Among the many places to visit in Utah, the southern part of the state has the largest concentration of slot canyons in the world (there are more than a thousand of them south of Interstate 70). Some of them are found in two well-known and extensive national parks. It would be impossible to describe all of them, so we will look only at the best slot canyons in Southern Utah.
When making this list, we only considered slot canyons that most people can easily access. For this reason, the more challenging ones that also require specific hiking equipment were excluded. In addition, before venturing out, I invite you to take into account some of the recommendations discussed in the in-depth article dedicated to Slot Canyons in the Southwest USA.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Here are some of the most popular slot canyons in the vast Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Spooky, Peekaboo and Dry Fork Narrow
There are three canyons located a short distance from each other and most likely they are the most famous and spectacular canyons in the area.
To get as close as possible to the slot canyons by car, you will have to drive along the dirt road called Hole in the Rock Road for about 26 miles until you reach a parking area called Peekaboo Gulch Parking Area (see map). It is best to park here if you have a regular car that is not suited for driving on bumpy roads. If you have a 4×4 or another similar vehicle, you can continue for another mile or so until you reach a parking area at the entrance to the Dry Fork Trailhead.
However, in order to drive on Hole in the Rock Road, it is best to have a 4×4 or an SUV with a higher than average ground clearance, that way, you will feel safer as you drive. This does not apply in case of rain, because even 4x4s cannot pass when mud that forms on this road. Be sure to check with the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center to find out about the local weather conditions, especially in the summer, when thunderstorms, which can be violent, are not uncommon and you may find it impossible to continue or to return until the road is dry again.
Once you have parked, take a moment to contemplate the view below you. You can also see in the distance the entrance of two of the slot canyons. Before heading out on the trail, don’t forget to fill in the attendance register that you will find at your disposal. This is for two reasons. First, to let people know that there is a tourist interest in the area, and secondly, to signal your presence in case there are unforeseen circumstances.
The trail starts from the parking lot and is well indicated and your first goal will be to descend into Dry Fork Wash, also known as Coyote Gulch. Once you arrive in the large dried up water bed, you’ll have to continue east where and after a few hundred feet, you’ll find a climbing wall (proceed with due caution) that marks the entrance to the Peekaboo Slot Canyon.
You should be able to climb this part without too much difficulty, which will be the most complicated part of the route. Once you have completed this section, you won’t encounter other obstacles that are too demanding. In any case, personally assess the feasibility of the climb. The characteristic features of Peekaboo Slot Canyon are the large puddles that you will find once you enter and the stone arches that form between the walls. If it hasn’t rained recently you shouldn’t find water, otherwise, you’ll have to be ready to step into the stagnant water to continue, or if you can, get around the puddles. Again, consider whether you feel up to it.
After passing the puddles, you’ll come across the most fascinating spot in the slot canyon where you can see a double stone arch above you. From here, I would say that you can decide whether to continue to the bottom of the canyon, which is about 1640 ft long in its entirety or to go back.
To get to Spooky Gulch, whether you’ve traveled the entire Peekaboo Slot Canyon or have returned to its entrance, you’ll need to head east. This slot canyon is much narrower than its predecessor and therefore there is less light (hence its name). So if you suffer from claustrophobia, I suggest you not to go. Given the time available, take some breaks to reassess how much further to continue into the canyon.
While the entrance is fairly wide, within a few feet, the slot canyon narrows, leaving only 2-3 feet of space in between. So consider leaving your backpack at the entrance of the slot canyon, or carry it sideways, because it will be practically impossible to proceed with the backpack on your shoulders. Also, inside the slot canyon, some fallen boulders create small, cramped holes that are difficult to walk through. If you don’t feel like it, it’s best to retrace your steps and walk back.
You can visit these two slot canyons individually, walking for as long as you wish in the first one and have the chance to go to the next one, or you can make a sort of loop by taking a trail that connects the final part of the two slot canyons.
Opting for this choice you will have to walk about 3 miles, so you will need at least 4 hours. If you have additional time available, once you arrive at the intersection that would take you back to the parking lot, you can continue west and visit the area commonly known as Dry Fork Narrows. It’s not a real slot canyon, but it’s the part where the riverbed becomes particularly narrow, which creates a scenic effect. Out of all of the slot canyons, this is the easiest canyon to explore.
If you do not want to venture out on your own to discover these wonders, or if you prefer avoiding the possibility of damaging your car, you can opt for a guided tour or a “ride” to the trailhead. In the small town of Escalante you will find numerous tour companies that offer you this type of service. For more information, you can visit the Escalante Visitor Center (755 W. Main) and ask the rangers of the Bureau of Land Management who are responsible for preserving the area.
Singing Canyon – Burr Trail
This charming slot canyon is located along the course of the dirt path called the Burr Trail. As you can imagine from the name, the main characteristic of this slot canyon is that it has perfect acoustics. It is not uncommon to find musicians playing their instruments in this fascinating place.
The Burr Trail, which starts right outside of the town of Boulder, can be easily accessed by car since the first 31 miles are paved and the entrance to the Singing Canyon is just over 11 miles from the start of the road. A small rest area on the side of the road marks the beginning of the slot canyon.
Willis Creek Narrows
In this case, it is not technically a real slot canyon, because the distance between the high walls is quite long, but it is still a fascinating and easy place to visit if you have no other way to experience a slot canyon. One of the qualities of this canyon is that it is almost completely flat. Therefore you will not be faced with any major challenges as you walk.
Another positive factor is that while it’s inside the Grand Staircase Escalante, it’s conveniently located between Bryce Canyon and Kodachrome Basin State Park, which makes it perfect if you’re planning a multi-day trip in this area.
To get there, you’ll have to go to Cannonville and drive south along Kodachrome Road, which will later become Cottonwood Canyon Road. Before you reach Kodachrome Basin State Park and cross the Paria River, you’ll have to take Skutumpah Road, a dirt road, also known by its official name, BLM 500.
As was the case with Hole in the Rock Road, it is also better to drive on Skutumpah Road with an SUV, but if you take the necessary precautions, a car that is lower to the ground can also be used. However, if it is raining, or if it has rained recently, the road will be impassable.
After about 6 miles, you will find a parking area where the trail starts. On Google Maps, you can search for Willis Creek Slot Canyon Trailhead (just in case you may need them, these are the coordinates 37.483062, -112.096760). On the trail, you will walk along the course of the small Willis Creek, which will increasingly penetrate between the high walls of the canyon.
If you intend to complete the trail, you will have to keep in mind that you will be walking about 5 miles round trip. Remember that the most interesting part of the trail is definitely the first half.
Zion National Park
We will now explore Zion National Park, one of the most famous parks in Utah. Here you will also find many slot canyons, but most of them are recommended for experienced hikers who must also use the right equipment. So let’s go and see which ones are the easiest but also incredible slot canyons to undertake.
As you can guess from the name, this is not technically a slot canyon, because the distance between the high walls is a few yards wide, but it is impossible not to mention it in this article, since it is still one of the most beautiful places in the park.
It follows the course of the Virgin River, which over time has managed to dig this spectacular passage between the rocks. In theory, the entire route would be very long (more than 15 miles), and some sections can only be reached by purchasing a special permit. The most popular section of the Narrows is the Bottom-Up Zion Narrows Hike, which we have also described in the article about hiking The Narrows.
It is one of the most photogenic slot canyons in the national park and it is located near the section of Kolob Canyons, one of the least visited areas of Zion, but it is still remarkable.
What makes this hike inside the slot canyon particularly scenic are two waterfalls and natural pools of water. To get past the waterfalls and continue the route inside the slot canyon you can use stairs or ropes, which are replaced from time to time, due to the deterioration caused by continuous use, to make it easier for visitors.
Obviously, given the presence of water, which in some places can reach even knee level, it is necessary to wear the appropriate clothing. Unfortunately, recently there have been restrictions imposed on the number of people who can visit at a given time. In order to undertake the hike it is necessary to have a special permit that is issued to 150 people per day that costs $ 12 per person. You can buy it directly on the official website.
Buckskin Gulch is one of the longest slot canyons in America, if not the whole world. Because of its size and importance, we have dedicated an article to this place that talks about the points of interest and gives directions to Buckskin Gulch.
Little Wild Horse Canyon
The Little Wild Horse Canyon is located just over 5 miles west of the visitor center at Goblin Valley State Park and can be reached quite easily via a dirt road also known as the Little Wild Horse Road.
For the first mile or so, the trail is fairly wide and then the space between the walls will get tighter and tighter, taking on the typical slot canyon shape. This will become clear starting at the intersection with Bell’s Canyon Trail. If you want you can go on both of these two trails, forming a loop that is about 8 miles long.
If you want to remain in the Little Wind Horse Canyon section, though, it will be about 3.7 miles one way. If you have little time, I suggest that you go only as far as time allows and then turn back.
Robber’s Roost Canyon
What makes this slot canyon special is that it was used as a hideout by infamous outlaws of the Far West, such as Butch Cassidy, who formed the famous Wild Bunch here. The Canyon runs along the Dirty Devil River between Canyonlands and Capitol Reef national parks.
You can reach it quite easily as long as you have an SUV or an off-road vehicle. You can find the coordinates of the main points of interest on this page on the local tourist site.
Nine Mile Canyon
It is called the longest art gallery in the world because the walls along most of the trail are full of ancient petroglyphs. It is an open-air museum that, despite its nickname, it stretches for more than 40 miles. Most of the drawings depict hunting scenes and portraits of animals, although some people want to interpret some of them as representations of extraterrestrials.
About halfway down the canyon you will find a ghost town called Harper, which once served as a resting place for caravans. Today, the remains of the houses are located on private property, so you won’t be able to get much closer. There are also many curiously shaped rock formations such as the Balanced Rock, which looks like it could fall down at any moment.
You can access the road to Nine Mile Canyon from Wellington and drive to Myton (or vice versa if it is more convenient for your itinerary). This will require you to drive about 99 miles, but bear in mind that once you drive past these cities, there will be no more places to stop during the duration of the journey, so make the necessary stops for gas, water or food well in advance.