniques.

Yet there are slot canyons that involve no more than a pleasant walk down their shadowed stone hallways. Willis Creek is such a canyon. Born on the flanks of the Pink Cliffs in Bryce Canyon National Park, the broad wash of Willis Creek carves a swath through densely wooded terraces until it reaches the Navajo Sandstone of the White Cliffs. There the wash seems to disappear, becoming entrenched between 200- to 300-foot slickrock walls. This gorge, with many narrow passages, stretches 2.5 miles down to its confluence with much larger Sheep Creek Canyon, another Pink Cliffs drainage.

There are no more slots below Averett Canyon, though Willis Creek remains a confined spectacular canyon, and the walking is easy over the wide gravel wash. When you see a 200-foot cliff apparently blocking your way ahead, you are only minutes away from the confluence with Sheep Creek Wash. From Sheep Creek at 2.4 miles, backtrack through the shadowed gorge to the trailhead.