Canyon of the Waterfalls

TRAIL STATS

Mileage: 4.7
Elevation gain: 1279 feet
Time to complete: 2-3 hours
Stars: ★★★½
Difficulty: 2/5 (Ratings explained)
Moderate incline, slick rocks

Canyon of the Waterfalls has been somewhat of a hidden gem until recent years, but it has increased in popularity as the word has gotten out about it. It is a hike through a spectacular canyon drainage on the North Side of the Superstition Mountains, and if you’re lucky enough to catch it with a little bit of flow, it is a truly special Superstitions experience.


Trail Description

Parking

The trailhead is off of First Water Road. It is not marked, but it will be the first parking turnout on your right. You’ll pass another parking lot on the left as you head in, which you can use as overflow parking if your lot is full.

The Approach

Superstition Mountains
The always impressive Superstition Mountains

This happens to be your view for the entire hike into the Superstition Mountains. How lucky is your day? It’s just the most stunning backdrop as you wander through the cholla and the palo verde. It stays pretty flat all the way up to the base of the mountains, providing plenty of warm up time before the climbing begins. Be checking that GPS route often, because there’s about a million off-shoot trails out there that will try to get you off track.

Praying Hands and Slot Rock

As you continue up to the base of the mountain, there are two pretty noteworthy rock formations. Straight in front of you as you’re following the cairned path, you will see Slot Rock. As you will be able to see, there’s a few little slots that you can choose to climb through or skirt around. Either way, there’s some really cool rock formations to check out.

Slot on the way to Canyon of the Waterfalls
Looking down the slot of Slot Rock

As you come above Slot Rock, look directly to your right, and you will see Praying Hands just across the ridge. From just the right angle, these rock formations look like two massive praying hands. There is a hiking trail that loops over between them, and there is also some technical climbing routes on them. Both are an adventure for a different day.

Trail to Canyon of the Waterfalls
Looking down on Slot Rock. One of the hands of Praying Hands is all the way to the left.

The Canyon

As you continue above Slot Rock, you will eventually drop into the Canyon of the Waterfalls. If the waterfall you’re hiking to and hoping to see has good flow, you will be seeing, hearing, and crossing water as soon as you drop into this drainage. If you don’t see and hear water, I’m not saying there won’t be water at the water fall, but… yeah, actually I am saying there won’t be water at the waterfall. Just scramble up there anyway. It’s a beautiful canyon with really beautiful views, and you’ll know where to go next time.

If, however, you see water here, you are in for a treat. Cross the creek following the cairned route, continue on the steep path up the canyon, and don’t forget to look all around you. You’ll discover why this is called Canyon of the Waterfalls. On really fortunate days, there will be waterfalls flowing everywhere throughout the canyon! For us Arizona peeps, this is always, always a most thrilling sight!

Waterfalls

As you get closer to what you hope to be the big waterfall, you will see a good size waterfall down a cliff to your left, and then a tricky spot where you will either have to scramble down a 15 foot crack or traverse a sketchy ledge. This can be intimidating for some, but both ways are totally and completely doable. Trust your feet. The big waterfall is just around the corner. You can hike right up to the base of it with careful foot placement if you pay attention to the path.

Canyon of the Waterfalls lower falls
Lower waterfall

Gorgeous.

Now, here’s the thing: you can stop here and admire this amazing sight, or(!!!) you can scramble up above this waterfall following a semi-worn path on the ridge to the left of the waterfall. I highly recommend do this!

And here’s why:

Canyon of the Waterfalls upper falls
Upper waterfall

More waterfalls! Just as amazing! You came to see waterfalls, you might as well see all the waterfalls.

A Note on the Waterfalls

These babies are seasonal and extremely finicky. Don’t be thinking that every time it rains in the valley you can pop out to see these flowing. It takes DAYS of sustained, heavy rain IN A ROW to really get these flowing like the pictures above. Even then, you have to flexible enough to go the very day after it stops raining to see it in good flow. Trust me, we have been here enough times with bone dry falls or barely a trickle to know what it takes. And it takes a lot. May the waterfall gods be with you.

After you’re done gawking at the beauty of waterfalls in the desert, just turn right around and head back. Be sure to look up at the insane views before you as you head down. It is spectacular in it’s own special way. (Does it thrill anyone else when the landscape is partially in the sun and partially in the shade?)

The view from Canyon of the Waterfalls
Those clouds, though.

Map & Directions

Location Superstition Wilderness, Apache Junction, Arizona

Canyon of the Waterfalls Parking here

Fees/Passes None

Trailhead Facilities None

Download KML or GPX

Preview this Hike


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Disclaimer Outdoor activities have inherent risk, and we will not be able to tell you all the risks you may face. You are responsible for your own safety, so prepare as well as you can and know your limits. Follow this guide at your own risk. And have fun!


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