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Utah is known for its majestic naturescapes, fantastic hikes, and jaw dropping viewpoints. From the red rock natural arches in Arches National Park to the towering cliffs and canyons in Zion, the state has some of the most unique and distinct topography in the United States. Perhaps that topography is most distinct when it comes to Utah’s famous slot canyons. It is believed that Utah has the largest concentration of slot canyons in the world. In fact, there are more than one thousand slot canyons in Southern Utah alone! With so many to choose from, we have narrowed it down to the top 10 best slot canyons in Utah. Whether you are an experienced hiker or looking for a family-friendly slot canyon that you can hike with small kids, this list of Utah slot canyons offers something for everyone.
What is a slot canyon?
Slot canyons are fun, geological features that will make you feel like a hamster in a maze. These narrow gorges in sedimentary rock are carved from water, wind, and time. Named for their narrow, deep canyons that can become so tight that you have to squeeze yourself through, slot canyons in Utah can range from easily accessible strolls not far off the beaten path to highly technical hikes that require canyoneering and special permits.
10 best slot canyons in Utah
If you are planning a trip to Utah or a Southwest USA road trip here are the 10 best slot canyons in Utah to add to your itinerary.
- Location: Zion National Park
- Distance: 16 miles (or as long as you want)
- Best for: anyone up for an adventure
The Narrows has become one of the most famous hikes in the world, and with good reason. This popular hike in Zion National Parks takes you through the chilly waters of the North Fork of the Virgin River and through soaring canyons in the narrowest portion of Zion National Park.
Although the Narrows is rated as one of the more challenging hikes in Zion, it is suitable for most hikers, including those hiking in Zion with kids. Most people hike the Narrows from the “bottom up”, which means they start their hike walking upstream. In fact, permits are required if you want to hike from the “top down”. The hike is considered strenuous because much – and at times – all of it requires walking through water. For this reason, trekking poles are strongly recommended.
Although you can hike as far as you would like before turning around, most people hike to a section of the hike known as Wall Street, which is found approximately 3 miles into the hike. Wall Street is considered the narrowest and most picturesque portion of the hike. You will know you are there when you reach a giant boulder in the middle of the river. If you want to hike all the way to Wall Street prepare yourself for a 6 miles round trip. Give yourself a minimum of 3 hours. This hike takes more time than most because each step takes effort to maintain your footing.
One of the great things about hiking the Narrows is that you can turn around any time you want. So, if hiking with young children, don’t shy away thinking the hike is too challenging. You can always attempt it and turn around when the water becomes too deep, or the hike becomes too exhausting for little ones. Hiking the Narrows with kids can actually be a lot of fun. What kid doesn’t want to play in water?!
Little Wild Horse Canyon
- Location: Goblin Valley State Park
- Distance: 5-8 miles
- Best for: families / beginner hikers
Trekking through Utah’s slot canyons is a fun adventure for hiking enthusiasts. Little Wild Horse Canyon, located near Goblin Valley State Park, is one slot canyon hike you’ll definitely want to fit into your Utah itinerary.
The most popular hike in the San Rafael Swell, this narrow slot canyon has striking exposed canyon walls with passageways so close you have to turn sideways to fit through. Little Wild Horse is great for families, as kids enjoy scrambling up and over big boulders and hiding in little nooks and crannies at every turn.
The trail is an easy 5-mile out and back hike perfect for beginners. Those who prefer a longer route, however, can continue the hike instead of turning back. Just follow the 4×4 road and loop around into Bell Canyon and back. This moderately strenuous hike is an 8-mile round trip loop. Either route you take, the colorful cliffs and scenic striped canyon walls provide a stunning trek.
To access the trailhead take Highway 24 towards Hanksville, turning west onto Temple Mountain Road and south on Goblin Valley Road. Just before you reach Goblin Valley State Park, turn west on Wild Horse Road and the trailhead is 5 miles ahead on the right.
Hiked by Deanne from Scenic and Savvy
Peekaboo and Spooky Slot Canyons
- Location: Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
- Distance: 6.1 mile loop
- Best for: moderate hikers (some scrambling may be required)
Located 26 miles from Highway 12 via the rugged Hole-in-the-Rock Road lies an incredible two-for-one slot canyon experience, Peekaboo and Spooky.
The 6.1-mile loop trail is generally listed as difficult due to the descent/ascent into and out of Dry Fork Canyon. Navigating well-marked switchbacks is required.
It’s most common to start with Peekaboo as it’s less dark and narrow of the two slot canyons, but that doesn’t mean it comes without its challenges.
To enter, one must first conquer a 15-foot wall that appears more intimidating than it is. Hand and foot guides are carved into the stone, making it slightly easier to scale.
From here, Peekaboo lives up to its name with a winding path through the rock formations before reaching higher ground.
The trail then continues to the south, directly to Spooky’s canyon. This is commonly thought to be one of the most narrow and ultimately “spookiest” slot canyons in the entirety of Utah.
It’s so narrow in parts that the sand seemingly disappears and the only way to continue is by finding a way to shuffle along the walls. (Remember: bulky gear makes it more difficult to maneuver tight areas).
It’s best to plan for a total of 3-4 hours. With that being said, this is a very popular trail so the earlier arrival, the better.
Visitors should check the forecast for flash floods, wear shoes with reliable tread, and pack plenty of water and sunscreen as much of the trail is exposed.
Hiked by Chris Toone from Toone’s Travels
- Location: Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
- Distance: 5.3 mile round trip
- Best for: Beginner hikers to moderate hikers
If you have seen photos of the stunning Antelope Canyon in Arizona, you know that it has become very popular with visitors from across the globe coming there. However, while it might be one of the most famous slot canyons in the Southwest, it’s not the only one. The region boasts tons of less-visited hidden slot canyons where only a few visitors venture. One of them is the Zebra Slot Canyon located within Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
This 5.3-mile is considered easy and is suitable for beginner hikers and families. To get to the canyon, visitors need to take Hole in the Rock Road near Escalante, the gateway town to the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. When you drive 8 miles down the road, you will notice a trailhead toward the canyon. All you have to do is cross the road and get on a trail that will take between 45-50 minutes to the entrance of the Zebra Slot Canyon. As you enter the canyon, it’s going to become more narrow. If you decide to hike this trail, don’t forget to bring your camera, some water and snacks, as there are no facilities or stores in the area.
The best time to hike Zebra Slot Canyon is spring and mid-to-early fall. Summers bring hot temperatures and since most of the hike is exposed it might not be very easy if you are not used to the dry desert heat.
Hiked by Daria from The Discovery Nut
- Location: Bryce Canyon National Park (Queens Garden / Navajo Loop)
- Distance: 3.2 mile loop
- Best for: Moderate hikers
Located close to one of the most popular trailheads in the beautiful Bryce Canyon National Park, Wall Street is one of the most accessible slot canyons in Utah. If its beauty isn’t enough of a reason for you, the ease of visiting alone makes it worth a visit!
Wall Street Slot Canyon–so named because of its towering walls that feel like nature’s version of New York’s skyscrapers–is a short-but-sweet slot canyon. By the time you finish descending into it, you’re almost out.
That doesn’t take away from the fun of visiting, though. Getting into Wall Street is half the fun of completing the hike.
You can access Wall Street in one of two ways: by starting your hike at the Navajo Loop trailhead at Sunset Point, or from the Queen’s Garden trailhead at Sunrise Point.
The first is the better route, as you’ll reach Wall Street quickly and hike down into it instead of climbing up out of it, which makes for more dramatic views of the canyon.
Wall Street does frequently close during the winter due to snow and ice. However, if you visit when it’s open, it’s absolutely one of the best things to see in Bryce Canyon National Park!
Hiked by Kate from Our Escape Clause
Subway Canyon (Bottom Up)
- Location: Zion National Park
- Distance: 9 miles round trip
- Best for: experienced hikers
The Subway, a slot canyon in Zion National Park, is a challenging non-technical canyoneering trek when hiked from the bottom up. The hike is strenuous as it involves many river crossings and some route finding. The 9-mile round trip hike ascends the Left Fork of North Creek to a gorgeous slot canyon resembling a colorful subway tunnel.
The hike is for experienced adventurers due to boulder scrambling and river crossings. A difficult-to-get permit is required. Enter the advance lottery two months from your hiking date or hope to score a permit in the last minute lottery 7-2 days beforehand.
The Left Fork Trailhead is 8.2 miles up the Kolob Terrace Road from the town of Virgin. The trail initially descends through red rock down to the river. From here, the hike up the canyon involves crossing back and forth across the river and climbing over boulder fields. The trail is not marked so follow the informal paths up the canyon.
Near the end of the hike, gorgeous, terraced waterfalls come into view. Continue up these cascades and wade through river slickrock to arrive at the Subway. The multicolored chrome tunnel is a stunning reward for the long hike. Admire the potholes and the beautiful colors of the Subway before turning back for the return hike.
Expect to take 6-10 hours for the hike. Postpone the hike if flash floods due to thunderstorms are forecast. Depending on the season, wet or dry suits and canyoneering boots are recommended.
Hiked by Karen Warren at Outdoor Adventure Sampler
- Location: Moab
- Distance: 3.7 – 6.6 miles
- Best for: experienced, technical hikers
Granary Canyon is arguably the best slot canyon for hiking and canyoneering around Moab. It is a 6-mile hike that includes 6 technical rappels as hikers descend 2,000 feet down the levels of the canyon. It’s necessary to do the hike with an outfitter in Moab or have technical canyoneering experience and arrange for drop off and pickup, as it is one-way.
After hikers/ canyoners get dropped off, there is a hike of a couple of miles over sliprock. There is a short section that involves clambering over steep rocks with a sheer drop off on one side. It is not good for those with a fear of heights! Then hikers drop down a 75-foot rappel into Granary Canyon. There are short walks between the next four drops, which include The Snail (a 65-foot free-hanging drop over an overhang), The Onion and The Tea Garden. There are also sections that require climbing around the steep edges of deep potholes.
The drops are broken up with flat sections hiked between the narrow walls. The canyon then opens up for a longer walk until the end – a 400-foot cliff edge with stunning views of the Colorado River below. The final drop is 200 feet down the sheer top half of this cliff to a small ancient native American granary that gives the canyon its name. The final part of the cliff involves a hike down a steep path that zigzags down until hikers get to flat ground where a car is waiting to pick them up for the ride back to Moab.
It is not necessary to have rappelling experience if you go with a guide, as they will teach you everything you need to know. However, it is definitely challenging for those with a fear of heights. It is a difficult hike, with long sections of walking in the heat in between rappelling and scrambling. It is also one of the most fun things you will ever do!
Hiked by James Ian from Parks Collecting
- Location: Canyonlands National Park
- Distance: 3.9 miles
- Best for: moderate hikers
Joint Trail is an absolutely amazing 3.9-mile, out and back hike in the Needles Section of Canyonlands National Park. It’s one of the coolest hikes to do in Canyonlands National Park if you’re up for spending a few hours gawking at insane rock formations and extremely scenic views before you get to travel along the bottom of a slot canyon. Once you reach the end of the trail, you’ll be treated to the most exclusive view of Chesler Park, which is just another highlight of hiking this trail.
The trail is part of the longer Chesler Park Loop which is 11 miles long. It’s listed as only accessible via a 4×4 road that requires a permit to drive in and a high clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle. However, you can also access it without a permit if you hike from the Elephant Hill trailhead. (Note: this will add an extra 5.2 miles of easy to moderate hiking).
The hike is accessible year-round and it’s moderately difficult. It’s doable for both beginners with a decent fitness level as well as experts who really want to get a taste of the insanely varied zones this part of Utah has to offer without going into a longer backpacking route. If you’re traveling with kids, the trail is doable as long as you get the permit needed to drive in and start at the trailhead rather than backpacking all the way from Elephant Hill.
Hiked by Meg Atteberry from Fox in the Forest
Willis Creek Slot Canyon
- Location: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
- Distance: 4.9 miles
- Best for: families / beginner hikers
Willis Creek Slot Canyon is a great first slot canyon in Utah to hike. The trail is easy without much variation in degree. Although the hike is 4.9 miles, you do not have to hike the entire length. In fact, one mile in, one mile out is plenty for those with limited hiking abilities or for young kids.
Located near Cannonville, Utah, the bumpy dirt road leading to the trailhead can be precarious if not in a high clearance or 4-wheel drive vehicle. The road can become impassable if it rains even slightly, so be sure to check the weather before making the journey.
Willis Creek trail is one of the best slot canyons in Utah for families. It takes you through a narrow canyon with a small creek running through. Portions of the creek bed may be dry, depending on the day or season. Where you do find water, it is typically only a couple of inches deep. Hikers of all ages will have fun hopping over the small creek time and time again. As you make your way through the canyon, it narrows then widens, takes you by a small waterfall, and even opens up into an open creek bed.
From the trailhead and small parking lot, it doesn’t take long before you arrive at the entrance to the slot canyon. This well-marked trail is easy to follow, requires minimal effort, and offers remote beauty without large crowds.
Buckskin Gulch (Wire Pass)
- Location: Paria Canyon / Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness (Utah/Arizona border)
- Distance: 13 miles
- Best for: multi-day hikers
Buckskin Gulch is believed to be the longest and deepest slot canyon in the world. Because of its notoriety, this slot canyon in Utah has attracted quite a bit of foot traffic over the last few years. Although hiking the entire slot canyon requires a permit and a multi-day hiking commitment, the Wire Pass trailhead is a good day-hike alternative.
Wire Pass shares a trailhead with The Wave, one of the most popular hikes in the southwest USA which requires a lottery to hike. For a small fee (roughly $7 per person), you can access the Wire Pass Trailhead which takes you to a narrow tributary of Buckskin Gulch. Wire Pass, like many of the other slot canyon hikes in Utah, is an out-and-back hike. It is roughly 3.5 – 4 miles long.
While Wire Pass can be hiked with kids or less experienced hikers, Buckskin Gulch is a more strenuous hike. It should be attempted only by those with hiking experience. Although no rappelling or canyoneering experience is required to hike Buckskin Gulch, it is considered a strenuous hike due to the length and need to carry camping equipment with you.
Exploring Utah in winter? Check out the man-made slot canyons at Ice Castles in Midway, Utah!
Tips for hiking the best slot canyons in Utah
If you plan to hike one of these incredible slot canyons in Utah, there are a few things to keep in mind to make the experience a better one overall.
Pay attention to the weather
Slot canyons can be dangerous – even deadly – if it rains. Because of their narrow nature, slot canyons are prone to flash floods. They can go from completely dry to feet of water in moments if it starts to rain. Be sure to check the weather before you start your hike. If possible, plan your hike early in the day to avoid any afternoon showers.
You’ll want to dress a bit warmer if hiking one of Utah’s slot canyons, even if you are hiking in the heat of summer. Slot canyons don’t get a lot of sun, so the shade often keeps the canyons about 15-20 degrees (Fahrenheit) cooler.
High clearance vehicle may be required
As with many hikes, accessing the trailhead is often part of the adventure. Slot canyons in Utah are no different. Some of these hikes are simply not accessible with a regular vehicle. You will need a high clearance SUV or truck, or an ATV to access the trailhead. If that isn’t an option, there are tour companies that take you to some of the best slot canyons in Utah.
Invest in a National Park Pass
Many of these slot canyons are located inside national parks, which require admission to enter. If planning to visit one or more of Utah’s national parks, it is a good idea to purchase a national parks pass in advance. This not only makes getting in and out of the parks easier, it will also save you money!
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Have a question or recommendation for one the best slot canyons in Utah? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts or suggestions in the comments below.