Utah Slot Canyons Made This Trip Memorable!

by Aug 3, 20210 comments

This story was written and photographed by Karin. Besides being a great travel companion, Franz takes some great photos and contributed some images to help document the adventure!

We’ve been antsy to get out and explore again. So we rented another Revel camper van and headed to Utah for nine days. While the whole trip was pretty cool (what’s not to like in Bryce and Zion?) our favorite part of this trip were the slot canyons we visited. They were beautiful, challenging and fun. 

Exploring Some of Utah’s Slot Canyons 

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is HUGE (nearly one million acres in size)! The geology is amazing to see and includes natural bridges, arches and slot canyons. The colors and textures of this landscape are so varied and beautiful — a rainbow of tints from beige, yellow and orange to red!

We explored near Escalante on Hole-in-the-Rock Road. This is an unpaved washboard road that goes 62 miles from Escalante to the western shore of Lake Powell. We did not go to the end, but it is an interesting historic road following the Hole-in-the-Rock Expedition of 1879 (a Mormon migration to establish a stronger foothold in the area). Hard to image crossing this country in a covered wagon — it is rough and rocky!

Our first stop in town was to the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center. We were disappointed that they were closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but they had a lot of handouts, maps, itinerary suggestions and clean bathrooms! We had done some preliminary research and had an idea of what we wanted to do. The handouts had a few more suggestions along with maps that better helped us tweak our plans.

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Dispersed camping is plentiful in this area and the campsites were nicely separated by some low growing juniper trees. This is managed by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) so you can camp in any previously established campsite. Usually that means where you see a clearing with a fire ring.

The drive to the hike is about 26 miles on a washboard road. The scenery is wonderful but the drive is slow because of the bone-shaking washboard.

Peekaboo and Spooky — Fun Slot Canyons

Together, Peekaboo and Spooky Slot Canyons are on a 6.1 mile loop. Elevation gain is only 662 feet. We entered the canyon from the lower Dry Fork. There is almost no shade on this hike so I wouldn’t recommend doing this in the summer months. It is super dry and quite warm so we plan to bring water, but leave our larger packs in the car for a smaller profile. We hear that some of the passages are quite tight!

We checked the weather forecast so we know that there is no rain or flash flood danger this week. It would be really dangerous to be in these canyons if it was raining!

There are two entrances to this area. We stop at the first one because we see bathrooms. Turns out the second entrance has bathrooms as well. Plenty of parking at both locations too, since this is a popular trail.

It is warm and there is a breeze. We pack light with plenty of water and some snacks. It is a couple miles hike to the slots, over slick rock and some sand. The trail is well marked with cairns (stacked rocks to mark the trail) and signs. The slot canyons are one way so you don’t have to worry about other people coming out as you go in. And you don’t have to hike both if you don’t want to (as if we would only do one).

As you can see the slots are pretty narrow. We explore Peek a boo first. It is challenging to just get into the slot. There is a high wall at the entrance with some small foot and hand holds. We manage to climb up and are rewarded with a beautiful sight of the smooth twisted turning walls of the slot. It’s close to midday so the sun is shining and bouncing off the walls. It is just so amazingly beautiful. The smooth curves go back as far as we can see.

We took a snack break between the slots in the shade of an old juniper tree. The walk between the two slots is deep sand and with the sun high overhead, the journey feels longer than it is. But soon we are rewarded for our efforts and we arrive at Spooky Slot.

We came across one woman who was turning around. She didn’t want to go under the rock (uh oh)! We come to the rock fall and see why. It looks like quite the drop to the bottom. You don’t have to crawl, but you do have to drop down into a space that you can’t quite see well. Another group comes up behind us and figures out where the handholds are to get a bit lower and drop down. We help each other down and you can walk upright under the rockfall. We help each other through a few more tight places. Bonus — we took photos of each other so that everyone in each group was in their own pictures!

There were a surprising number of lizards in the slot. I didn’t notice any bugs while we were there so I wonder what they do for food!

Near the end of the slot we come to the famous 10 inch gap. It was a tight squeeze, but doable. What I liked best about this hike is that it was just challenging enough that you had to stretch a bit and figure a few things out — but it wasn’t too hard.

Devil’s Garden is Full of Arches and Natural Bridges

About halfway back towards last nights campsite, we visited Devil’s Garden. This area has some of the classic arches and natural bridges that Utah is know for. It is a great stop and even has some picnic tables.

We liked the thicker vegetation in this area and had noticed some campsites on the way to the slots. We find one with a great view. The winds were pretty intense so we couldn’t grill, but the van has a great induction stovetop so we use that to make dinner.

Zebra Canyon is Beautiful

Franz found another slot for us to explore called Zebra canyon. The hike out and back to this slot is 5.2 miles. Elevation gain is only 377 feet. This slot is super popular and is an in and out hike. We are very close so we decide to get up early to be the first in and out of this one. There was a nice breeze so it was a cool walk. It was fun to be putting down the first footprints of the day!

We read about how hard it was to follow the trail, but we found it well marked with cairns and easy to track (maybe someone went in and cleaned up any false trails). There is a ton of evidence of night life along the trail. It was so windy most of the night that there are mostly new fresh tracks.

We come across the craziest gate/fence that we’ve ever seen. We are guessing it is to keep the cows out of the canyon, but we didn’t know for sure.

The entrance is quite large to this slot, but quickly narrows down. The walls are striped and quite narrow in places. It is easier to shimmy up the walls and brace to move sideways than try to step in some places.

The slot itself is fairly short (unless you have advanced skills) but we thought it was worth the hike. Zebra Canyon is a great walk and the slot has a totally different character than the others. The striped walls are stunning. It it probably even better mid-day with light bouncing off the walls to highlight the color, but it would be hotter and full of people then. A few people showed up as we were turning around. But it was easy to see when you needed to wait and when you could go.

Another Successful Adventure!

Once again we have enjoyed our adventures with an RV! It seemed too soon to be planning a vacation away with some places open, and some not. The RV was a great way to be self contained and flexible.

This time we rented from a private owner. It saved us some money and we had a great experience. We had no major issues and the questions we did have were answered pretty quickly.

Make your own footprints…

If you’re a sidelined world traveler look for some adventures closer to home.

We’ve been enjoying returning to the Utah and Arizona areas to revisit favorite places and find new ones. They are a days travel to get there so even a long weekend is doable.

You can tailor a trip to be more social with campgrounds or off the beaten path with disbursed camping. Whatever works best for you!

Enjoy the journey!

Karin H Wilson

Karin H Wilson

Artist | Designer | Photographer | Traveler | Storyteller

I'm Karin and I just love to share a good story — preferably with snacks! I’m particularly interested in capturing the world’s beauty and wonder in photographs.

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