Julie United States 41 Comments

The American Southwest is a playground for hikers, photographers, and adventurers. Fun to explore and extremely photogenic, slot canyons provide a unique hiking experience.

We have assembled a short list of some of the best slot canyons in Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. This is not an all-inclusive list, because there are tons of slot canyons in this area, but listed below are some of the most popular and the most scenic slot canyons to explore.From short, easy, scenic walks to all day technical hikes, take your pick of the slot canyons you want to explore.

What is a Slot Canyon?

A slot canyon is a narrow canyon that is formed from water rushing through rock. What starts off as a tiny crack steadily grows larger from repeat flash floods and erosion over millions of years. The end result is a narrow canyon with very high walls.

Slot canyons can be several meters wide or just one foot wide. The narrower canyons usually feature twists and turns and beautifully scalloped walls. Some canyons feature sections requiring canyoneering or rock scrambling experience while others have you hiking through a creek or standing water.

And because slot canyons are formed from rushing water, the danger of flash floods still exists today. Hikers have died because they were caught by a flash flood while in some of these canyons. Before hiking through any of these slot canyons, it is important to check the weather. If there is any rain in the area, do not enter the slot canyon. Don’t become a statistic!

10 Amazing Slot Canyons to Explore

1. Antelope Canyon

Arguably the most beautiful slot canyon on this list, this is also the most popular. Located on Navajo lands, this slot canyon can only be visited on a tour.

Two different slot canyons make up Antelope Canyon and both offer very different experiences.

When people refer to Antelope Canyon, they are usually referring to Upper Antelope Canyon. With its light beams, falling sands, and high canyon walls, this is the more photogenic of the two canyons.

Antelope Canyon

Upper Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon is narrower at the bottom. With these narrow passageways and ladders to climb, this canyon is more fun to visit.

Antelope Canyon Ladder

Antelope Canyon Lower

You can visit both Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon in one day. But if you only have time for one, how to you decide which one to visit? Check out our post: Should you visit Upper or Lower Antelope Canyon?

Location: Page, Arizona
Distance: Less than one mile
Difficulty: Easy
Read more: Lower Antelope Canyon: A Photographic Tour and Upper Antelope Canyon: A Journey in Photos

2. Buckskin Gulch

Buckskin Gulch is labeled as the longest slot canyon in the world, 21 miles one way. It is dark and narrow with just enough obstacles to keep things interesting.

BuckskinGulchPhoto

Photo Credit: OakleyOriginals

It is possible to do this as one long day hike, going point to point, although some hikers do this in two days, camping overnight along the trail. A permit is necessary, even if you do it as a day hike.

Location: Utah-Arizona border near Kanab
Distance: 21 miles
Difficulty: strenuous (because of the distance)

3. Zebra Slot Canyon

With pink and red striped walls, this slot canyon is uniquely beautiful. Parts of the slot canyon can be challenging to hike through but your reward is seeing these extraordinary striped canyon walls.

Zebra Slot

Zebra Slot Canyon

Location: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on Hole-in-the-Rock Road
Distance: 5 miles
Difficulty: The trail to the slot canyon is easy; the slot canyon can be challenging
Read more: How to hike Zebra Canyon

4. Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Gulches

Located just down Hole-in-the-Rock Road from Zebra Slot Canyon are two thrilling slot canyons to explore. In terms of pure enjoyment, these are our favorites on this list.

Peek-A-Boo Gulch has several sections of challenging rock scrambling, including a 12 foot climb just to enter the canyon.

PeekABoo Slot

PeekABoo Gulch

 

Spooky Gulch is one of the narrowest slot canyons around, only 10 inches wide in some spots! It’s dark, it’s mysterious, and it’s fun to squeeze yourself through, just as long as you are not claustrophobic.

Spooky Slot Canyon

Spooky Gulch

Location: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on Hole-in-the-Rock Road
Distance: 3.5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Read more: A Photojourney through Peek-A-Boo Gulch and Spooky Gulch

5. Little Wild Horse Canyon

Little Wild Horse Canyon is one of the most thrilling slot canyons in Utah. With tight passageways, curving, scalloped walls, and short sections of easy rock scrambling, this hike is fun for both kids and adults. You can hike the narrowest (and most fun) section of Little Wild Horse as a fast out-and-back hike, or do this as a loop, adding on a second slot canyon named Bell Canyon.

Little Wild Horse Canyon

Best Hikes in Utah

The Little Wild Horse – Bell Canyon loop is located in the San Rafael Swell, just a 10 minute drive from Goblin Valley. Both of these places can be combined into a full day adventure, which you can do as a day trip from Moab or when driving between Moab and Capitol Reef National Park.

Distance: 8.1 miles for the full Little Wild Horse – Bell Canyon Loop
Difficulty: Moderate
Time: 4 to 6 hours
Getting Here: This hike is located in the San Rafael Swell of Utah. The trailhead is located six miles from Goblin Valley State Park.
Learn More:  How to Hike the Little Wild Horse – Bell Canyon Loop

6. Willis Creek

Willis Creek is pure fun. Hiking within the narrow canyon, hopping and skipping over the creek, and watching as the canyon walls steadily grow higher and higher as you head downstream is such a great experience. 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.

Hiking Willis Creek

Willis Creek

Willis Creek Slot Canyon

Location: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, near Cannonville
Distance: 3 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Read more: Hiking Willis Creek Canyon

7. Zion Narrows

This is the quintessential slot canyon hike. It’s challenging, it’s breathtaking in its beauty, and it makes for a very memorable experience. For many hikers, this is a hike that makes the bucket list.

Zion Narrows Hike

You can hike the Zion Narrows as a quick day hike, hiking from the bottom-up. You simply hike up the river as far as you want to go and turn around when you start to get tired. Or, hike the entire length of the Narrows from the top-down, either as a very long and challenging one-day hike or as a two day backpacking trip. Whatever you choose, it will be an adventure!

The Narrows is closed during the spring months while the snow is melting, creating high flow rates in the river. A permit is necessary if you want to hike the Narrows top-down.

Location: Zion National Park
Distance: 16 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Read more: Complete Guide to Hiking the Zion Narrows

8. Kanarra Creek

Similar to the Zion Narrows, but on a smaller scale, this makes another great slot canyon destination. For much of this hike, you will be walking in the Kanarra Creek, so water shoes are recommended. There are several obstacles along the way that require some rock scrambling or the use of ladders.

KanarraPhoto

Photo credit: Dean Souglass

Location: Kanarraville, Utah
Distance: 3 to 4 miles, round trip
Difficulty: Moderate

9. Pastel Canyon

The Pastel Canyon, also called the Pink Canyon, is photogenic slot canyon to explore in Nevada. The highlight of this canyon is the pink and yellow pastel stripes that decorate the canyon.

Pink Canyon Valley of Fire

Pastel Canyon Valley of Fire

Location: Valley of Fire, Nevada
Distance: 0.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Read more: Exploring the Valley of Fire

10. Headquarters Canyon & Surprise Canyon

When you venture out to these two slot canyons, you are really going off-the-beaten-path. These slot canyons are tucked away in a remote region of Capitol Reef National Park. Not only are they fun to hike, but you just might have them all to yourself.

Headquarters Canyon is short, sweet, and super easy to hike, and in my opinion, the more thrilling of these two slot canyons. Surprise Canyon, located about one mile away, is also a short, fun canyon to explore.

Headquarters Canyon

Capitol Reef Slot Canyon

Headquarters Canyon

Distance: 2.6 miles round-trip
Difficulty: Easy
Time: 1 to 1.5 hours

Surprise Canyon

Surprise Canyon Hike

Slot Canyons in Utah

Distance: 2.2 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Time: 1 hour

Getting Here: Headquarters Canyon and Surprise Canyons are located side by side in Capitol Reef National Park. You can do this if you plan to “Loop the Fold,” a one day road trip around a remote region of this park. You can also get here by driving Burr Trail Road east from highway 12. Because of the remote location, there is a chance you could have these two slot canyons all to yourself (we did and it was a blast!).

American Southwest Slot Canyons: On a Map

How to Use This Map: Click the icons on the map to get more information about each point of interest. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

About this List

We have not hiked all of these slot canyons, at least not yet. Still on our bucket list are Buckskin Gulch and Kanarra Creek. Have you done these? Let us know about your experience in our comment section below.


Are you ready to go exploring? Which slot canyon is your favorite? Comment below!

 

You Might Also Like:

 

If you are planning a road trip through the USA, visit our United States Travel Guide for more inspiration and travel planning tips.

 

Best Slot Canyons American Southwest
 

Hike Slot Canyons Southwest USA

 

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Comments 41

  1. You might want to update the info about reservations for Narrows Hike Down. They have changed reservations to the 5th of month for one month in advance (not 3 months like your post). At least for now…

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      Author

      Thanks for the update. It’s been changed (although I wonder if it is a temporary change or something more permanent). It’s hard to really know with COVID.

  2. Hi Julie,

    Thank you for the terrific overview and insight. I am curious if you can tell me about accessing some of the more remote slots with an RV. Looking at a Google map it’s difficult to tell if it’s even possible.

    Best,

    Tony

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      Author

      Some of the slot canyons on this list are accessible by RV. Antelope Canyon, Little Wild Horse Canyon, Kanarra Creek, and the Zion Narrows are accessible by RV. The pink canyon in the Valley of Fire is located along a paved road but the parking area is extremely small, so parking might be an issue. Zebra Slot and PeekABoo/Spooky Slots are located on Hole-in-the-Rock Road, a gravel road that is suitable for standard cars, so you probably can get here in an RV. Some years the road conditions are better than others, judging by the comments we get on these hiking posts. Willis Creek and Surprise and Headquarters Canyons are not accessible by RV. I’m not sure about Buckskin Gulch because we have not done this hike yet.

      If you want to see what the roads look like, you can do this on Google Maps. In the bottom right hand corner of the screen is the icon of a person. You can pick up this icon and drop it on the road to get street view. It will give you a better idea of what to expect and you can even scope out parking areas ahead of time.

      Cheers, Julie

      1. There are several camping spots down Hole in the Rock. I have camped near spooky slot with my 22′ travel trailer. Yes, the road is crappy at best, but we are not in a race. Take your time and you can camp in a myriad of places as all of this area is public lands. Great BLM spot about 300 yards off of highway 12. No services or hookups. Pack in pack out. And that doesn’t mean just your trash, if you see it pick it up. Preserve these lands for other generations.

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          Author
  3. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is huge & has a slot canyon. It is the 2nd largest state park in the lower 48. The desert landscape is awesome. It has over 100 miles of trails & several wildlife areas. Unfortunately we only had a few hrs. It is one of the best stargazing areas in the US. It also has many fossils & giant metal animal sculptures scattered through the park. I wish we had more time to enjoy this wonderful park.

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      Author

      Thanks for writing in! We would love to explore this state park sometime. We were hoping to do it in early 2021, along with Joshua Tree and the Mohave Desert, but with COVID, might have to postpone it. Happy travels! Cheers, Julie

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  4. As of May 2020, the ladder is broken at Kanarra Falls and you really can’t get past the first fall. I didn’t pay the $12 or $16 (can’t recall the price) to get in, since I felt the short hike wasn’t worth it. Instead I went to Spring Creek Canyon, which is nearby, and while I wouldn’t necessarily call it a slot canyon, it’s beautiful and very underrated in my opinion.

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  5. We hiked the amazing Upper slot canyon in 2019. I say amazing because the canyon is just that and we had the best guide ever, Blue Sky. A Native Navajo, Blue Sky is friendly and will help his guests take the best pictures by pointing out unique features which many of us would miss. The four of us took the early tour and were fortunate to get Blue Sky as our guide and no one ahead or behind us. It was an easy walk through this gorgeous canyon with plenty of sunlight reflecting off the canyon walls. However, on our return half mile hike back to the entrance, we encountered a large group of visitors who apparently didn’t have the same opportunity to spend time with their guide. I’m not sure why, but our return hike back to the entrance was very dark and we had to turn on our cell phone lights to avoid hitting our heads on outcroppings of rock. Yes, we would visit this same “slot” again with Blue Sky. I’m guessing all the guides are just as friendly, but the early morning tours offer less visitors and you still get that brilliant sunlight penetrating the canyon

  6. I have done more than 30 slot canyons in southern Utah and near Page, AZ. I also recommend Little Wild Horse and Bell Canyons in the San Rafael Swell (not far from Goblin Valley)–these can be done as a ca. 8 mile loop (counterclockwise is a bit easier). Other slots also cut through the San Rafael geologic reef and elsewhere in the San Rafael Swell, so do some research to see if you might feel comfortable tackling these (e.g., the Upper Black Box of the San Rafael River or the Chute of Muddy River). Also consider slots that cross into Capitol Reef National Park: Burro Wash, Sheets Gulch, etc. Access these from the Notom Road. There are also slots near Kanab, but these require driving through deep sand to access. There are interesting slots accessed from Hwy. 95 east of Hanksville too.

    Other slots worth doing near Page–you must use a Navajo guide–are Waterholes and Canyon X.

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      Author

      Thanks for all of these awesome suggestions! Little Wild Horse Canyon is high on our list. We are hoping to return to Utah soon, visit Little Wild Horse and Goblin Valley, explore more of Capitol Reef, and drive the White Rim Road in Canyonlands. But I will look into your other recommendations. Thanks again! Cheers, Julie

      1. Definitely plan on doing Little Wildhorse. It is a good one. In my opinion, Cardiac Canyon(which is part or Antelope) is by far the prettiest slot canyon there is. To enter it requires going with a guide and some$$$. Worth every penny. While in the area, you should attempt to get a permit for The Wave also. It is another great experience.

        The best slot canyon adventure I have ever done has been with http://www.deserthighlights.com in Moab. Canyoneering at it’s best. A must do. I have been with them multiple times.

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  7. HI! Thank you for this amazing Blog. I’m from the Philippines and will go on a Utah Road Trip with my daughters this July. The details and tips are very helpful. I’m going through them like crazy as I make our IT. We are starting from SLC and ending in Grand Canyon. May I ask for advice regarding the best routes to take for our drive? We have about 4 stops: 1. SLC to Moab / 2. Moab to Greenwich (Bryce and Capitol Reef) / 3. Greenwich to Hurricane (Zion) / 4. Zion to Arizona.

    Also, Grand Staircase Escalante was not in my radar until I started reading your articles. Will it be a good idea to make a stop there first from Moab before heading to Greenwich? We can start with our explorations of Bryce the next day.

    Again, THANK YOU! And safe travels always in your future explorations.

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      Author

      Hello Kat. Sorry, I don’t know where you are referring to when you say Greenwich…could you mean Panguitch? Anyway, I would add in Grand Staircase in between Moab and Bryce Canyon. As you drive from Moab towards Bryce, you will pass a cool little spot called Goblin Valley. We have not been there yet but it’s a great place to take kids. Then you will drive past Capitol Reef (you could drive the main road and see one or two viewpoints quickly). As you continue towards Bryce, you will come to Escalante. This is where you take Hole in the Rock road for Spooky Gulch, Devils Garden, and Zebra Slot. You won’t be able to visit all of these in one day (Goblin, Capitol Reef, Hole in the Rock Road) so pick two that sound fun to you, or, add an overnight stop near or in Escalante. Later in the trip, if you want to hike Willis Creek, it’s not far from Bryce. Cheers, Julie

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