The Best Slot Canyons in the American SouthwestJan 24, 2022
I’m a BIG fan of slot canyons and on our road trip around Utah, we got to visit several. They’re so unique and make such a gorgeous place to go for a hike and explore the beauty.
Here’s a list where you can find some incredible slot canyons so you can shimmy through the sandstone canyon walls yourself!
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT VISITING SLOT CANYONS
You may see a tarantula. We only saw a couple on the canyon wall but just be aware of your surroundings – the desert is their home.
Check the weather. Storms can cause flash flooding which is extremely dangerous in slot canyons. Always check the weather before you go and never go when there’s a chance of a storm anywhere nearby.
Bring plenty of water. You’ll be hiking in the desert a good distance so make sure you have plenty of water.
Wear hiking boots. In order to get to some of these slot canyons and do the scrambling necessary on the sandstone walls, you really need the proper footwear.
Carry as little as possible. Most of these get very narrow so truly carry as little as you can. Sometimes we had to take our backpacks off and squeeze it through.
Dogs are welcome (except on the last one). These are very tight spaces and personally, I would NOT take any dog larger than Leon’s size (25 bs). He did well because he’s smaller and could wiggle his way through and if needed we could put him in his backpack but we saw a couple of labs and medium-sized dogs that had a very hard time and the owners couldn’t complete the canyons because the dog couldn’t fit through. You may think you can just pick them up but there’s scrambling involved, sometimes 10 feet drops, and just trust me, don’t take your dog unless it’s smaller and would enjoy this.
This slot canyon is located in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It’s about a 4.5-mile hike if you combine it with the Spooky Gulch one too (mentioned below) which you totally should because it’s right there and after you complete this one it’ll lead you straight to Spooky Gulch. Win/win.
Need to know: The entrance to this one is a bit of a climb up and a little difficult. I put Leon in his backpack and was able to grab Jeff’s hand to help us up. Leon could run through the rest of it.
How to get there: Drive down the long, well-maintained dirt and gravel road called Hole in the Rock Rd. and go to the Dry Fork Trailhead. Then, start hiking. More details can be found here.
This one was very narrow and at times you had to turn your body sideways to be able to fit. There is about a 15-foot drop as well which was challenging to scramble down a bit but nothing too dangerous.
How to get there: After completing Peek-a-Boo, follow the cairns to enter this canyon. It eventually loops back to the beginning of where Peek-a-Boo started afterward to get back to the Dry Fork Trailhead where your car is.
ZEBRA SLOT CANYON
This is a pretty short slot canyon but super cool because of the striped walls. It’s about a 5.2 mile out and back hike and also located in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The trail to the start of the canyon is pretty easy and well-marked but the actual slot canyon is a bit challenging because of how narrow it is (bring as little as possible!) and once you make it through the incredible portion that has the striped walls, you get to a point that is almost impossible to go further.
Need to know: There seems to always be 6-10 inches of water for the beginning section (not long) so either wear hiking boots you’re fine getting wet or change into some sandals for that portion. You will absolutely need to wear your boots/hiking shoes for the remainder of the slot canyon though because you’ll need to scramble along the walls a bit.
How to get there: In Escalante, the trailhead is located on Hole-in-the-Rock Road about 7.8 miles down. There’s a large open area right across from where the trail starts that you can park. There isn’t a sign anywhere, so make sure you go to the point on the map above. At one point you’ll walk through a swinging wooden gate and then continue down Harris Wash. Make sure you check out this post before jumping on the trail because they do an excellent job showing where exactly to go.
This slot canyon is very popular and one reason is that it may be the easiest to get to but don’t miss it because going is SO WORTH IT.
For all the other slot canyons on this list, you can go yourself for free. For Antelope though, the only way you can go is by doing a tour. We did the Lower Antelope Canyon with Ken’s Tours and had a wonderful experience.
Need to know: There are 2 sections of Antelope – the Upper and Lower. The Lower is a bit more hiking and climbing involved (nothing crazy). The Upper doesn’t involve any climbing and it is easier if you’d like to just casually walk through.
This 12 miler is the longest slot canyon in the U.S. It’s an out and back so go as far as you want and come back the way you came. In terms of awe-factor, this was maybe our least favorite but it’s still beautiful and incredible (which is saying something).
How to get there: Start your hike at the Wire Pass Trailhead (not the Buckin Gulch one, yes that’s confusing). You’ll walk in the wash the whole time and it will end at a point where you walk into the canyon. There are cairns along the way too. We biked to the start of the canyon so feel free to do that too.
What an amazing experience this one is! This one is different than all the rest on this list because you’re hiking in water the entire time. You can do this one all on your own too. We did the bottom-up day hike (the other option is the top-down overnight hike).
Need to know: Since you’ll be walking in water the entire time, you REALLY need to have the right gear. We went in October and the water was about 30 degrees so we rented dry pants, river shoes, neoprene socks, and a hiking stick – all of which came in handy and we would not have been able to do the hike without it all. We got our gear from Zion Guru and they even have a lot of info about the hike on their site.
We actually didn’t make it to this one but I’ve done tons of research and it looks incredible and definitely belongs on this list.
Need to know: There is a limit of 150 hikers per day to go here. You can get your tickets ($12 per person) by going here. This one does NOT allow dogs.
You can check here for weather updates on when it’s closed due to flash floods.
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