Oak Creek (Ouray)

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Oak Creek (Ouray) Canyoneering Canyoning Caving
Also known as: Oak Canyon; Oak Creek Canyon. For other features with similar names, see Oak Creek (disambiguation)
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Oak Creek (Ouray) Banner.jpg

Difficulty:3C2 III R (v3a4 III)
Raps:‌23, max ↨135ft
Overall:4.5-16.5h ⟷3.2mi
Approach:1-1.5h ↑1915ft
Descent:3-14.5h ⟷1.2mi ↓1820ft
Exit:20min ↑212ft
Red Tape:No permit required
Shuttle:Optional 5 min
Condition Reports:
13 Aug 2023

"First family run through a true "Wet Canyon" unguided. I've got 30+ years rock climbing experience with some dry canyon, large group trials as well a

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


Oak Creek may be the most fun canyon in Ouray with 23 rappels, unavoidable waterfall drenchings, free-hangs, going behind the veil, rooster tails, multi-tier rappels, a massive grotto, little hidden grottos, a circulating pothole, great downclimbs, and excitement all the way down the watercourse with no long, boring creeking. If you like high-flow "C" class canyoning, Oak Creek delivers better than any other.

The approach hike is straight-forward all trail and the exit hike is quick and painless and takes you right back to your car.

This ropewiki entry is written for the Full Oak descent. The guidebook separates these as three linkable adventures. Descent times vary greatly due to water volume and group size.

Oak Creek is a great option on a day with questionable weather in the forecast as it has three trail crossings that provide for easy escape routes if you notice ominous skies and rain clouds building (keeping in mind that it is impossible to see storms building to the west due to the bulk of Whitehouse Mountain blocking your view). In between trail crossings, each section is mostly wide enough that it is possible to scramble up the sides of the canyon to get 10 or 20 feet high if you need to wait out a flash flood. There are few short commitment zones.

The most convenient canyon to get to and get back from in Ouray as the trailhead and exit are in town. From Ouray Hot Springs Park go south on Highway 550 for 0.4 miles, make a right onto 7th Avenue and go for 0.1 miles and over the bridge over the Uncompahgre River, then make a left on Oak Street for 0.2 miles, then right on Queen Street for 0.1 miles and straight ahead you will see the sign for "Old Twin Peaks Trailhead". This is where you park. There is room for only about 4 cars.

If you have a 4WD vehicle then you can drive up part of the approach and save some distance and elevation.

Minimum ropes required: 1 X 200' and 1 X 100'


From the parking area, go south over the bridge. This is your drainage. Check on flow here. Imagine all the water flowing under the bridge is squeezed into a basketball size hose and is blasting you on your head. This will happen to you several times and from water dropping from 135 feet. This canyon is not appropriate for someone's first "C" class canyoning experience.

Lower Oak Creek

From the lower parking area, hike up the dirt road for 0.5 miles. Just before the dirt road ends, you will see a trail sign on the right. Make a hairpin turn right and start up Oak Creek trail. Hike up this trail for 1 mile and you will come to a "Y". If you go right you will head down to the watercourse at the top of the lower section.

Middle Oak Creek

At the fork, go left to proceed up Oak Creek trail another 1 mile until it meets the watercourse. Here you are at the top of the middle section.

Upper Oak Creek

From the start of the middle section, cross the creek and hike for another 1/2 mile up some more switchbacks and then go past some mining camp ruins on the right and at a switchback you will see a noticeable use trail branch off to the left and down to the creek. Go down here and you will be at the top of the upper section of Oak Creek.

At a moderate pace, hiking time from the car to the top of the lower section is approximately 30 minutes, to the top of the middle section is approximately 60 minutes, and to the top of the upper section is 90 minutes. Total time from the parking area and back for the full Oak Creek descent is 8 hours for a fairly competent and efficient group; for the middle and lower sections only is 7 hours, and for the lower section only is 4 hours.

Elevation gain from the parking area to the top is 2000 feet, starting at 7800 feet and rising to 9800 feet.


Upper Oak Creek

From the top drop-in, put on your wetsuit because you will get soaked almost immediately. The top section is the least exciting and least challenging of the three sections of Oak Creek. There are sections of loose rock and possibly unstable logjams thanks to an avalanche chute that crosses the creek. It does have 7 rappels and you will get soaked on at least two of them. Highest drop is 75 feet. It is worth doing if you have the time and stamina to hike the extra mile up switchbacks to get there. There is nothing memorable about the top section but it is a good place to go over whistle signals, creeping to avoid core shots, and how to escape from a flash flood, as these are all necessary skills in this canyon. If you are going to skip one section of Oak Creek, this would be the one.

Middle Oak Creek

The middle section also has 7 rappels but the first 6 come in rapid fire succession. Highest drop is 75 feet. On one of the longer rappels it is impossible to avoid getting blasted on your head. Although most of the rappels are short, they are all fun in their own way. There is a lot of great downclimbing for down-climbing enthusiasts. Note that the rock and tree trunks are very slippery. There are 2 or 3 obstacles that a partner assist may be required. The middle section is the prettiest of the three sections and is a good choice if you are prefer beauty and an intimate canyon experience over big drops.

Lower Oak Creek

The middle section is really a warm-up to the lower section, where things really notch up. The lower section has 8 rappels, highest 135 feet. 1st rap has 3-tiers and is 80 feet in total, but half of it is horizontal. The 2nd rappel is the monster 135 foot rappel off of bolts on canyon left. This drop has been the scene of several core shots. Canyoneers have hammered on the ledge, which helps, but they still occur here so be careful and check/creep your rope after each person descends. The chute near the watercourse offers a smoother edge transition but will position you more directly in the flow. Best to dangle your pack between your legs so you don't get pushed backwards and upside down. Make sure someone down below holds the pull out of the way so the last rappeller doesn't get tangled with the pull rope on the way down. Note also that there is limited opportunity to communicate on this rappel due to the loudness of the water on the rappeller's head. You will be directly in the line of fire the lower you go and by the bottom you will get hammered. In high-flow one could get a concussion. About 10 feet from the floor there is a ledge you can stand inside and rest and look out from behind the veil. Take your time and enjoy this unique view. You will get pounded one last time as you descend from this ledge and walk through the very bottom of the falls. The anchor for the 3rd rappel is on a tree high on canyon left. Only the rigger needs to go up to the anchor. Everyone else can get on rappel closer to the watercourse for a 20 foot rappel. The 4th rappel is off a rock pinch down in a small pothole on canyon right. This is a pretty rappel down a chute, under a rooster tail, and into a circulating pothole that could be waist deep to chest deep. In the past there was an anchor off a tree high on canyon left that created much erosion and completely avoided the watercourse and one of the best little rappels anywhere. Stay in the watercourse here whenever possible. The 5th rappel is another very unique and fun discovery. The drop is only 15 feet but the treat is to go under the massive log on rappeller's right that is lying at an angle creating a triangular rabbit hole. Be sure to go under this log and down the triangular hole for a unique opportunity to go behind the veil of the waterfall in a cool grotto. There is a momentary free-hang when doing this. Most rappellers make the mistake of avoiding this direction in order to avoid water or avoid the minimum effort it takes to get down on your stomach, but it is much easier than it looks from the top. The 6th rappel is off a tree on canyon left and is 35 feet. Your feet touch the wall on the top 8 feet and then the rock disappears and you can swing under a massive ledge and free-hang down. This massive grotto is very rare in Ouray. The 7th rappel is off a log in the watercourse. The anchor may be hard to see. In the past, canyoneers have climbed up and around through brush to go around this obstacle. This is no longer necessary as the rappel both provides for more fun and eliminates the damage to the foliage. It also avoids getting dirty and having to swim through brush on a dirty, slightly exposed route. The 8th rappel is off bolts canyon left and is only about 15 feet.

    Updated Lower Oak Creek Profile (2023) reflecting changes and corrections to the guidebook Canyoning in the Colorado San Juan Mountains, uploaded by the author Ira Lewis.
    The guidebook contains profile maps like this for all 55 canyons in the book and detailed descriptions of these descents.
  • Exit

    Shortly downstream from the last rappel you will notice a pedestrian bridge. This is your exit. Exit at the bridge - do not continue following the creek past the bridge, or you will trespass on private property. There are no interesting drops after the bridge.

    Lower 2WD - Hike up the hillside and cross the bridge to the trail LDC. Follow the trail right down to your vehicle.

    Upper 4WD - Hike up the hillside RDC to the trail that briefly switchbacks upwards until it meets with Oak Creek trail. Stay left and descend a short distance down to your vehicle.

    Both exit hikes should only take about 15 minutes.

    Red tape

    Beta sites

    Trip reports and media

    8-12-2015. Middle and Lower Oak. Longest rappel: 135 feet. # of Rappels: 15. Group Size: 4. Total time: 7 hours. Hiking Time 1 1/2 hours. Time in Canyon: 5 1/2 hours.

    trip report Middle Oak Creek



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

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