If you’ve hiked the popular (and excellent) Fisher Towers trail, off Highway 128 near Moab, you may have wondered where the canyons that descend steeply to the right of the trail go. The answer is that they’re tributaries of Onion Creek, which can be explored along with its side canyons for the better part of a day. Onion Creek is definitely one of the lesser-known hikes in the Moab area (hiking on a lovely Sunday in November, we saw no other hikers), but it has plenty going for it – some interesting narrow sections, solitude, and great views of the towering walls of the Fisher Towers. Dogs are allowed too, unlike on most of the more popular Moab hikes.
The hike starts from the Onion Creek road, which is clearly signed off Highway 128 a short distance south (toward Moab) of the Fisher Towers turn off. To make things easy, zero your odometer on leaving the pavement; it’s 3.0-3.2 miles from the turn off to the point where the hike starts. When we did this hike the dirt road was in great shape, but be aware that it fords the creek multiple times. In November this was no problem at all for my small SUV, and perfectly fine for a compact car, but things might be different if there had been heavy rain or runoff recently. You might want to pick a different hike if you drive a treasured BMW. The hike starts where the Narrows of Onion Creek begin, just before the road climbs quite steeply above the creek on the left-hand-side. Parking is quite limited – there’s space for maybe 3 or 4 vehicles and no marked trail head.
The first mile of the hike follows Onion Creek through the narrows. This is not one of Utah’s jaw dropping canyons, but it’s pleasant and scenic hiking up along the stream. In November the water was only a few inches deep, and the creek eminently leap-able, so it was easy hiking throughout the narrows. The road parallels the creek – at one point crossing it on a small bridge high above – but apart from a few ATVs we heard little traffic. At the end of the narrows the road descends again to the water, and for a really short hike you could be picked up there.
To extend the hike you can either continue up canyon (we didn’t try that), or start investigating the side canyons that lead off to the left toward the Fisher Towers. The side canyons are to be found immediately before the road crossing, and are obvious on the ground. The first can be explored for only a short distance before it dead ends in a substantial pour off that is well beyond the ability of non-climbers to ascend. The second is more inviting. There’s one obstacle a moderate distance in which requires a bit of scrambling (we found a rope here, though it wasn’t essential), but once that’s surmounted the canyon can be hiked for quite some distance upstream. Various side-side-canyons appear, and you can take your pick which way to go. We took another left at the first of these junctions, and proceeded on past a couple more before reaching a spot where more substantial scrambling would have been needed. Retracing our steps from there, we were back at the car after maybe three hours of hiking. But there were plenty more branches we didn’t explore, and it would be easy to spend a half day or more seeing it all.