Hiking Zebra Slot Canyon

How to Hike Zebra Slot Canyon in Grand Staircase-Escalante

Julie United States 45 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 is 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  walked back to the entrance of the slot canyon and removed our shoes. There were other people who had just hiked zebra slot canyon. They were sitting here, putting their shoes back on, so going shoeless seemed like a good idea. However, this was our big mistake. Things would have been much easier (and safer) 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.

Important: This is the most challenging section of the slot canyon. For several feet of the slot canyon, you may have to wedge yourself against the walls of the canyon and slide yourself sideways through the canyon. In this short section, the bottom of the canyon narrows to a point with nowhere to put your feet. I have heard reports from other hikers that they turned around at this point without getting to see the zebra striped walls of the canyon. 

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.

Tour one or more of Utah’s national parks. Learn more in our Utah’s Mighty 5 Travel Guide and Road Trip Itinerary.


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

Planning a trip to Utah? Read all of our articles in our Utah Destination Guide.

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Zebra Slot Canyon Hike

Comments 45

  1. Thanks for having such detailed and awesome information.

    We’re heading there at the end of October.

    If we choose to pass on the slot canyon itself, is it still worth the visit to Zebra Slot Canyon? Is the rest of the area spectacular or is this particular area just about the slot canyon? Worried about some claustrophobia.

    We’re traveling in an RV so we’d need to either rent a car or join a tour to get to this area.

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      Author

      In my opinion, I don’t think it’s worth doing this hike if you don’t have plans to hike/attempt the actual slot. The hike to get to the slot canyon is nice, as you can see from the photos, but really, it’s all about getting to the slot canyon. Hole-in-the-Rock road is a long, flat, rather unexciting road. But you could also visit Devils Garden or consider Spooky and Peek-A-Boo slot canyons. If you have claustrophobia, Spooky slot might be challenging but you could do Peek-A-Boo. I guess it really depends on how claustrophobic you are. If you are willing to give the canyons a try, I think a day along Hole-in-the-Rock Road would be worth it. However, if you think you’d skip the slots, then maybe Willis Creek would be better (you would still need to rent a car…a small SUV would be good). Cheers, Julie

  2. Hello! Love your website! I used a lot of your tips to hike Yosemite this past May. I live in Arizona and love slot canyons! I have done both the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons. They were pretty easy. Zebra Canyon seems to have more technical difficulties. I am planning a trip through Northern AZ, Utah, and back down to New Mexico in the early Fall. I want to add this canyon to my itinerary. I have a couple of questions though. First, how do people pass in the canyon if it is that narrow? Second, the boulder you have to climb is it passable for a non-climber?

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      Author

      Tim was tall enough (6’3″) that he could relatively easily climb over the boulder and walk with his feet along the very narrow section of canyon floor. If I remember correctly, the boulder was 3 to 4 feet high. I stopped here because I was too worried that I’d slip down into the crevice once climbing down off of the boulder. It’s not deep, nothing that you would get stuck in, but you could injure your leg if you slide weird. It’s very hard to describe and I should have taken a photo of it while I was there. A group of guys went through with Tim and they all had no problems. Some people “wedge” themselves against the slot canyon walls, holding themselves up with their feet on one side and their back and hands on the other, and slowly slide sideways. So yes, it can be technical, and just yesterday someone wrote in stating that a bunch of other hikers also could not get through this section and had to turn around. If you are in the area, it might be worth the try. It’s still a beautiful hike but I know that it would be a disappoint to now get to see the zebra slot canyon walls. Cheers, Julie

  3. I’m not sure if there is less sand in the base of the canyon, but when you get to the first narrow section you must now wedge yourself sideways against the canyon walls, move up about ten feet and across the narrow sections. Others I encountered all passed on the risky experience. Reading your excellent article may lead many people to be disappointed at how really challenging (or impossible) it is to get into the canyon. There are also many biting flies in the wash as you approach the Zebra Slot or Tunnel Slot.

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      Author

      Yes, maybe the conditions have changed since our visit. Thanks for the info and I will add your update to our article. Cheers, Julie

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