A recap of a 23-mile out-and-back backpacking trip through the beautiful Salt Creek Canyon in Canyonlands National Park.
Michael and I decided to fit in one more backpacking trip before we started real life (AKA get jobs) again. We decided on Canyonlands National Park, because fall is an excellent time to be in the desert.
Canyonlands is pretty busy in October, so the available backcountry permits were limited. It was a similar to the situation we found ourselves in back in April. However, we were able to get permits for dispersed camping in Salt Creek Canyon for two nights. Woo!
Backpacking Salt Creek Canyon Day 0
We drove to Moab from Denver on a rainy/snowy Monday. It was a gloomy drive, but the skies started to clear as we were getting into town. We camped with some friends, Hugh and Sarah, who are currently the campground hosts at William’s Bottom Campground. They took us on a hike to Corona Arch and then made us some delicious pizza. It was a fun night of catching up with friends we haven’t seen in a while.
Backpacking Salt Creek Canyon Day 1
Both Michael and I slept amazing in the tent! I love when this happens. We rolled out around 8:00 am and started to pack up our gear. Since we didn’t have a lot of miles planned for the day, we weren’t in a hurry to start backpacking. We took our time eating breakfast and chatting with Hugh and Sarah over some camp coffee.
We left William’s Bottom around 10:00 am and headed to the Canyonlands Visitors Center. The skies were pretty dark and there was rain in the forecast. We were a little nervous about being caught in a flash flood while hiking through a canyon. Fortunately, the ranger in the backcountry office helped ease our worries and mentioned that if we did run into some flash flooding we should “get to high ground and enjoy the show. Not many people get to witness that sight.”
We started hiking from the Squaw Flats Campground Loop A Trailhead just before 12:30 pm. The first 5ish miles of trail were on slick rock with views all over the park.
Some dark clouds were rolling through and it rained on us for a few minutes. It wasn’t hard rain, but it was enough to get everything wet and slightly slippery. Fortunately, neither of us fell.
After the rain it was bright blue skies for the rest of the day.
We descended into Salt Creek Canyon via a scary ladder.
Here it didn’t seem like we were in the desert at all! There were lush green trees and some streams of water. Fall hasn’t hit Canyonlands quite yet.
The trail in Salt Creek Canyon is a little difficult to follow at times, especially with the amount of rain that they have been getting. Some parts were a little washed out, but since we were walking through a canyon it’s not like we’re going to stray too far off trail (AKA, stay between the canyon walls). I don’t think it is a highly used trail, especially the northern side.
There were quite a bit of mountain lion prints in the trail. This freaked me out.
At about 4:45 pm we decided that we should start looking for places to camp, so that we could set up the tent and eat before the sun went down. It took us about 45 minutes to find something decent, where we were near water and elevated in case it happened to rain. We found a nice spot under an overhang.
It was very pretty, but dang it’s hard to set up a tent in the sand! Next time we go to the desert we may need to rent a free-standing one.
After setting up camp we made dinner and watched the sun set below the rocks. Then we crawled into the tent just before dark and called it a day.
Backpacking Salt Creek Canyon Day 2
It was a rough night of sleep. There were a couple of strong wind gusts that messed with our tent. Michael had to get up twice to fix it. Ugh. I think both of us got our best sleep 6:00-8:00 am.
We eventually got out of bed, made breakfast, and packed up our stuff. We started hiking just before 10:00 am, heading south on the Salt Creek Canyon Trail.
After getting an updated weather forecast on our Garmin inReach we decided to change our plans. Originally we were going to continue to explore Salt Creek Canyon and spend one more night; however, knowing that there were high chances of heavy rain the following morning we decided to hike out. Neither of us wanted to hike on slick rock during heavy rain. It’s difficult enough on a clear, dry day!
We turned around where we were and started hiking back to the car.
It was a beautiful morning with bright blue skies and white puffy clouds.
We started seeing more mountain lion prints, like a lot of them. These were pretty fresh. I was started to get a little freaked out again and Michael started to tease me. I didn’t actually think we’d get ambushed by a mountain lion, but you just never know!
It didn’t help that some stretches of the trail were quite jungle-y.
I felt a little more at ease one we were up and out of the canyon.
Since the weather was better and we had clearer skies on the way out we were able to catch a glimpse of the La Sal Mountains. You can just barely see them in the distance under the clouds in the picture below.
We continued hiking and made it to our car by 2:30 pm.
Backpacking Salt Creek Canyon Thoughts
I always enjoy a trip to Moab. I’ve been in the winter and spring, but never in the fall. The weather was perfect at 50-60 degrees, but I was surprised by all the rain. I think the rain was an oddity and was driven by weird weather patterns from Hurricane Rosa.
The Canyonlands landscape continues to amaze me. It’s just so weird and beautiful! I love hiking there and taking in all the formations and layers.
I don’t think the Salt Creek Canyon gets a lot of traffic and oftentimes we lost the trail, but it never took us long to get back on track. Plus, it made us… me… feel more adventurous.
The downside of the desert is all the sand and the lack of water. Fortunately, since they have been seeing more rain than normal there was water present in Salt Creek Canyon and we only needed to carry 2 liters at a time. The sand was still difficult, especially when setting up the tent. I definitely recommend hiking with some dirty girl gaiters to keep the sand out of your shoes!
One of the many bonuses of hiking through Canyonlands is seeing petroglyphs.
Overall, it was a fun trip! Please, please, please go backpacking in Canyonlands! I promise you won’t regret it.