A wild off-road adventure and an extraordinary canyoning trip to a garden of paradise in the wild
When it comes to wild, untamed beauty, from the bottom of the desert to the tops of the mountains, the state of Arizona tops them all! Famous for its extremely high temperatures, only in Arizona can you escape the heat on a summer day and explore one of its many remote wilderness canyons only accessible by 4×4 and enjoy “non-technical” canyoning; Skipping rocks, wading and swimming through cool and refreshing natural pools make for an adventurous and extraordinary retreat that is simply second to none.
West Clear Creek is described by the United States Forest Service as “one of the most rugged and remote canyons in northern Arizona.” A stunningly beautiful wild canyon, West Clear Creek offers many deep natural pools surrounded by narrow, colorful rock walls that are sure to cool you off on a hot summer day. Most exciting of all, however, known only to locals for many years, and the reward for your day’s canyoning adventure through the West Clear Creek pools, you’ll be amazed to discover Arizona’s Garden of Paradise! , the Hanging Gardens!
So if you’re looking for a retreat and a great way to escape the heat, and you’re ready for a rough and wild off-road adventure and a challenging, but truly extraordinary canyoning trip to the hidden garden of Arizona paradise, then I’m here! I highly recommend visiting the Hanging Gardens Hike, in the beautiful West Clear Creek Wilderness, Strawberry, Arizona!
Starting early on a weekend morning in early August, I drove to a meeting place in far northeast Phoenix, where I joined members and friends of the TLC Hiking Club, a local hiking and outdoor adventure club. directed by Eric Kinneman. After everyone arrived and in preparation for the long day and arduous journey that lay ahead of us, we received a briefing including safety and last minute advisories, then excitedly jumped into our vehicles and were ready to embark on the adventure we all had. we had been. waiting a long time, the Hanging Gardens of West Clear Creek!
Heading north on Highway 87, we reached the town of Payson around 7am, then continued north on 87 out of Payson until we reached 2.5 miles past the Highway 260 intersection. After a quick stop to regroup To all our members, we got back into our vehicles again and with Eric Kinneman in the lead, we turned right onto Forest Road 144 and prepared for what we had been warned would be a very rough and tumble 4×4 adventure. And that was too!
After turning right on all the dirt roads, FR 144, and stopping once more to regroup, we slowly started heading east. Reaching the end of FR 144, we continue to turn left onto FR 149, left again onto FR 142, and then right onto FR 142A. One by one, we moved very slowly and carefully along this extremely rough road and wild terrain, winding through the trees and undergrowth of the forest, and up and over large rocks and boulders. Keep in mind that all of these forest dirt roads are extremely rough and bumpy and require you to have a good 4 wheel drive vehicle, not just an HCV because as a result of the recent rain storms that hit the area, along the way we we encountered some very deep and completely emptied, muddy puddles! Luckily though, they all managed to get through just fine without their vehicles getting stuck, but wow, what an amazing off-road adventure it had been so far!
Once we made the last turn on FR 142J, it was about 9.9 miles and 1 hour and 20 minutes later that we all made it safely to the end of the road and were relieved we made it to the trailhead. Having finally reached West Clear Creek, and our destination at 9am, we parked, unpacked our packs and gear, and then gathered along the edge of the cliff to wait for the rest of the group. There, at the top and rim of West Clear Creek Canyon, I stopped for a few short moments to look around and take some photos of the amazing and beautiful wilderness scenery that surrounded it. How incredibly remote, rugged and pristine this area seemed to be and how lucky we all feel to be able to experience this. This was going to be an amazing day and amazing adventure and we were all so eager and excited to get started!
After getting everyone together to take some group photos, it was time to start our canyoning adventure! Starting from the trailhead at the top of the bluff and with Eric Kinneman in the lead, one by one each of us began to descend into the beautiful canyon below. The drive to the bottom of West Clear Creek Canyon began immediately with a steep, straight-down descent of about 867 feet, along a narrow but well-marked use trail. Lots of loose rocks and gravel, it was a strenuous hike the whole way where there are plenty of things to do throwing on the ground and sliding, rather than risk a dangerous slippery fall.
Having successfully reached the bottom of West Clear Creek, I looked down into the canyon we were headed for and realized how beautiful this place really was as the sun’s rays lit up the tall amber rock walls. It was just amazing! I took a few quick photos and then quickly joined the others. From here in the deep cool canyon bottom our canyoneering started quickly with rock hopping over many large rocks and boulders for a short stretch to our first pools. Knee-deep in the water at most, we quickly dove into the water and jumped, waded, and splashed our way through our first few sets of pools.
By this time almost everyone had made it to at least the first few pools and was now making their way further down this beautiful canyon with deeper and longer pools surrounded by tall, beautifully contoured and narrow rock walls, an area commonly referred to as the West Clear Creek “White Box”. With all of our gear safely packed in dry bags and along with our flotation devices, we swam slowly from one refreshing pool to the next, through the beautiful narrows of the canyon and as I continued to take as many photos as I could, the scenery was amazing! Absolutely amazing and impressive!
After a short stop for a fun and exciting ‘jump rope’, the incredible canyoning adventure through the beautiful White Box and the narrows of West Clear Creek continued as we carefully walked over wet and slippery rocks and boulders while we enjoyed the beautiful scenery as we swam from one refreshing pool to the next, which to our amazement inside these pools there were also many good sized crayfish. Arriving in the middle of the morning at this time and with the heat of the summer day beating down on us, our canyoning journey continued as we inched our way through one deep pond to the next.
I was arriving at noon and after about 12 pools and about 3 hours of intense canyoning, I was starting to feel exhausted and a bit tired. Thinking I couldn’t get through another puddle, we rounded the final bend and, noticing how green the riparian vegetation had turned, we climbed out of the water and looked up; We had finally reached the remote and hidden Hanging Gardens! Wow, it was indescribable! We entered this very lush, green, garden-like area, first we passed a beautiful waterfall pouring off the high cliff, then we moved forward and directly to your left, there it was, the Hanging Gardens, a beautiful waterfall trickling down gracefully. over ferns and vines of thick maiden hair, and wow, what an incredible and amazing sight! I could not believe what I was watching. What a unique, remote and truly special place, a true “garden of paradise” and a remote and wild “oasis” of literally epic proportions! This place, the Hanging Gardens, was simply extraordinary and so much more than I had imagined!
Now that most of our group and friends are reunited again, we take a break, have lunch, jump rope some more and really enjoy spending some time together taking lots of photos and videos, trying to capture every moment we can of this amazing place. However, it was around 12:30 and with the afternoon heat upon us, one by one we began to make the long and strenuous hike back through the many deep pools and White Box Narrows of West Clear Creek. , where the imposing rock walls that now shine with the rays of the afternoon sun, made the adventurous canyoning trip back even more beautiful and spectacular every moment of the way.
It was now late afternoon and having traversed the last pool and then climbed 867 feet to the top and edge of the cliff, we were very hot and completely exhausted. But wow, what an incredible adventure it had been! It was around 3:00pm when almost all of us finally made it to the top and the trailhead again where we were parked completing the day’s canyoneering adventure according to our GPS it was 4.70 miles round trip that we completed in about 6.0 hours .
From here we once again got back into our 4 wheel drive and prepared for the rough and tumble ride back. Miraculously, with only one blown tire for the entire group, and around 4:30 p.m. absolutely some of the roughest, toughest, wildest dirt roads we as a group have ever been on before! Wow, what an amazing adventure!
In short, it was truly an unforgettable day and an epic and amazing adventure in nature, which was well researched, planned and coordinated by Eric Kinneman of the TLC Hiking Club. So if you’re ready for a rough and tumble off-road adventure and a strenuous, challenging and truly extraordinary canyoning trip to a wild oasis that is truly a garden of paradise, then be sure to visit Hanging Gardens Hike, in the beautiful desert of West Clear Creek, Strawberry, Arizona!