Stream hiking is also sometimes necessary to see hidden waterfalls and other spectacular sights. It’s a good way to keep cool in hot weather. And it’s definitely great for the ‘gram, if you’re brave enough to get your phone out on sometimes slippery surfaces above running water to get a shot of the unusual territory you’ve ventured into.
Just be sure to keep a pair of OOFOS sport sandals with arch support ready to go— stream hikes feature a variety of terrain that is sure to give your feet a workout as much as the rest of you!
Seven Places To Go River Hiking In the United States
The Narrows, Utah
It would be remiss not to start with the slot canyon that most Americans associate with river hiking. This Zion National Park classic has thousand foot walls and, true to the name, a narrow, watery passage. It’s one of the most popular hikes in the park and for good reason, but you should definitely dress and pack carefully to avoid both overheating and hypothermia. The weather can change quickly, especially if you get soaked, and there is also a risk of flash floods. Depending on the time of year, you might even want a dry suit. As long as you put safety first, however, this is a really rewarding outing and definitely bucket list material.
Mary Jane Canyon, Utah
Many good creek hikes lead to waterfalls, and this stretch is no exception. Professor Creek flows through the Canyon, giving you plenty of opportunity to splash your way upstream past rock walls just 10 feet apart in some sections. If you don’t mind scrambling in and out of the canyon when boulders obstruct your path, you can go for quite a ways towards the La Sal Mountains. Or you can keep it simple and fairly easy and go three miles in and back out, making this a great introductory experience.
Oneonta Gorge, Oregon
Lest you think that Utah has a monopoly on river treks, turn your attention to Oneonta Gorge. As in the desert, your upstream journey will be rewarded with a waterfall. Unlike in Zion and Moab, Oneonta Gorge is a lush setting, but it’s also deceptively tricky. Water levels can really vary depending on the season, and you’re in the Pacific Northwest, so things get chilly. This one is best to attempt in the summer, especially so you can enjoy the swimming hole and deeper sections of the trail. Be careful of the logjam though-- it’s not wise to try to get past it as it poses significant perils.
Coyote Gulch, Arizona
Back in the desert, Coyote Gulch offers a couple options for river treks. The Crack In the Mountain Trail near Lake Havasu is a fun one. You have a choice between following the streambed, or wash, the whole way, or to branch off and go through the Crack, as this particular slot canyon is known. Or you can try the Hurricane Wash and follow the water as it winds through the sandstone cliffs not far from Escalante. There’s enough to explore here that you can camp along the way, as long as you pick up a backcountry permit first.
Cummins Falls State Park, Tennessee
You might not know that Cummins Falls is the eighth largest in the United State by volume, but that could be because this is a very new park, founded only in 2012. There are two primary ways to view that magnificent waterfall-- from above, via a trail that gives you a vantage point over the falls, or from below, which requires some stream wading and crossing on your way. This is the south, but it can still get chilly depending on the time of year and the depth of the water. Dress smart (no cotton!), and have a dry change of clothes in the car.
Kanarra Creek, Utah
Like its cousins in Zion and near Moab, Kanarra Creek can be easy or hard, depending on how much climbing you want to do. Wade through the creek waters towards one of the several waterfalls and admire the scenery. If you want to keep going and have the right gear, you can easily convert your hike into canyoneering to forge ahead. Sometimes other visitors will leave ropes behind to make your ascent easier. If you choose to go the hard route, take comfort in the knowledge that a gorgeous blue swimming hole awaits you past the second falls.
Devils Bathtub, Virginia
This isn’t quite as straightforward a stream hike as others on this list, but it meanders along Devil Fork for long enough that you’ll wind up crisscrossing it over fifteen times. That’s before you reach the Bathtub itself, which is an indentation in the stream bed created as water has roiled through these sandstone cliffs. There’s also a waterfall, of course, and the whole thing is relatively easy with little elevation gain and shorter mileage. Nothing like a nice, accessible hike!
On any of these hikes, there’s a greater chance you might step on a sharp rock without being able to see what’s on the creek bed. It’s important to pick your footwear wisely, and to take good care of your feet afterwards. A pair of OOFOS sport sandals with arch support can be just the thing to pamper your feet after they’ve been slip-sliding on river stones, propelling you up crags, and soaking wet for hours. Don’t forget to have a pair in the car so you can get cozy right away and Feel the OOH.