Right Fork, Great West Canyon Zion National Park
Right Fork, Great West Canyon
An awkward name for a wonderful place. A canyon filled with tall walls and waterfalls, deep in Zion ‘s backcountry. The location protects its solitude, as do a few minor canyoneering problems. If you can handle the Subway, a few long rappels and can read a map – and are looking for a several day adventure – this one’s for you.
That said, it’s a long, dry hike to the ‘goodies’, and a long hot slog out. We did it in two days, and did not have the time to enjoy the goodies section, nor spend much time on photography. Three days would work quite well. Or, get an earlier start – we had to get the permit and finish packing and got on the trail about 11am . Good camping sites in the ‘goodies’ section are somewhat limited. The Great Alcove makes a good camping area (if allowed), and marks the start of high-quality water. Before that, your water source is pumping the occasional potholes – plan carefully, and have enough carrying capacity to make dry camp.
After obtaining a permit, drive south to Virgin and turn Right on the Kolob Reservoir Road . The Right Fork parking spot is just after the park boundary as shown on the map. Spot a car here.
We failed to find the final trail from the streambed up through the lava, and bouldered up a scary loose slot. My Suggestion: take a quick hike from the Right Fork Parking lot and figure out where the trail comes up the lava. (Yeah, yeah, I’m supposed to take care of this for ya, but until I do, you’re on your own). You also might want to take a GPS point on the car.
After dropping off the car, drive up to Lava Point, then around the side and down to the West Rim Trail. NPS camping is available at Lava Point. Your first water is a long way away, so carry plenty.
Head down the West Rim Trail, then branch right after 500 feet onto the Wildcat Canyon trail. Follow this about 1 mile, then pick a spot to drop south off the trail, through the brush to the bottom of Little Blue Canyon. We descended where the trail crossed a small stream. (Or continue another half mile and drop into the Main Blue Creek Canyon , thus avoiding two rappels).
Follow the bottom of Little Blue Canyon southwest to where it drops steeply into the main canyon. Two 75′ rappels pass this section into a lush glen. Make sure the second anchor is still there before pulling the rope.
Wildcat Canyon is an open, rugged and dry canyon with large cliffs on both sides. Follow easily the bottom of the canyon, for about a mile and a half, until it starts becoming more rugged. Avoid tangling with any difficulties at this stage by contouring to the right, onto the rib above the canyon where the walking is easier.
Follow this platform for several miles, crossing a wash, but avoid being sucked into the slot to your left. Down at the bottom, Wildcat Canyon turns right and becomes the Left Fork by joining a smaller canyon coming from the West Rim. Travel down Wildcat/Left Fork is difficult due to many, many potholes. From the platform above, locate the canyon across the Left Fork, with its tiny seep (mostly indicated by a clump of lush vegetation). Downclimb carefully, then make a short rappel into the canyon at this point, and climb easily out the other side, where the seep comes in. (The only easy place to exit the canyon bottom on the other side is at this one spot).
Stock Up on Water at the seep, or out of the potholes in Wildcat/Left Fork. Pump required, 4 sure. This is the first water found on the hike.
Continue south south east, climbing up a wide, open and dry valley to a height of land. There are some incredible Ponderosa Pines in this canyon, protected by the very large sandstone walls on each side. Cresting the col, the canyon on the other side is a neat slickrock canyon of greater rugosity. We bivyed near the col, which made the next day very long, but provided excellent views.
Descend The Valley. Again, avoid dropping into the rugged bottom of the canyon to the left, and staying on the intermediate platform on the right. About 20 minutes down from the col, this requires climbing steeply through the trees to avoid the canyon that is turning left and narrowing up. Once on top of the ridge, a good trail-of-use makes travel easy. Follow the crest of the rib, then drop into a shallow slickrock canyon on the right, and follow this. (This is the last place to camp before dropping into the narrow canyon). Where the canyon drops precipitously, downclimb steeply down and to the left, using the trees and finding the easiest route. Hunt around to avoid rappels with 4th class downclimbing. It should take no more than a 30′ rappel to get into the bottom of the canyon.
Finally, we’re in the cool confines of the Right Fork. The canyon is deep and shaded with a rocky bottom. Downstream travel is rugged but not difficult. Clambor under a boulder. Etc. Shortly, we arrive at…
The Black Pool. The infamous Black Pool is quite a nice way to cool off. Drop into the pool, and swim 100 feet to 100 yards through a sinuous sandstone chasm. Brrrr. Rumor has it the pool can be avoided by traversing left with some difficulty, then rapping off a tree into the end of the pool. But what’s the point? Walk briskly to warm back up and shortly, we arrive at…
The Grand Alcove, a magnificent overhang with multiple colorful tiers. This is also where the canyon cuts through the aquifer layer and copious quantities of clear, clean water burst out of the walls. This makes a splendid camping place (if legal) but requires your best minimum impact camping technique. The Grand Alcove comes with a cliff obstacle that can be easily rappeled in two segments on the left off of fixed anchors. Rumor has it that the stream bed flume can be slid and downclimbed directly to the pool at the bottom. Be sure to take a dip in this incredible pool while you are here. Heading downcanyon leads you to…
Barrier Falls . A wonderful 70 foot rappel next to the waterfall takes you to the lower level. Barrier Falls represents the furthest the canyon can be hiked from the bottom. Heading downcanyon soon leads to…
More Waterfalls. A splendid waterfall appears difficult, but is easily passed by a trail on the left. The next fall is Double Falls , which is again passed on the left. A ledge passes behind the twin waterfalls, allowing the adventurous canyoneer to dive through the waterfall into the pool beyond. A short ways further downcanyon…
Uh Oh, Start of the Slog. Unfortunately, double falls represents the end of the ‘goodies’, and the beginning of the slog out. The streambed is much like the end of the Subway, but much longer. Follow the stream bed west for about 4 miles to the junction with the left fork.
Embarrasing Admission: We did not find the correct trail for the final exit, so the following description is based on directions I have found elsewhere but have not confirmed in the field.
All that separates us from the malt beverages in the car: a wide stream and a 600 foot lava escarpment. You’re probably here in the late afternoon, where you can enjoy the full effect of the sun beating down on the black stone. From the junction, cross the stream and head south (left) on the opposite shore. A quarter mile below the junction, a prominent path heads up the lava talus. Take this to be reunited with your car.