Big Creek (Sierra National Forest)

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Big Creek (Sierra National Forest) Canyoneering Canyoning Caving
Also known as: Canyon of the Dammed. For other features with similar names, see Big Creek (disambiguation)
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Big Creek (Sierra National Forest) Banner.jpg

Difficulty:3C III (v3a4 III)
Raps:‌13, max ↨195ft
Overall:5-7h ⟷2.5mi
Approach: ↓500ft
Descent: ⟷0.9mi ↓1161ft
Red Tape:No permit required
Shuttle:Optional 20 min
Rock type:Granite
Condition Reports:
9 Sep 2023

"All hangers are intact. Heavy rain on the way in, cleared up at the start of the canyon.

(log in to submit report)
Best season:
Jul-Oct (avg for this region)


A very good class C canyon located in the Sierra National Forest below Huntington Lake. The canyon is an exciting all granite descent below the shadow of Kerchoff Dome, and has very nice wet rappels, a couple of lap-worthy slides, and maybe a jump or two if you know where to look...

The best time is usually late summer, as this canyon has too much water to be safely descended in spring. Flow will depend on the amount of snowpack that accumulated in the Sierras. The flow is a combination of dam release and natural creek flow. Though real-time flow data are not currently available, reviewing historical Big Creek gauge data yields approximate criteria:

  • Moderate = ~5 cfs
  • Moderate-High > ~6 cfs
  • High > 10 cfs
  • Very High > ~15 cfs

Most of the rappels are out of the water flow or allow bypass, so the canyon could be doable even in high water conditions, but this is something only you can judge.

Below I provide pictures of "normal" water level taken from two different checkpoints. The amount of whitewater is a good proxy for amount of flow. Judge the feasibility of the canyon by comparing the amount of whitewater in the reference pictures with the conditions that you find. [click on images to enlarge]

Comparing the two flows:




Park a vehicle at the bottom of the canyon (see map) and then drive up to Huntington Lake all the way till the end of the road (gate). Park there and hike along a forest road to a viewpoint at the top of the tram (green track). As of 8/19/19, there was a well-established shortcut trail that saves 0.7 mi (purple track). From there bushwack your way down into the canyon (orange route) till you reach the stream bed (checkpoint). Suit up here.

For those not using GPS:

Approach: Hike on the road past the road closure gate. You will first pass the sheriff’s house. Afterwards veer right to follow the road below the Huntington Lake dam. The road will make a 180-degree u-turn below the dam and then intersect with a series of other roads. Continue straight on the main road noting a large Penstock on the Left. Soon the road crosses over this penstock so that it is immediately beside the road on the right. After crossing over the penstock continue on down the road. At the end of the road, where a “gate house” is indicated on the 7.5” map (see map) head north-east cross-country and downhill following a lateral ridge while generally staying in the woods. Eventually you’ll intersect a gully. Follow the gully down to Big Creek just above the beginning of the technical section.

Non Shuttle

Park at the bottom. Hike over to the 3 massive penstock pipes, and climb up the tramway 700 vertical feet to 37.20948, -119.23776 where you will see the an overhead roller above the tramway and a shallow gully to the right. Follow the animal run in shallow gully to trimmed branches, a few rock cairns and more intersecting animal runs up about 500 feet until the path runs out at 37.21105, -119.23492. Continue up about another 100 vertical feet, skirting left to avoid the thick brush around some large boulders and then traverse on an animal run to the saddle between the big headwall and Kerckhoff Dome at 37.21104, -119.23289. At the saddle, continue South climbing slight up to the dome's summit. Or from the saddle descend down a shallow steep gully on the East slide to the big slide R5 (Note: going down this gully has not be verify as non-technical as of Aug 2020). From dome summit, enjoy the awesome panoramic view! There is also a register in a shallow pothole on the summit. From the summit head East down a corridor of rock faces with large boulders to a short chimney down-climb, then under a boulder and around a bush out onto the East side slab top. Walk down the slab hugging the bush and rock corner on your left to a large live pine tree. There are 2 dead pine trees and a large cedar tree too on the East slab. The large live pine tree is the first rappel off the Dome's East side, and should have a webbing anchor on it.


Sneak off Kerckhoff Dome

  • R1 90' from big live pine tree, stay right of the bushes to a two foot wide ledge sloping toward a sizable, rope eating flake DCL. Thus the reason for the bolted station here; you can easily retrieve your rope from this flake.
  • R2 70' from 2 bolts on the face next to the rope eating flake to a flat triangular spot in a V trough corner.
  • R3 120' from 2 bolts on the face DCR to a large ledge with a large log from a busted off tree. This rappel can be done less than 90 feet by downclimbing the slab just above the ledge.
  • R4 90' from a pinch point under a huge boulder DCL of the large log, down the crunchy lichen covered face in a shady corner.

To do the big slide (R5 below), traverse up canyon nearly level with the bottom of R4 until you are very close to the big slide, then climb up slightly around/through the ferns and down to the top of the big slide. This is mostly free of brush after the 2020 Creek Fire.
To continue directly down (R6 below) downclimb around some bushes then head left to a small pine tree and continue to down climb around the steeper rock on your right, past more bushes to short chimney downclimb. At the bottom of the chimney head right under a boulder then climb back up through a narrow opening to a bush covered ledge. Head more or less straight down to a pinch point anchor on a clean part of the ledge.

  • R5 90' from the pinch point to the traverse ledge for R6 described below in the full descent.

Note: you can still to do the big slide (R5 below), by hiking a short ways up canyon from the sneak R5 rappel to the slide bottom and the DCL side of the slide is class 3/4 rock low enough angle to climb up.


The heights of the raps are approximate, do NOT trust them blindly.

  • R1 50' RDC bolts, rappel down into a pool and beyond
    • Option - in very high flow is to rap down far RDC, being careful not to pendulum. The pool in the bottom in very high conditions will present major hydraulics making escape very difficult.
    • The first pool LDC can also be jumped- best when flow is low enough that there is no hydraulic present, and (as always) check the depth first!
  • R2 120' RDC bolts, gentle slope, dry rappel
  • R3 70' RDC bolts in a pothole, dry rappel
  • R4 40' RDC bolts possible to be wet or dry
  • R5 105' Options:
    • a) Slide down the slope into a pool after downclimbing to small ledge about halfway down
    • b) rappel from tree LDC
    • c) downclimb
  • R6 Options:
    • a) Climb up and traverse on ledge on RDC, 120' off a double bolt anchor.
    • b) 40' Slung webbing around a rock LDC.
    • c) Slide the "ski-jump" straight into the pool above R7! Note that shallow, large rocks that are difficult to see exist. These are likely further to the DCR side. Send someone to check the line first.
  • R7 Options:
    • a) 110' off of double bolts on RDC, rappel into a large V shaped crack, VERY wet but fun rappel. A single 200' rope works for this, but some extra rope length to not have to pull while swimming would be useful.
    • b) alternate rap LDC high off BFT 180' low angle to a good size ledge off a solid single bolt anchor-max about 120' if done in two stages
  • R8 80' DCR bolts on side ledge, rappel into a pool or to ledge ~25' up and jump into pool.
  • R9 190' Options:
    • a) rappel from bolts LDC
    • b) downclimb slope and slide the end into a pool
  • R10 70' LDC to usually stagnant pool
  • R11 150' Options:
    • a) sling around boulder DCR, VERY wet but fun rappel (see banner pic). WARNING: Ropes may get stuck in boulders and someone might need to get back in the waterfall to retrieve them. Possible entrapment risk in crevice behind large boulder approx two thirds of the way down.
    • b) 2 bolts LDC, use in high water conditions
  • Optional Exit 1: DAM possible exit by following the path on RDC to the road and down to the parking lot
  • R12 175ft from tree RDC to hanging pool and beyond, usually wet rappel.
  • Optional Exit 2: After R12, it is possible to scramble up a gulley on RDC to get back to the exit trail.
  • Downclimb DCL and head to DCR where you'll go over and under several boulders until you come across R13. Under high conditions if you wanted to bypass this rappel and exit the canyon use the trail going right along the water pipes all the way to the railway steps down to the main road.
  • R13 20ft nuisance rappel from boulder on far DCR, downclimbable with risk
  • R14 80ft DCR dry rappel to a set of flat slabs, take off the wetsuits here or continue to car. Excellent trees to rappel off of if you climb up a bit DCR

Aerial video of the lower technical section of the canyon, highlighting rappels 7 through 14:


Once past the final rappel head into the forest region DCR and you will soon find a faint trail that takes you back to the road. If you go under the road bridge you went too far.

If the Pothole rappel is flowing too high (Dangerous Levels) (see pitcure of very high). There is a marked trail used by hikers to reach the upper dam, where you should be standing. This will lead you back to the main highway where cars are parked. follow the railroad tie stairs down along the penstock pipes.

Red tape

Canyon is inside burn area of 2020 Creek Fire. Expect impacts to road, canyon, and surrounding area. Before going, review any relevant Sierra NF alerts and closure orders.

Beta sites

Trip reports and media

Conditions Report: Big Creek begins around the 30 second mark



Information provided by automated processes. KML map by (unknown). Main photo by (unknown). Authors are listed in chronological order.

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