Insomnia Canyon

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Insomnia Canyon Canyoneering Canyoning Caving
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Insomnia Canyon Banner.jpg

Difficulty:3B IV R (v5a2 IV)
Raps:‌13, max ↨320ft
Red Tape:No permit required
Shuttle:Optional 1h 15min
Vehicle:High Clearance
Condition Reports:
9 Sep 2023

"Pretty canyon - big rappel is stunning. The carpet rope protection is magnificent, kudos to those that brought it. We were happy for 4/3 & 5 mm wetsui

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Best season:
late spring to early fall


This is a World-class canyon, one of the best in Arizona.

Illusions and Insomnia can be combined as a two day combo with 3 vehicles. Leave 2 cars at the canyon exit and drive with one to the top of the canyon, camp there (it's free in BLM land) and start the canyon early the next day, approach will be immediate so you will have more energy and time to enjoy the canyon. Do Illusions the first day, when done take one of the cars you left at the bottom and drive back to camp (still leaving one car at the exit). Next day wake up early and do Insomnia, then use the car you left at the bottom to come back to camp and recover the other 2 vehicles.

If only running Insomnia, park one car at the Illusions sneak exit and shuttle a short distance to the Insomnia approach. The Illusions sneak exit is 1100' of scrambling, fairly straightforward with GPS, and much more efficient than shuttling from the Call of the Canyon (COTC) parking lot. However, West Fork is beautiful, and an exit via the creek is worth considering if you have the time.



There are two ways to access this canyon. The recommended route is to drive the forest roads off the 89A following the black track in the KML (535 to 536 to 231 to Buckshead Tank). You will have the option to shuttle from the sneak exit or from the COTC parking area. In using the sneak exit this canyon can be completed in approximately half the time (taking shuttle time into account).

Original Approach would be to leave a vehicle at COTC, drive with a second vehicle to Bootlegger Picnic Area, and approach the canyon via A.B. Young trail. This approach option is ideal when the roads up top are closed or for those craving the old school, longer and more rugged route.


Once you have navigated to the parking pin by Buckshead Tank (34.98980, -111.78200), descend northwest from the road into the Insomnia drainage. It’s steep and brushy but over quick.


Up to 12 short rappels (most under 50') and a 320’ rappel.

There are at least 2 possible keeper potholes that can be avoided with some finesse. One in the section before the the big rap, and another after.

The 320' rappel can be easily broken up into 2 rappels as there is a large bench at the bottom of the free hang, 250' down with another anchor rigged to a tree. It is 110' from the tree anchor on this bench to the bottom. There is also a bolted hanger installed halfway from this bench to the bottom. If using a 250' rope, rigging a CEM knot or Fiddle Stick are recommended methods for retrieval from the bench.

Recommended to bring a couple 100’+ working ropes, 320’ rope, and 320’ pull cord.

The monster rappel is one-of-a-kind and defines this canyon.

  • Below the big rappel
  • Below the big rappel
  • After the monster rappel, there are three more short rappels of 30', 50' and 80'.

    Full details on the descent are available through the CanyonCollective link.


    Sneak Exit

    After you finish Insomnia, hike down canyon. Locate the steep trail RDC at turn off pin and traverse to illusions drainage on the right. If you reached the Subway section you have gone too far and have missed the turn off. Continue up the illusions drainage to the sneak exit, then stay right up canyon and resist the urge to follow steep, loose fail-trails that will appear on your left.

    Shuttle Exit

    If you've planned to do the original West Fork exit, follow the canyon to the confluence with West Fork and hike out.

    Beta sites


    Trip reports and media

    Facebook photo album

  • Insomnia Canyon pic2.jpg
  • Insomnia Canyon pic3.jpg
  • Insomnia Canyon pic4.jpg
  • Insomnia Canyon pic5.jpg
  • Background

    The first (documented) decent was done by Joe and Sara DeSalme and Todd Martin in August 2005, after which it was kept a secret, along with it's sister, Illusions canyon, for several years. Traffic in the canyon gradually increased over the years, leading to a couple websites publishing the beta, and has since been the cited in discussions regarding the ethics of secret canyons.[1].

    A registry explaining the pristine nature and unique dangers was installed by the first decent party, but was removed in later years.[1] After a high profile rescue incident in August 2011, this registry was "re-installed" as per the request of Coconino SAR, SO & FS.[2]

  • IllusionsRegistry.jpg
  • The canyon received significantly increased traffic in the following years, and Todd Martin published the full beta on Canyon Collective in August 2013, completing the destined life cycle of a secret canyon.

    1. 1.0 1.1 Yahoo Groups discussion
    2. Canyon Collective thread on history of registry

    Red tape

    Beta sites

    Trip reports and media



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

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