Canyoneering at Christopher Creek/Box Canyon

Box Canyon Trail

Hiking? Check. Swimming? Check. Cliff Jumping? Check. Waterfalls? Check. Rappelling? Check. Rappelling Waterfalls? Check. Did I miss anything?

Just a little bit east of Payson Arizona is a canyoneering playground called Christopher Creek Canyon (aka Box Canyon). The water is nice and cold, and is only muddy after rainstorms. Make your way from pool to pool as you descend through the canyon, cliff jumping, rappelling, and down climbing. 

The water is cold, even in July. If you wait to start the canyon until the early afternoon, you can climb out and lay on the rocks after each swim to warm up. Many people bring wetsuits, but that's not completely necessary as long as you go while the sun is out. I've done it in July and September, and it was cold, but not awful both times. Perhaps going in the spring would require wetsuits. Know your limits!

Wade through the first few hundred yards of the canyon, climbing down a few 5 ft drops until you get to the first rappel. Some choose to rappel off of the small waterfall, but there is also an anchor set up on the opposite side of the canyon. This is a good place to have first-timers practice their rappelling before they have to drop into water.

The next section has several fantastic places to cliff jump, and a lot more down climbing. The second rappel is canyon left, about 30 feet down into water. Alternatively, you can down climb onto a big boulder in the middle of the canyon.

The next obstacle is the best part of the canyon. The river drops over the edge of a 35 foot chasm, creating a beautiful waterfall. You can either rappel off of the anchor on canyon right, jump off of the 40' cliff on canyon left (after confirming the depth), or bypass the falls hiking around on the right side. If you decide to jump off of the cliff, kick some water over the edge first and slide down the 15 foot 'slide' on the edge. Be sure not to over rotate, or you'll be in some serious pain! Swim out of that canyon down to the last rappel. 

The anchor of the final rappel is a chockstone in the waterfall on canyon right. Getting set up is a little bit tricky, but rappelling down the waterfall is a blast! There's a neat little cave area right underneath the falls. Alternately, you can jump over the top of the cliff about 30ft into the water below (after testing the depth).

Continue down canyon until another stream enters from the right side. Follow this canyon up until it hooks right and cliffs out. Hike up to the left of the cliff and follow the cairns back to the highway. Hike about a mile back to where you parked.

Obligatory Warning: Do not attempt to go farther than you can climb back out of unless you bring rappelling gear. Some people go through the whole canyon jumping off of all of the rappels, but it is extremely dangerous to jump into water without testing the depth first. We usually send someone down on rappel first to check the depth, and then the others jump. Flash floods bring all kinds of rocks, trees, and branches down underneath the surface frequently changing conditions. Do not attempt the canyon if there is rain in the forecast. Do not enter if the water is flowing faster than you're comfortable with.

Getting There: Take highway 260 E from Payson and park on the side of the highway between mile marker 271 and 272 (approximately 271.3). Climb over the big bank of red dirt and go through the cattle fence at the top. Follow the light trail about 20 minutes down along the canyon rim until you get to the mouth of the canyon. There is a scout camp just east of the mouth of the canyon, and they have a barbed wire fence set up to keep you from trespassing.

Total time is between 3 and 5 hours, depending on your speed and skill level. Don't forget to stop and look around! 

Pack List

  • Hiking sandals/shoes
  • Backpack
  • Water (2 liters)
  • Snacks
  • Static Rope (100ft)
  • Harness
  • Locking Carabiner & Belay Device
  • 20ft webbing & rap ring in case anchors are missing
  • Helmet
  • Gloves for rappelling
  • Wetsuit (Optional, but recommended)
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RT Distance 2 Miles
Elevation Gain 200 Feet
Activities Swimming, Hiking, Rock Climbing
Skill Level Advanced
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Loop
Features
Forest
River
Scenic
Waterfall
Wildlife
Cliff Jumping
Swimming Hole

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Bring Some Rope

Awesome slot canyon with plenty of places to swim. The last pool is a far drop but you can jump it if you don’t have rappelling gear


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