Chimney Canyon, San Rafael Swell


Aug 9, 2007
Anyone know anything about Chimney Canyon in The Swell? It's on the east side of Muddy Creek, a few miles north of Hidden Splendor. I'm thinking about backpacking to it.

EDIT - I did backpack to it and here is my trip report:

Check out this vague, but quite awesome, trip report:

And this interesting story:
How the BLM killed a cow to save a canyon and stop the paperwork

So my big question is, how best to access it? The most obvious route seems to be a 3 mile hike up The Chute of Muddy Creek from Hidden Splendor. But from the news article, maybe there is a better hiking route in from above? And perhaps the good stuff is all high in the canyon, not down by The Muddy?

If I go via Hidden Splendor, what kind of obstacles should I anticipate? It looks like flow is still quite low on The Muddy. Does anyone know if this is the correct river gauge to check?,00060,72020,00010,00095,00300,63680

Here is my map of the possible route.
I did a little looking into Chimney Canyon a couple of months ago. I think it would be awesome to do a through trip, starting at Hidden Splendor and ending up near Cedar Mountain, but that's one helluva vehicle shuttle. It really does look like all the good stuff is on the upper end of the canyon, though. It seems like you could spend days exploring the upper forks, but it's hard to tell where you can get into and out of the canyon, and there's very little beta out there for it. Very interesting, though.
Yeah. I was thinking of doing it as a 1 night backpack since it's pretty close to Hidden Splendor but the more I dig, the more I think it needs to be a 2-night trip with an entire day spent exploring the upper canyon. Have you read Kelsey's description in his San Rafael Swell book? Pretty hard to understand like much of what he writes, but it makes it sound cool.
I've been wanting to do this canyon for a long time. FourisTheNewOne and I went out to do it in March 2007 but the Muddy was much to terrifying to cross.

What dates are you thinking?
I was originally thinking this weekend as an overnighter but if I switch it to a 2-night, it would be late April or Fall.
Looks like an awesome plan. I like the idea that there is a spring, although it would be nice to know if it's seasonal or not. I hear it's one of the truly backpackable canyons in the swell (besides Eardley/strait wash), but like all, you either need a shuttle or just an up and back. I like that you're looking to do something relatively unknown. If/when you do go, take lots of notes and pictures as I think it would make a good trip report for the masses to see how to do it.
love the article from HCN. Really interesting history.
Agreed. Pretty fascinating to see how one killed cow can save a canyon. So odd, this outdoor community we live in. So many people with varying values they hold dearly. Sierra Club seems to want to kill anything with a heartbeat that could cause damage to the area. I don't really care about the cow being killed as I eat hamburgers on a weekly basis so I'd be a hypocrite if I said it was inhumane. As they said at the end, they really did try serious efforts to bring the cow out alive, but it fell off a ledge and they had to put it down. I wonder what PETA thought of this move? I know a lot of people who love both PETA and the Sierra Club; I wonder what odds they come into with situations like this.
I'm the author of the extremely vague trip report referenced above. I highly recommend Chimney as a backpacking destination. My guess is the spring near the chicken coops (at the major confluence between the various forks of Chimney) probably runs year round. We camped nearby and explored all of the upper canyon that was easily walkable in one long day. You could easily spend a couple days up there. Good details about this area can be found in some of Allen's books, but realistically you don't need any of it as it's about impossible to get lost.

One recommendation: going directly up Chimney from Muddy Creek involves a scramble that I'd be hesitant to do with a heavy pack. Taking the higher route (past Little Susan mine) makes it hands-in-pockets all the way from Hidden Splendor to chicken coops. This walk only takes a few (4?) hours; I doubt dropping in from above would be much of a win.
Thank you for the information, regehr, and welcome to BackcountryPost! Just curious, how did you find out so quickly that we were discussing your trip report? Also, I hope you didn't take any offense to me calling it vague. It is a fantastic set of photos but it just left me so curious about how to get there and where to explore.

About Chimney, do you think a single night trip would be worthwhile? I was thinking of leaving Hidden Splendor by 9am and heading up past Little Susan. Drop packs near the chicken coops and spend the next few hours exploring above. Does that sound like a worthwhile trip or would it be best to save it for when I have a full day to explore the upper canyon?
Hi ibenick, I sometimes look at how people are getting to my blog and follow the links backwards. Usually it comes to nothing but sometimes I get to interesting discussions like the one here. My report was definitely very vague, I don't remember why I wrote it like that, maybe just low on free time when catching up on work after a trip :).

A one-night trip sounds fine but it will leave you wanting more -- not the worst thing.

We spent a night in Green River, got driving at first light, and starting hiking probably at 9 as you plan to do. We had an embarrassing routefinding failure getting into Chimney that cost at least an hour. The track is generally very easy to follow but there's a point where you have to drop off the bench down into Chimney proper. It's almost certainly possible to just follow the bench until it runs out but we didn't feel like getting cliffed, and so backtracked and scouted a while until we found the proper way down. I think it's even cairned where you drop off the bench but we just weren't paying attention. Then after getting to the confluence we poked around for a while looking for a good campsite. Anyway when all was said and done we didn't have more than an hour or two after setting up camp before we lost the daylight. But we weren't in any hurry. Kelsey would have his tent set up by 11am.

If you want to load up google earth here is the place where you enter the Chimney waterway (you can see the track dropping in from the south):

We camped on another old track right next to some boulders here:

We didn't even end up using the spring since there was nice water near the cottonwoods that you can see directly west of the placemark.

We saw no people or even footprints in upper Chimney, it's a great canyon. I look forward to seeing pics.
Awesome. Thank you very much for the details and map.

One more question. How easy is it to locate the road that leaves Muddy Creek and gets up on top of the bench and crosses over to Chimney Canyon?

Kelsey's book says:
From the trailhead below the airstrip at Hidden Splendor, walk up Muddy Creek. After 1 1/2 kms (1 miles), turn left into a side canyon coming fown from the south. Walk up this canyon on the faint remains of an old road.

I see two canyons that come up from the south on the left heading up Muddy Creek. I'm guessing it's the first one?

I've marked the one I think it is with a yellow pin on the map below.

Right, it's that first drainage. It'll be obvious when you get there since Muddy Creek makes the distinctive u-turn. Also, the first photo on my blog post is looking up that side-canyon from standing right next to the Muddy. I don't remember seeing much of a road in the bottom so you have to keep a close look for the track pulling out on the right. It wasn't hard to spot though.
regehr, where is that big arch in your trip report? One of the upper forks of Chimney?
Hi Nick, the arch isn't even that far up, I think less than an hour from the major confluence. It's in either the fork that heads south from this confluence or else the one that goes west -- I can't remember, but definitely one of those two. If you want an exact fix on it, I'm pretty sure it's mentioned in Allen 1 or 2. The picture was taken maybe a hundred feet up from the canyon bottom. As you can sort of see in the picture it's (at least) a double arch.
Hi Nick, the arch isn't even that far up, I think less than an hour from the major confluence. It's in either the fork that heads south from this confluence or else the one that goes west -- I can't remember, but definitely one of those two. If you want an exact fix on it, I'm pretty sure it's mentioned in Allen 1 or 2. The picture was taken maybe a hundred feet up from the canyon bottom. As you can sort of see in the picture it's (at least) a double arch.

Wow. Chimney Canyon. That was truly a unique experience. Due to some dog issues, I didn't get into the south fork but found out that triple arch is in the left fork of south fork. I did get up into the north fork though. Incredible place. Trip report coming soon after I get up the one I'm still behind on. :)