Julie United States 44 Comments

The hike along the Willis Creek Slot Canyon is so much fun! And to think that we almost skipped this hike.

After a long day of hiking and exploring both Bryce Canyon National Park and Kodachrome Basin State Park, we wondered if we should tack on Willis Creek to the end of our day. Would it be worth it?

The answer is yes. Willis Creek was a blast to hike. Hiking within the narrow canyon, hopping and skipping over the creek, and watching as the canyon walls steadily grew higher and higher over us as we headed downstream was such a great experience.

Willis Creek is fun to explore. It’s easy, it’s great for all ability levels and ages, and with the creek and high canyon walls, you can stay cool (almost) even during the hotter summer months.

Tim Rivenbark

Hiking Stats

  • Distance: 3+ miles (out and back)
  • Elevation Gain: Minimal
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Length of Time: 1.5 – 3 hours
  • When to go:  You can hike Willis Creek all year. The best time for this hike are during the spring and fall, when temperatures are mild. Expect very high temperatures midday during the summer. In the winter, it will be cold but crowds will be at their lowest.

Getting to the Willis Creek Trailhead

Willis Creek is located within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The closest town is Cannonville. From Cannonville, head south on Kodachrome Road, which becomes Cottonwood Canyon Road. Before arriving at Kodachrome Basin State Park (and before crossing over the Paria River), turn right on BLM 500, also named Skutumpah Road.

Getting to Willis Creek

Skutumpah Road is a well groomed dirt road that takes you to the trailhead. Cars should be able to drive on this road, although a SUV or 4×4 is ideal. During wet, rainy weather, this road may be impassable, even if you have a 4×4.

Follow Skutumpah Road for 5.8 miles (about 20 minutes of driving) to a car park on the right hand side of the road.

Important Update: In recent months, we have heard numerous reports about the road conditions on Skutumpah Road. Make sure you read the comments below to get updated reports on the road conditions. And if you hike Willis Creek, feel free to write back in with your experience on the road and the trails, to help other hikers. Thanks!

The GPS coordinates for the trailhead are 37.483062, -112.096760.

From the car park, cross the road to get to the trailhead.

Hiking Willis Creek Slot Canyon

After following the trail for about 200 meters through brush and small trees, the trail dips down to Willis Creek. For the rest of the hike, you will be walking alongside or in Willis Creek.

Heading down Willis Creek

At first, the canyon walls are not very high, and the canyon is relatively wide. But this changes the further you hike.

It does not take long for the canyon to get narrow. This is when it gets really fun! Tim and I tried our best to keep our feet dry, since we only had one pair of hiking shoes and several days of hiking to go. It kept things fun, hopping and skipping across the creek.

Tim hiking Willis Creek

Jumping across Willis Creek

Willis Creek Slot Canyon

Crossing Willis Creek

Tim Rivenbark

Willis Creek

In some places, the canyon widens, which is nice, but the best parts of the hike are when the walls close in on you and make you feel so tiny. We felt like kids again, out exploring. During our hike, we only saw a handful of other people, making this an even better experience.

Hiking Willis Creek

You have the option to hike all of the way to Sheep Creek. However, the slot canyon ends at 1.4 miles. Beyond this, the canyon widens and even though its scenic, it can get monotonous. If you do not have a GPS with you, once you get to this gigantic rock in the creek, the slot canyon portion of the hike is over. You can keep going or turn around here, the choice is yours.

Turn Around Here

About Our Experience

Willis Creek can be combined with other parks in the area.

We started our day at sunrise at Bryce Canyon. After spending six hours in Bryce, we drove out to Kodachrome Basin State Park where we did two hikes (Shakespeares Arch-Sentinel Trail and Angel’s Palace Trail). Later in the afternoon, around 4 pm, we started the Willis Creek hike. We almost did not do this hike, thinking it would be a bust after amazing Bryce Canyon and hiking in Kodachrome, but Willis Creek surprised us. This hike is pure fun and with very few people here, it was a great experience.

If you are wondering if Willis Creek is worth it, it really is! It’s fun, it’s easy, and it only takes a few hours. If you are traveling with kids, they are going to have a blast! Why not add it to your list if you are in the area?

Driving times to nearby attractions:

  • Bryce Canyon National Park: 24 miles, 50 minutes
  • Kodachrome Basin State Park: 10 miles, 30 minutes
  • Zion National Park: 91 miles, 2 hours
  • Escalante: 43 miles, 1.25 hours

Important Things to Know Before You Go

Flash Floods. Since you are hiking through a slot canyon, flash floods are a danger. Make sure you check the weather forecast before you start the hike. Don’t hike if thunderstorms are in the area.

Shoes. There is a good chance you feet will get wet. You need to wear a sturdy pair of shoes, like hiking shoes, tennis shoes, or sandals designed for hiking (Keen sandals).

Bring lots of water. Bring several liters of water per person, especially during the summer months.

Sunscreen. Even though you are hiking through a canyon, you will still be exposed to the sun for most of the hike. Make sure you are wearing sunscreen.

Where We Stayed

We stayed in Tropic at the Bryce Canyon Inn. This place was wonderful. We had our own cabin with queen sized beds, bathroom, and kitchenette. It was cozy, quiet, and very clean. From here, it was just a 15 minute drive to Bryce Canyon and a 30 minute drive to Willis Creek.

More Information for Your Trip to Utah:

Are you planning a trip to the United States? Read all of our articles about the USA in our United States Travel Guide.

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Willis Creek Slot Canyon Utah


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Comments 44

  1. We decided to drive out to do this hike after reading this post and we are SO glad we did! Beautiful, gorgeous slots and incredible photography opportunities. We had reluctant teens and youngsters and they ended up really liking this. Easy to get to,but the parking area was actually full! We parked on the side of the dirt road right past the parking area like others did. We were worried about crowds since parking lot was full, but honestly, we didn’t come across lots of people at all (no idea where they went?!). We had the place mostly to ourselves. We came from Bryce canyon NP and the weather was 10 degrees warmer! It was great. It would probably be really hot in summer though. There were still ice glaciers at the bottom of the slots in some areas and jumping over running water was no problem. Highly recommend! Thank you for the info!!

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  2. Hi!
    I have been enjoying reading all your adventures and appreciate your detail. I’m planning a family trip to hike slot canyons in southern Utah and was wondering what you use to help navigate. I’m attempting to understand the Avenza app but not having much luck. Do you use a handheld GPS?
    Thanks so much!

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      Yes, we carry a handheld Garmin GPS device. Tim and I also wear Garmin Fenix watches that have GSP. They show most hiking trails and then your route on it, as you walk the trail. You can use the GPS to retrace your steps, if you stumble off of the trail. In slot canyons, the GPS does not work, since the high walls block the satellite signal. But the GPS can still be useful to help you find the slot canyon. For more info on these devices, and the rest of our hiking gear, here is a link to our Hiking Gear Guide. Have fun in Utah! Cheers, Julie

  3. We did this hike today (3/31/21) and had no problem with the dirt road in from Cannonville. There were a fair number of cars in the lot but the canyon was not at all crowded. The stream is still partially ice-covered. We had a great hike and even the surly teenagers thought it was cool!

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  4. We did this hike after Bryce Canyon on 3/25. Your directions to the trailhead & instructions for the hike are spot on & very helpful since we didn’t have cell service once we turned off the main road—thank you!
    Roads are dry & passable. Creek is mostly ice over but sturdy to walk on. Enjoyed this easy, 90 minute hike very much!

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  5. We did this hike today (2/24/21) and had no issues driving BLM500 coming from Bryce/Cannonville. We were in a Kia Sorento, so an SUV but not one with particularly high clearance or 4WD. We called the Kanab BLM office ahead of time and they confirmed the road was passable and dry. Don’t think they’ve had precipitation here in at least a week or two so perhaps we were lucky. I didn’t notice any areas of the road that had enough sand to require high clearance but if the road was wet, I could see where 4WD would be necessary on some of the climbs or low lying areas where mud accumulates. One hiker we encountered on the trail said coming down BLM500 from the south/Kanab was a disaster and had over a foot or two deep of mud in some spots. The BLM office in Kanab also indicated that coming from the north/Cannonville was the way to go. Hike was great! Super icy though. Definitely need traction on your shoes to make it through this time of year.

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      Thank you so much for writing in with this info. It will be very useful to those planning to visit Willis Creek soon. Cheers, Julie

  6. Thanks for writing about the BLM500 conditions! We want to visit Wills Creek slot on the afternoon of 12/25/2020, but the out-and-back condition of BLM500 that day will determine if we make the attempt. Bummer a site like ‘gravelroads.com’ doesn’t include a social aggregate “latest road conditions” feature (similar to ‘gasbuddy.com’). We’ll drive that road as far as practical and hope for the best.

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  7. Drove to the trail head on Sunday November 29th. We made it very easily in our Hyundai Tucson. I did put it in all-wheel due to loose dirt (not very deep) and had to drop down to the lower gears to get my 4-cyl up some of the hills. The hike itself was 1/2 muddy and 1/2 frozen water.

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  8. On Oct 24, 2020 Skutumpah Rd coming from the N to the slot was not passable in our year 2013 2xWD Sprinter van conversion. We had driven the road previously, without problems, about six years ago and again about three years ago. Now, however, there is deep sand covering the steepest climb of the road maybe a mile short of the slot parking area. Near the top of the pitch there are deep and wide grooves in the hard surface that underlies the sand, cutting diagonally across the road. Due to the sand I couldn’t build and maintain enough momentum to get across these grooves, despite about four attempts. Each time I had to back down the slope to try again. Finally bailed. Very disappointed as we love hiking the slot. We take our Sprinter on some really bad roads and I’m confident could have succeeded here if not for the sand.

  9. Went to Willis Creek Canyon today (Oct 13th, 2020). Skutumpah Road was easy to find from Canonville. And after that it got really hard. In a few places there about a foot or more of dirt making it really hard to pass. My Prius couldn’t do it. SO after about 3.7 miles on Skutumpah Road, I parked on the road side and decided to walk the rest. A passer by said there is a marker for the trail to Willis Creek – a few stones stacked up. I missed it and walked further up where the road forked. Decided to give up and on my way back, noticed the stones stacked up (it’s really about a foot high and easy to miss). Trail head is just a foot wide. Trail to the river bed is definitely longer than 200 meters (I felt it was about a mile).

  10. We just did this hike yesterday with our 3 kids ages 8,10 and 13. Be careful if coming from Kanab direction not to follow Google directions as it put us on a rugged mountain road not meant for anything other than purely off-road vehicles. Became impassable after a few miles so had to work our way out. Had we gone the correct way, we would have been just fine. Drive in from other direction has two areas that will currently require 4wd until they get it fixed. Once we got there though it was so worth it. One of the best experiences of our trip which included Zion, Bryce, Cedar Breaks and more. It really was a super rewarding hike. A fun little hike we did nearby was at the Red Canyon visitor center. Highly recommend that as well.

    1. Josh, to be clear, if you are driving from the north (Canonville area) the road to Willis Creek is passable for cars? I don’t have 4wd but would like to visit this area next week. Thanks.

  11. I was SO looking forward to doing this hike! Took our rental Toyota RAV4 (not AWD) out there today for Labor Day. Got about a mile from the trailhead and encountered an uphill climb (maybe 1/10 mile long). The road was dry with 3-4″ of ground up dirt on the road surface, and major potholes. Tried climbing it twice (shifting into low gear), and gave up as the vehicle got stuck with spinning tires and I didn’t want to damage the rental vehicle. If the dirt had been hard packed, it would have been doable. Sign heading in recommends high clearance 4-Wheel drive (wish I’d had AWD!) 🙁

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  12. Thanks for the great post. Our extended family reunion (ages 6 months to almost 60) hiked this trail today and absolutely loved it! Your info was so helpful in convincing us to give it a try. Thank you!

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  13. Hi,
    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog about Utah’s Mighty 5. We’re taking an RV trip there this summer. I thought the Willis Creek canyon would be a great hike for my kids but I’m wondering if our 30′ RV can travel the road to the Willis Creek Trailhead?
    Thank you!

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      No, I don’t think a 30 foot RV would make it down that road. There has been the occasional report from someone who has driven a standard car that they had some difficulty, so I wouldn’t recommend driving this road in and RV. Cheers, Julie

      1. Thank you for the confirmation. Can you recommend another slot canyon of about 3 miles that we could take an RV to get to – on the way from Bryce to Arches via the 12?
        Thank you!

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          Google search Little Wild Horse Canyon. It is located between Bryce and Arches. We have not done it yet, so I don’t know much about the drive or the hike, but it has been recommended to us. It might be an option for you, but you will have to check the hiking distance. Goblin Valley is near LWHC, and it’s not a slot canyon, but it looks very cool (haven’t been there yet either). There is Peek A Boo and Spooky Slot Canyons in Grand Staircase Escalante, but lately our readers have been reporting rough conditions on Hole in the Rock Road, so this might not be an option with an RV, but I wanted to mention them, just so you know what is in the area. I hope you have a nice trip! Cheers, Julie

          1. Thank you for your helpful info! I will definitely look into these options. Your site is a wonderful resource for all levels of Earth Trekkers 🙂

          2. I 2nd the suggestion for Little Wild Horse…one of our favorite, easy non-technical slots…and right next to Goblin Valley. Can do both easily on the same day

    2. Absolutely not! We drove our Nissan Rogue FWD there two days ago. We almost got stuck in an un-groomed, gravel uphill section by a cliff. Besides, the road is narrow. Your option would be a local shuttle to take you there. Good luck and have fun.

  14. Thanks for the detailed review! This was a great midday hike on Labor Day after our day in Bryce Canyon. Plenty of shade from the canyon walls, and beautiful throughout. Also a few birds and butterflies here and there: saw a few spotted towhees and scrub-jays.

  15. Thank you so much for such detailed information!!! I’ve been reading alll your blogs to prepare for our Mighty 5 in late Sept-Oct. We are 67-69 and I want to do a slot canyon but can’t climb a wall or repel down a wall. Looks like we can do Willis.

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      Yes, Willis Creek is wonderful. No technical challenges, no big hill climbs, just a lovely walk through a wide canyon. Enjoy! Cheers, Julie

  16. Hello, Earth Trekkers!
    Just wanted to say “thank you” for your excellent and detailed information! We are planning our first trip to Utah (Zion, Bryce, Page AZ, Kodachrome, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Arches) in May, and your blogs have provided much help and inspiration! So glad I found you : )

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  17. Thanks for your helpful tips! Willis Creek has been on our bucket list for years and we just got to do it for the first time today. A fun little bonus that I didn’t see on any of the sites we looked at is, if you are up for a bit of scrambling, instead of taking the trail across the road from the parking area, walk down the road about 40ft. to where Willis Creek crosses the road itself and climb down into the fun little windy slot that forms on the side of the road. We discovered it on the return trip. Fun!

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  18. We did this hike in 2016 with our teenage boys, and loved it! It doesn’t look like much from the parking lot, but gets better and better the further you hike in.

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