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A State-by-State Guide to Southwest Slot Canyon Hikes

May 6, 2021 /
Slot Canyon hikes

Warning: Due to COVID 19 some information in this article (e.g. operating hours) may not be up-to-date.

Slot canyons are one of the most enchanting and unusual natural attractions that you can find in the United States. This guide is designed to help you identify them and organize your visit in the best possible way.

What Is a Slot Canyon?

What Is a Slot Canyon?Slot canyons are defined as narrow crevices created between rocks by water and wind erosion that over time have increasingly widened and carved the space between the rock walls to create passages where a person can (easily or not so easily) walk. In fact, they differ from other canyons precisely because of their reduced distance between the two rock walls.

The characteristic of being deep rather than wide also causes spectacular effects of light and different colors depending on the time of day when you visit them. Generally, slot canyons form in desert areas where flash floods (which we will talk about later) are particularly intense and cause even more erosion.

The formation of these slot canyons requires those who want to explore them to have proper preparation and equipment. So here I decided to point out the slot canyons that are the easiest to get to and easily accessible ones for most people.

Slot Canyons in Utah

The state of Utah has the largest number of slot canyons in America. Here’s a selection of the most important slot canyons.

Because of the significant number of slot canyons present here, we have dedicated a whole article dedicated to slot canyons in Utah.

Slot Canyons in Arizona

Arizona is home to what is most likely the most famous slot canyon in the United States. We’re talking about Antelope Canyon and its spectacular light phenomenon. Here is the list of the most noteworthy slot canyons in the state:

To see a full list of slot canyons, I invite you to read our article about slot canyons in Arizona.

Slot Canyons in Nevada

Nevada’s two most important slot canyons are located within the incredible Valley of Fire on the outskirts of Las Vegas.

Pastel (Pink) Canyon

Slot Canyon trailsAs you can guess from the name, what is peculiar about this slot canyon are the colors. There is no official trail and the place is not even marked on the official map of the Valley of Fire. The advantage of this is that since this slot canyon is not very well known, you will not find large crowds of visitors around you. The disadvantage is that you’ll have to take more initiative to find the trail.

The best and most impressive way to reach it is to combine one of the most beautiful locations in the park with your hike. In fact, you will have to reach the famous Fire Wave observation point (by hiking the Fire Wave Trail), and then follow the course of the canyon that “flows” underneath the overlook and keep going west until you reach the road. Alternatively, you can try to park your car near these Google Maps coordinates (36.479761, -114.526415) and head east into the slot canyon.

The best time of day to observe the most incredible colors is early in the morning and at sunset.

White Domes Canyon

best slot canyon hikes USA

The trail to this slot canyon is very famous and easy to find. It is a loop about one mile long and is one of the most popular trails in the entire park. You will have to drive along the scenic White Domes Road at the end of which you will find a parking lot. From here you can embark on the trail, which is very well signposted.

Along the trail, you can observe sandstone formations of various shapes and colors. One of the things that makes this slot canyon unique is that on the trail, you will come across the remains of an old film set dating back to 1966 that was used for some scenes from the Western titled The Professionals.

Slot Canyons in California

California is famous for its big, iconic cities, namely San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego, the magnificent Pacific Coast Highway that runs along the ocean, and beautiful national parks, such as Yosemite and Death Valley.

On the other hand, its topography is not that suitable for many slot canyons to form. In spite of this, there are at least two that are worth visiting if you have a particular interest in the scenery of slot canyons.

Mosaic Canyon

slot canyons mapMosaic Canyon is located within the famous Death Valley National Park in Stovepipe Wells and it’s one of the best points of interest this area has to offer. You can find more details in our article on visiting Death Valley.

The Slot – Anza Borrego

most beautiful slot canyonsThis slot canyon is located within Anza Borrego Desert State Park in Southern California. Due to the size of the park, you will find many canyons, but one of the most scenic and famous is the one known as The Slot. It has the added advantage of being neither too long nor is it frequented by many tourists.

The route begins about 15 miles southeast of Borrego Springs. Along the course of CA-78, you will find a dirt road (not signposted) called Buttes Pass Road which runs inland and you will have to drive just under 2 miles until you find a clearing where you can park your car.

Flash Flood and Other Dangers. How Do You Avoid Them?

Before embarking independently on a hike inside the slot canyons, there are some recommendations to take into account in order to do everything possible to avoid unforeseen events during your hike.

The most common danger is to encounter the same phenomenon that forms the slot canyons themselves, the infamous flash floods. They are particularly dangerous when they develop in dry and desert areas where the soil is not able to absorb quickly the amount of water that rains down, forming the equivalent of a flooded river that flows impetuously down to the valley and also drags a lot of debris.

The video below can give you an idea of what a flash flood looks like:

The safest way to avoid being trapped inside a slot canyon in this situation is to keep an eye on the weather forecast, both in the days immediately preceding your visit, and for the day you will be hiking, not only for the place you intend to visit, but also for the surrounding area.

A sunny day does not mean you are completely safe, because, if there is a storm a few miles away, sooner or later the water will still reach your area (you can check this video). So keep an eye on the National Weather Service website or check other local resources that may be recommended by the rangers or the many tourist centers.

I also encourage you to come prepared to deal with high temperatures during the summer months, and to bring enough water for your hike. Most of the places where slot canyons are located are very remote and far from supermarkets and gas stations.

Lastly, it is important that you look out for wild animals and (especially) snakes that inhabit these desert areas. Snakes can be particularly cunning due to their ability to blend in well with their surroundings and can be found not only at ground level but also on the overhangs along the course of the slot canyon. So you should always be aware of your surroundings.

Our Tip:
Looking for accommodations for your trip from California to other parts of the Southwest? Read our guide that contains reviews of hotels and strategic tips for finding accommodations near major attractions: Where to Stay: Our Tips for the SouthWest Area

Filippo Nardelli

I have a degree in History of North America and have always been fascinated by the United States.

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