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Best Slot Canyons In Utah | Ultimate Hiker’s Guide

Slot Canyons are one of Jake’s and my favorite hiking styles. Because you are completely encompassed by nature’s beauty! But they can also be very dangerous. Utah is one of the best states for some absolutely stunning slot canyons. Therefore, this guide will walk you through the best slot canyons in Utah. 

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Safety Of Hiking Through Slot Canyons:

First let’s talk about safety when hiking through a slot canyon. They are the most vulnerable spot for flash floods. If you are wondering what the heck is a flash flood, it is a rush of water from a heavy rainstorm that often flows into a slot canyon or narrow space. Flash floods are very common in Utah because the dry dirt doesn’t absorb the water fast enough. So during heavy rainfall, the water tends to flow right over the dirt and find cracks to flow down, aka: Slot Canyons!

ALWAYS check the weather before hiking into a slot canyon. If there is even a small chance of rain, maybe consider doing the hike a different day. 

The Narrows: 

The Narrows

The Narrows in Zion National Park is one of the most popular slot canyon hikes in the U.S. There are two different ways you can hike The Narrows: an out & back from the bottom-up or a thru hike, top-down with a shuttle. Jake and I had the pleasure of snagging some permits for the thru hike and it was one of the coolest hikes we have ever done. 

The Narrows hike top-down (permits required) is 16 miles with 1017 ft elevation change. You will additionally need to book a shuttle, unless you plan to shuttle two different cars with friends. If you decide to do the day hike for the narrows, you can hike as far up as you would like. A popular destination is to Big Springs (8.9 miles & 695 ft elevation roundtrip). But ultimately the hike is about the journey as it’s absolutely breathtaking the whole route!

It is a challenge, especially depending on the season. For example, spring and early summer, you will experience higher water levels because of snow melt. Therefore, you might have to travel through water that is up to your chest. But during later summer & fall, you most likely won’t have to get much deeper than your waist. 

You CAN hike The Narrows during winter, but it is not very common. It DOES snow in Zion National Park and temperatures can get below freezing. Therefore, if you are a brave soul, and do this slot canyon during winter, you will absolutely need a drysuit. You can rent a drysuit from various rental companies around town. 

It is highly encouraged to rent the proper footwear from a rental shop, no matter the season. They also rent out neoprene socks and walking sticks which can be super helpful. You will be hiking through water for the majority of the route. The water is always cold and the rocks are slippery. 

Check out our post, Hiking The Narrows | Everything You Need To know

Little Wild Horse:

one of the best slot canyons in utah

Little Wild Horse is an absolute gem of a slot canyon in Utah. It’s located in the San Rafael Swell between Green River and Hanksville, Utah. It contains lots of variety, from super narrow slot sections to wide serpentine canyons, and open panoramas behind the San Rafael Swell. 

The hike is a lollipop loop, 7.8 miles with 793 feet elevation change. 

You start off the hike walking through a river wash for about a half mile. As the canyon walls grow in size you will encounter your first obstacle. The obstacles aren’t too strenuous, just a bit of scrambling up to the next flat section. There is a higher route if you are traveling with a dog or small children, but the path is narrow, so make sure you stay close to the rock wall. 

Then, you will come to a fork (which is well marked), where Bell Canyon is to your left, and Little Wild Horse to your right. 

Little Wild Horse is tighter and shadier, and Bell Canyon is more open and sunny. So if you start in the morning, I would do Bell Canyon first so that you get more shade later during the midday heat. Or vice versa if you start in the middle of the day or afternoon. 

For more information on Little Wild Horse, check out this post.

Zebra Canyon: 

zebra slot canyon is one of the best slot canyons in utah

Zebra Canyon offers one of the most unique textures of all the slot canyons in Utah. As you can probably guess, the stripes look like a zebra! It is also one of the narrowest slot canyons on the list.

From the start of the hike, you will be walking along Harris Wash. You will quickly be encompassed by tall red rock walls which give off a similar vibe to the wave. As you meander your way through the wash, the walls open up again to a larger area. There are various “sister trails” that can lead you in the wrong direction.

We suggest using the app AllTrails to follow the GPS at this point. You will then discover a wider entrance to what will lead you to Zebra Slot. The trail is sandy and wide at the start, but quickly becomes narrow.

If there was heavy rainfall, you might have to walk through puddles of water. Our suggestion is to have river water hiking shoes you aren’t afraid to get wet, or barefoot. But there is sometimes sharp debris in the puddles.

The hike can be paired with Tunnels Slot to make it a lollipop loop. The hike is 6.6 miles and 442 ft elevation change. Or you can just hike out and back to where you are comfortable. There are a handful of times you will have to scale between the canyon walls to go higher up the wall because the slot becomes too narrow.

For other fun hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, check out this post.

The Subway: 

the subway is one of the best slot canyons in Utah

The Subway is another absolutely stunning slot canyon in Zion National Park. There are two different routes, both requiring a permit. Bottom-up route is the most popular, mainly because top-down requires some canyoneering. 

Jake and I did the bottom-up route which is an out & back route. The hike is 9 miles with 1305 ft elevation change. 

The more adventurous route is the top-down route which is a point to point hike. Which requires a shuttle and canyoneering experience. It is strongly encouraged to go with a tour, unless you have expert canyoneering knowledge. The hike is 9.5 miles with 2400 ft elevation change. 

With both hikes, you get to experience one of the most unique slot canyons. There are many different pools and stunning subway-like walls. The water truly carved out stunning beauty and the colors are absolutely beautiful. 

One of the most challenging parts of this hike is getting back to the trailhead. If you are traveling bottom-up, then its strongly encouraged to take a picture once you reach the river (so you know where to turn back up to the trailhead). You can easily pass by the trail because its not well marked and the terrain looks very similar around this area. It’s definitely best to follow a GPS map to find the route up to the trailhead.

Kanarra Creek:

a long-exposure view of the water fall & man-made log ladder in Kanarra Creek which is one of the coolest slot canyons in Utah

Another fabulous slot canyon in Utah is Kanarra Creek. It is just North of Zion National Park about an hour drive. This slot canyon is known for the famous man-made log ladder beside a breathtaking waterfall. 

Kanarra Creek is located in Kanarraville, UT. It is a super rad hike meandering through a river to an epic waterfall in between tall canyon walls. The hike is 3.8 miles with 600 ft elevation change. 

You first start off hiking along a dirt road, and then you will come upon your first river crossing. There will be a few river crossings before you fully hike through the creek. You can avoid getting your feet wet at the beginning, but eventually you will have to get them wet to walk through the slot canyon.

Buckskin Gulch:

buckskin gulch: Unique Attractions near Kanab, UT
Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Buckskin Gulch is definitely one of the coolest slot canyons in Utah. There are a few different access points to get to this slot canyon. But it is one of the longest slot canyons in the world extending 15 miles. 

Therefore, this route is one of the most challenging, because once you are in the slot canyon, there isn’t really a way out besides hiking through or turning around. While you can day hike Buckskin Gulch, it is often done as a backpacking trip. 

The backpacking trip ranges from 20 miles to 45 miles depending on the route you choose. Obviously the longer the route, the cooler attractions you will see along the way. But you will need to carpool or find a shuttle to bring you to or from the start or finish. Also, a permit is required for backpacking.

The “shorter” route (20.6 miles) is from Wire Pass to White House Trailhead. And the second “longer” route (45.6 miles) is from Buckskin Gulch Trailhead to Lee’s Ferry. 

Takeaway | Best Slot Canyons In Utah:

Utah is one of the most stunning states for seeing slot canyons. Which is truly one of the main reasons we love this area. Not only are there stunning slot canyons in Utah, there are endless stunning hikes in Utah to choose from. We hope you find this ultimate hikers guide for best slot canyons in Utah to be helpful and you get to endeavor on some of the beautiful hikes. 

Most of these hikes you will be walking through the creek or river. So be sure to pick up some river hiking shoes

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