2011 Huge Cave in Maple Canyon

Another gift of nice weather in late October, and thus another quickly planned trip to get out of the house. And a chance to wear stylishly garish colors during the deer hunt. This time I was more interested in just getting out and hiking, and wasn’t even necessarily looking for a cave trip. I was searching for some hikes that have been on the back burner, and stumbled back across another Utah website. (They stole my brilliant idea to list and describe all the interesting places in Utah, but they had a headstart before I thought of it. So they can keep it.) I had browsed through their site in the past looking at their descriptions of places I had been and others I wanted to visit, and seeing their site again triggered my memory of a trip I had been meaning to make.

Maple Canyon is an interesting little spot tucked away in conglomerate rock cliffs. Southeast of Nephi, it is a relatively quick hop from the Wasatch front to spend a day or a weekend. I had heard it is renowned as a  rock climbers paradise, and after visiting it I can see why. I have done some climbing, but never seriously pursued it. Walking around in Maple Canyon I kept finding myself thinking how fun it would be to climb that spire, or that crevice, or even that big wall over there…

Hidden among the big cliffs and spires, there is a spot I have only seen referred to as Huge Cave. Rumors abound that it is a single room the size of a football field. I am well used to overly exagerated descriptions of caves, but it still seemed intriguing enough to go and see what was there.

Travel Directions: To get to Maple Canyon from the Wasatch Front, head south along I-15 until Nephi. From Nephi head east through the mountains until Fountain Green, stay on the west side of the valley and head south to Freedom. At the first road in Freedom you will head west and follow the road a short distance back northwest into the canyon itself. The pavement stops shortly inside the canyon, but it is a well maintained road up to the campground. (We encountered actual signs pointing out the turns from Fountain Green on. And a Google search of Maple Canyon Campground should get you there as well.) 

Once you reach the campground, there are some choices of where to stop. There is a couple dollar day use fee for the campground area. Signs are everywhere, but the obvious place to pay is right when you reach the campground by the first kiosks you encounter. Rock climbers can go anywhere and find something to do, there are better climbing websites to explain their climbing options. If you are headed for the cave, you want to follow the road along and go to very far end of the campground. About 100 feet before you leave the campground there is a small pullout on the left. There is a kiosk back in the trees 30′ or so that describe the hiking trail system. You are looking for the Right Fork Trail, and headed most of the way up toward the “Viewpoint” labeled on the maps.

Kiosk at the trailhead

The hike itself isn’t too long. Less than a mile one way. There are several small side trails that take off to the various climbing routes. Only one side trail stuck out as potentially big enough to be confusing, and you stay left when you hit it. The trail immediately starts to climb steeper than it has been to that point. It isn’t horrible, but I was happy to stop and catch my breath a few times.  You are headed to the “Pipedream” climbing area, we encountered a sign tied up on a tree with some rope. This is the more heavily trafficked trail, and you can’t miss the cave or the climbing routes as you get close.

Huge Cave itself is eye catching right from the start. About 20 feet up the wall, and a big black hole. We free climbed up into it with heavy hiking boots without any trouble, but both of us are well over 6 feet tall and have done a fair bit of scrambling in the past. A rope and someone confident enough to lead climb and belay would probably be a safer plan. Also be aware there are several pigeons that appear to live in the cave, that can be surprising as they fly out the entrance. There are plenty of big hand and footholds in the cobbles, but it is high enough that a slip and fall would be very bad.

The entrance of the cave has a three foot wall that you actually climb up and over, stepping down into the cave. The “entrance” is obviously an area that simply eroded open as the cliff has eroded back, happening after the main void had formed. It certainly isn’t the size of a football field, but it is impressively large none the less. 

The uphill end narrows down to a small crack. The downhill end has a large dirt pile, and had some minor water flow on the dirt that had come from the continuation of the crack system recently. The whole interior is fairly dusty, and pictures with a flash will look like a snowstorm if you have walked around much at all. It is interesting to walk around and try to hypothesize how the void formed, but there isn’t much more to look at than the big open space and ubiquitous conglomerate rocks. (There are a couple bolts we noticed inside, so somebody has done some interesting climbing.)

After the cave, we decided to continue hiking the loop over the viewpoint, and back down the Middle Fork trail. It is fairly steep heading up, and the trail was obviously less used and even partially washed out in a couple places. We decided we had to be on the right route when we found some extensive trail work creating stairs and erosion control. We followed our way up to the top, and followed the trail along the top of the cliffs. Despite the overcast and cloudy day, we still had some beautiful views looking down over Maple Canyon and out into the valley beyond.

The Middle Fork trail appeared to be more heavily used most of the way along. There was also a very impressive arch just a few hundred yards off the main trail, and one of the more impressive things to not miss if you are in the area.

On our way back out of the area, we noticed an interesting looking slot canyon. We decided it couldn’t go very far up, and decided to check it out as sunset rapidly approached. It was a very fun little spot, that was a fairly impressive slot canyon that was generally about 20 feet wide. After scrambling through some large boulder piles we found ourselves at a 30′ waterfall with a rope hanging down. We decided that was a good time to turn around in the semidarkness and cold, and found our way back out to end our day. (After doing some research later, the Box Canyon is private property that the landowners have allowed the public to continue to visit. Please be responsible and leave no trace if you visit so future access isn’t restricted.)

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