Hiking Zebra Slot Canyon

How to Hike Zebra Slot Canyon in Grand Staircase-Escalante

Julie United States 25 Comments

Zebra Slot Canyon is a very short slot canyon, named for its striped canyon walls. It’s a gorgeous spot, maybe not quite as pretty as Antelope Canyon in Arizona, but since you can explore this on your own without a guide or tour group, it’s more fun.

Hiking Zebra Slot Canyon can be a little tricky. Finding the entrance to the slot canyon can be difficult unless you have good directions (keep reading!) and navigating the slot canyon can be challenging. I failed, which I am a little embarrassed to admit, but find out what I did wrong so you can have a better experience.

Details About the Hike

Location: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Distance: 5.2 miles (out and back)

Elevation gain: 300 feet (it’s a slightly uphill walk on the return hike)

Length of time: 3 to 4 hours

Difficulty: The trail to the slot canyon is easy; the slot canyon can be challenging

When to go: Anytime of year, although expect very high temperatures in the summer

Special Note: There is usually standing water in the slot canyon. This can be ankle to chest deep, depending on recent rainfall. Expect to get wet!

Getting to the Trailhead

The trailhead is located on Hole-in-the-Rock Road in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

In the town of Escalante, you can visit the BLM Visitor Center to get information on the hike and water levels inside of the canyon. They will give you brief instructions on how to hike to Zebra Slot Canyon, although we have more detailed instructions (with photos) below.

From Escalante, turn onto Hole-in-the-Rock Road and reset your odometer. Drive 7.8 miles down Hole-in-the-Rock Road to the third cattleguard. The car park will be on the right hand side of the road just past the third cattleguard.

Hole in the Rock Road

Hole-in-the-Rock Road is a well-packed dirt and gravel road. You can drive this is a car, although an SUV is preferable and a 4×4 is ideal. We drove a Toyota Forerunner with 4×4. If it has been raining, Hole-in-the-Rock Road can be impassable, even with a 4×4.

The trailhead is directly across the road from the car park.

Hiking to Zebra Slot Canyon

At first, the trail is very easy to follow. It heads east, slowly descending down as you approach Harris Wash. The trail meanders back and forth across sandy drainage and it was completely dry while we were here (we did this hike in May).

Hiking Escalante

The best part of the trail is when it takes you through a wide canyon, with huge striped, red rock formations that look just a tiny bit like The Wave in Arizona. Walk through the swinging, wooden gate (just push on it and it opens up) and continue down to Harris Wash.

The gate on the trail

Grand Staircase

Red rocks on Zebra Slot hike

Once you get to Harris Wash, which is a wide, sandy river basin, staying on the trail gets to be more difficult. We did lose the trail here. Why? Other people have mistakenly stumbled off of the real trail, making numerous false trails that wind along the rocky walls. We followed in their footsteps (as did other people we talked to the same day), spending lots of extra time and walking to find the mouth of Zebra Slot Canyon. We want to keep you from doing the same thing.

In the photo below, note where Zebra Canyon and Harris Wash are located.

Harris Wash labelled

The hiking trail approaches Harris Wash and then turns left to follow along the west bank of the Wash (we made the mistake of immediately crossing the Wash and then following the false trails on the other side of the Wash. Don’t do this!). Follow the trail along the left side of the Wash for as long as possible.

There will come a point where you will have to walk in Harris Wash, but you do not need to cross to other side. Walk in the Wash (for roughly 150 meters) until you see the trail on the west bank again. Follow the trail to the mouth of Zebra Slot Canyon. The trail can be seen on the satellite view on Google Maps.

Harris Wash

This is what the mouth of Zebra Slot Canyon looks like.

Entrance to Zebra Slot Canyon

Inside Zebra Slot Canyon

Now that you are here, only about 100 meters of hiking remains, as you slide through the slot canyon.

Almost immediately, we encountered our first pool of standing water. Since this was our first day of five days of hiking, we wanted to keep our feet dry. Tim and I removed our shoes and left them at the start of the slot canyon. This was our big mistake. Things would have been much easier for us if we carried our shoes with us.

First pool of water

It may be hot outside, but that water is cold!! And other people have reported waist to chest deep water in some sections, with it being so cold that they had to turn around. In our experience, the water was only shin deep so this was not too bad for us.

The canyon gets very narrow very quickly, only 10 inches wide in some sections. Zebra Slot Canyon is narrower than Spooky Gulch, another slot canyon famous for its extremely narrow, claustrophobic canyon walls. To squeeze through, both of us had to hold our backpacks over our heads. You might want to consider leaving your packs at the start of the slot canyon. This is another thing we wish we had done!

Tight squeeze

Squeezing through Zebra Slot

There is a very short section of scrambling through these walls that we thought was challenging. There was one boulder wedged in the canyon walls that we had to climb over. On the other side, the canyon deepened and narrowed to a point. Bare feet made this section unnecessarily difficult. Our sandy feet kept sliding on the walls as we tried to scoot over the boulder and down into the deeper section. In my head, I kept imagining that I’d slip off the boulder, getting wedged in the canyon like the guy in 127 hours. Not willing to take the chance on getting stuck or injured, I bailed out here. Tim, the braver of the two of us, kept going.

Just past this very narrow section is where he got to see the stunning Zebra Slot Canyon walls. I am glad one of us got to see it (and snap these photos!!).

Zebra Walls

Zebra Slot

Zebra Slot Canyon

You can continue past the Zebra Slot Canyon and climb up the dry fall to where the canyon opens up again. Tim met up with other hikers who just did this and they told him it was not worth the effort. Tim turned around here and then we made our way out of the slot canyon.

Once you are finished at Zebra Slot Canyon, you have the option to add on Tunnel Slot, a less spectacular slot canyon but it may be worth it if you feel like exploring the area more. Tunnel Slot is located down Harris Wash about 20 minutes away from Zebra. If you have plans to do this, get information at the BLM Visitor Center in Escalante before you get here. We chose to skip Tunnel Slot and continue down Hole-in-the-Rock Road to Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Gulches.

To get back to your car, return the same way.

Desert Flowers

What We Would Have Done Differently

#1 Left our backpacks at the start of the canyon. Backpacks only get in the way and makes squeezing between these walls even more difficult.

#1 Carried our shoes with us. This was our biggest mistake!! Carry your shoes through the pools of water (there may be more than one…we crossed through two pools of water) and then put them back on for the dry sections. If I had brought my shoes along, I would have been fine getting through the entire canyon.

What to Bring With You

Lots of water. BLM recommends 1 gallon of water per person, any season of the year.

Sunscreen. There are no areas of shade on the trail. Even inside the slot canyon you can be exposed to the sun.

Hiking shoes. Wear hiking shoes or a pair of sturdy walking shoes. The trail is flat and sandy, but having shoes with good soles will help you climb through Zebra Slot Canyon.

What to do Next

Hike Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Gulches, also located on Hole-in-the-Rock Road.

Visit Devils Garden, just 15 minutes away from Zebra Slot Canyon.

Post updated June 2018.


Have you hiked Zebra Slot Canyon? Do you have any advice for our readers? Comment below!

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Comments 25

  1. Hello! Thank you so much for this detailed description (especially finding the trail!). What time of day did you do this hike in order to get the gorgeous color on the slot canyon walls? I have been trying to find a best time of day to do this hike but can’t find any information! Thank you so much.

    Lian

    PS.-We are also using your advice for the West Rim Trail in Zion and doing the day hike starting from the Grotto!

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      Author

      Hello Lian. We did the Zebra Slot hike midday (I think we started between noon and 1 pm) at the beginning of May. When are you planning your trip? If it is in the next month, check the Zion park website for updates because part of the West Rim Trail is closed – a portion of Refrigerator Canyon was washed away in storms earlier this summer. Hopefully, this won’t impact your plans. Happy Hiking! Cheers, Julie

      1. Thank you Julie! We were actually on the National Parks website the other night and the portion of the West Rim Trail we want to do just re-opened. Now we are just crossing our fingers for good weather! Thank you for your response re: Zebra Slot!

        Lian

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  2. Just a suggestion based on something my nephew taught me this summer on a hike in Zion … he had hiked several trails like this and encouraged me to wear neoprene socks and Chacos, rather than shoes. The advantages were enormous: no stopping to empty the sand out and slogging through water was super easy because the gear dried out basically immediately. I’m adding this hike to my already extensive list, thanks for your advice!!

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  3. Just did Zebra last weekend. Super fun hike! It had rained the night before, so the water was quite deep and we had to swim through most of the canyon, which was super fun, but make sure that you are a good swimmer and can swim using only half your body because the canyon gets narrow. I would not recommend bringing shoes if the water gets that deep.

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