Rustler Canyon and Indian Creek


– part of the Hayduke Reference –

This is an awesome and remote section of the Hayduke Trail. There are two parts that can give hikers some difficulty in this section based on the reports I’ve read. The first is a the big dryfall in Rustler Canyon and the second is the exit/entrance to Indian Creek. There is also a small dryfall in one of the upper branches of Rustler, but the bypass is fairly obvious and used by cows, so I’ll focus on the other two headed down Rustler and then up Indian Creek:

IMGP5570The Rustler Canyon Dryfall
This obstacle looks daunting at first glance and I’ve seen reports of people doing long bypasses and/or using ropes to descend the nearby cliffs.

There is NO NEED for all that.

It’s really easy to simply go straight down through the mini slot underneath the large boulder. It could be a little slippery, so you might want to take off the pack. But, it’s a fairly short climb and there is a large shelf below.

From the shelf it is about another 20′ sheer drop to the bottom. But, fortunately, there is a bypass to the left along the shelf which leads to an easy ramp down via a dirt hill on the eastern side.

Here’s a shot of the obstacle from below:

And a bit farther back to see how to get up (or down):


Once below the dryfall it’s an easy walk down to the junction of Indian Creek. If you are lucky it will flowing and will look something like this:


If it is, you might want to take the short diversion down to Indian Creek Falls.

However, it’s also possible that Indian Creek will be dry or just a string of stagnant pools. Evidently this is fairly rare, but what makes it frustrating is that it is hard to predict. That’s because of the lack of water is not necessarily based on season or recent weather, but instead on how much water is released by the ranchers upstream who control the water rights (and do not report their outflows to the park.)

Exit from Indian Creek

After heading upstream about a 1 mile it will be about time to find one’s way out of the canyon. Take note when the stream abruptly turns east. There is a side canyon at that point, but it’s not the way you want to go. Instead head another 400 yards or so upstream and look for a crack in the lower wall and a talus slope leading up to the upper shelf. If all else fails… N38.2791,W-109.7733. Every time I’ve been here there’s been a nice cairn against the skyline:


Once up to this point, I find it easier to just walk up this sandstone floor of the side canyon. The book references following the ridge to the right, but I found that to be more difficult (even through there is a really cool balanced rock over that way.)

In the upper part of the canyon it will be necessary to get out and work your way around the top. Then one final cliffband stops progress from getting to the very top. There are probably several ways to get up, but finding one might take some scouting. I always use what a call “Top Crack” which is a nice ramp going through a narrow slot between two boulders.


This route is at… N38.2752,W-109.7753.

Once on top of this obstacle, you are home free and ready to enjoy the awesome walk Above Indian Creek to Big Spring Canyon. Before heading out, turn around and enjoy the view back over Indian Creek toward Lockhart Basin:

Video Reference:

High-Res Gallery:



  1. My previous post in which I wrote that I could not get past the dryfall on Indian Creek is now false. Last Tuesday I managed it. You head downstream on IC and go up to the left. There are a few cairns marking the trail. I walked past it the first time but found it on the way back. The trail starts near the beginning of the dryfall and goes to the far end of the Rincon where there are some ledges that can be descended into the Rincon from which it is an easy hike to the river. It took 6 1/2 hours to make the round trip between my car and the river. It’s actually a pretty easy trail but it tends to disappear and reappear whenever you cross large slabs of rock. It’s fun. When you look back at the trail from the far end of the Rincon it looks like a death defying exposed hike. It isn’t though. It felt quite safe most of the time.

  2. We did a pretty cool hike around a 16 mile loop beginning near the loop in the road not far from the landing strip. I’m curious about reaching Indian Creek from the road that goes by the landing strip. From the loop here: 38°16’32.17″N 109°44’31.45″W we went down this canyon: 38°16’41.51″N 109°44’32.59″W to Rustler and down Rustler to Indian Creek and then up Indian Creek until here: 38°15’56.79″N 109°45’30.05″W at which point we went up the drainage to the left until my map’s thin blue line disappeared at which point we scrambled our up. It was slightly There were lots of other potential routes up but we didn’t want to cliff out and have to turn around. We started late. As it was we were out of water and out of daylight when we reached camp. So do you of other of those side canyons one can gain access to Indian Creek from? We tried to come down this one 38.271531 -109.742706 the next day. We got to a 5′ drop we didn’t think we could get back up and gave up. I’m especially curious about this one: 38°16’55.27″N 109°45’22.44″W and the others that are nearby. We’re going back tomorrow. My plan is to snoop around a bunch of those side canyons. I’d especially like to find one that enters Indian Creek close to the Hayduke Trail. You were right about none of that stretch of the Hayduke not being particularly difficult.

    • Cool — glad you got to get out there. I haven’t explored any of those side canyons on the east side of Indian — just the Hayduke main route and a few alts on the west side of the canyon. The geology in that area makes for enticing travel… it’s difficult, but with patience and bit of scrambling one can usually find a way. Cheers!

  3. I want to explore the descent you’ve described here by parking here 38°12’46.25″N 109°47’22.52″W where the Colorado River Overlook Rd enters BLM land briefly and walking up. If you have any thoughts on this I’m all ears.

    • Yep — that’s definitely possible. That point is along the Hayduke route and is covered in the following link (though the description will be backwards for your plan it sounds.) If your main goal is to get to Rustler/Indian though, there would be a shorter route via the Lockhart Backroad.

      • Mainly my goal is to see the toughest part of Section 2. I had the impression that was miles 38.4-39.3 but after reading again and looking at your stuff it seems that the whole stretch from Rustler Canyon to Indian Creek and then on to mile 39.3 is challenging? At least Mitchell and Coronella said the ledges between miles 38.4-39.3 section were tricky. I guess I missed that the stretch from Rustler Canyon down is tricky too. What do you think is the hardest part of the route? Is this what you meant by “Lockhart Backroad”: 38.279634° -109.729157° ? Go into Rustler canyon there and then down the trail to Indian Creek?

        • Yeah — the routefinding via the ledges in that area can be tricky. They aren’t really dangerous, it can just take some trial and error to find the easiest way. Yes that pinpoint should work, or farther NE where the Hayduke leaves the road to enter upper Rustler. Hardest section? Not sure — many are hard in different ways. This stretch is remote and tricky at times — but not too hard if you are prepared for that. But, I guess that’s a general rule for all of the Hayduke though!

  4. so, does anyone know the details on going down Indian Creek from the road crossing by Hamburger Rock, all the way down to the Colorado River? Looking as a possible packrafting put-in.

    • Do you mean where Lockhart Backroad crosses Indian Creek? That’s a long haul down to the river from there (about 20 miles.) I’ve heard it’s walkable w/o any obstacles, but I haven’t done it. Following the Hayduke Route from within the park would actually be quite a bit shorter and probably better (unless you really want to see that part of Indian Creek).

      • I attempted to walk past the falls that are about 3/4 mile up Indian Creek from the river on Sunday 4/18/21. It’s probably possible for a competent climber but not for John 6-pack. A lot of it is overhung which would make it challenging even for a good climber (I think). From the junction of Rustler Canyon and Indian Creek the creek drops 100′ to the river and apparently all of that is in a series of a couple drops at the falls. One could rappel the falls with a pack raft and gear if they didn’t plan to come back up. If you wanted to do that you could park at the second parking lot at the end of the road by the landing strip. Then take a day or two to explore the side canyons down. I found a side canyon that ends at Indian Creek about a mile upstream from Rustler Canyon which would put you 2 1/2 miles from the river. It is less than 2 miles from the parking lot down the side canyon to Indian Creek. I found cairns at two different spots on the rim near the parking area that I think are for two different routes down. I found one route but not the other. The way I think of the area is that there are “keys” that you must find in order to make progress. My key over the weekend was a big rock that looks like a duck, to me anyway. There is a crack between the rock and the cliff face that lets you squeeze up/down the 10-15′ drop. Otherwise I couldn’t find a safe easy way down that route. I assume the other route had a key that I failed to find or else somebody just made a trail along the rim that doesn’t go down although I don’t think that is the case as the cairns seemed to be placed so that they were visible from below. From the top these routes can be explored safely. Stay inside your skill level and comfort zone and if you fail to find a route down go back to the car and pop a cold one. From below: tired, thirsty, and low on water, the consequences of failure are considerable.

        You said “However, it’s also possible that Indian Creek will be dry or just a string of stagnant pools. Evidently this is fairly rare, but what makes it frustrating is that it is hard to predict. That’s because of the lack of water is not necessarily based on season or recent weather, but instead on how much water is released by the ranchers upstream who control the water rights (and do not report their outflows to the park.” Are the ranches upstream from where the creek crosses the Lockhart Road so that by crossing Indian Creek on the Lockhart road you would know if it was flowing or not?