Julie United States 44 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

 

All rights reserved © Earth Trekkers. Republishing this article and/or any of its contents (text, photography, etc.), in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.

Comments 44

  1. Wondering if there is a fee to see these clot canyons? We are traveling in Aug 2021 and as of right now Antelope Canyon is not open. Trying to find something else like it.. Are these other locations open?

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      On this list, everything is open other than Antelope Canyon. Everything is free to visit, with a few exceptions. To hike the Narrows in Zion, you will pay the Zion NP entrance fee. To hike the Pastel Canyon, you will pay the entrance fee into the Valley of Fire. Headquarters and Surprise Canyons are in Capitol Reef but there is no fee to visit this part of the park. To learn more about each slot canyon, click our link get full details on how to visit them. Cheers, Julie

    2. Upper antelope canyon is open from the lake Powell side, you can kayak in and hike up the canyon. But it is a bit of paddling to get there

  2. 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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      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.

  3. 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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      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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  4. 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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      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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  5. 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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  6. 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

  7. 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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      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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  8. 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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      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

  9. Hi Julie I am a big fan of yours. Just love to read your travel stories from all over the world. We will be travelling to Antelope Canyon during our spring break in April. We got our tour ticket at 3pm for Upper Antelope. Do you think around that time we can still get some good pictures? We will be travelling from LV that morning and that’s why we will not be able to manage the prime time to see the canyons. We are going only to the Upper Antelope though. Pl advise. Thanks!

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      At 3 pm, the canyon will be getting dark. If you take a look at our photos on our Upper Antelope Canyon post, most of these photos were taken between 1:30 and 3:00 in early May. I expect that photography will be challenging at 3 pm, because of the dim lighting conditions, but it will still be a very neat experience to be there. Cheers, Julie

  10. Thank you so much for these advise!

    Do you know “Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon” ? Is it a mandatory tour with a company (such as Antelope Canyon) ? When I google this slot canyon, only tour companies appear.

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      I don’t know much about Horseshoe Bend Slot Canyon, although it sounds like a nice alternative to Antelope Canyon. For Antelope Canyon a guide is mandatory. I imagine that Horseshoe Bend is the same way. It’s crazy to see how popular these spots have gotten in really just the past 3 years. We didn’t hear anything about Horseshoe Bend SC on our visit in 2017 and now I am hearing more and more about it. Enjoy! Cheers, Julie

      1. Yes, we did Horseshoe Bend slot canyon last year. I believe it was formerly known as Secret Canyon. We had a great experience! There is actually only one company that does tours here, I believe it’s a family business. They take you with jeeeps to the canyon, and there are only max. 12 people in your group, so it is SO much more quiet than the Antelope Canyons. I would defenitely choose this one above Antelope, which may be just a little more scenic, but so rushed and packed with people….

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      Thank you SO MUCH for recommending this! I never heard of it and we will be out that way in a few weeks. Putting it on our already long and growing list of things to do. 🙂 Cheers, Julie

  11. Hi, beautiful pictures and descriptions of those slot-canyons, some of which we’ve visited as well.
    Although we live in Europe, we’ve already visited Kanarraville Canyon twice, see here for pictures and descriptions:
    http://www.wijchman.com/index.htm?2012-usa-11&2
    http://www.wijchman.com/index.htm?2016-usa-0613&2

    Kanarraville itself has a rather small, but nice and good campground, and Cedar City has a wonderful KOA, as well that it just is a very pleasand city !

    Hope you’ll make it one day.

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  12. Beautiful descriptions of some amazing hikes. I was sorry to read that health reasons delayed your planned Zion Narrows hike. I did the top down full 16 miles some years ago as a backpacking trip and it remains the most amazing hike I’ve ever enjoyed. You guys are monster thru-hikers and could easily consider tackling this in a day, but I cast my vote for a more relaxed two day trek leaving plenty of time for setting up a tripod and snagging some amazing pics.

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  13. Hi Tim, Julie, Tyler and Kara !
    I’m very happy that I had this opportunity to come across your beautiful site. I was greatly impressed by the quality of all the information you provide: fascinating and interesting stories accompanied with professional grade pictures.
    The thing is that four of our friends are coming from Ukraine to visit us( we live in Columbus, Ohio). So, selfishly enough, I try to use this opportunity to fulfill a long time dream to go to Grand Canyon, Zion Park and Bryce Canyon. For that matter your site was so helpful I think I don’t need any more information.
    Thanks again for your cheerful smiles and Good luck in future endeavors!
    With respect, Andrew.

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      Hello Andrew. Thank you for the wonderful comments. That’s quite a nice lifetime dream…all of the places you mentioned are amazing and what an awesome place to take your friends (and not at all selfish…hopefully you all will be blown away like we were). Happy travels! Cheers, Julie, Tim, Tyler & Kara

    2. Hi Andrew, your trip sounds great, I line in New Zealand and planning a sim trip in a few weeks, flying into Las Vegas then hiring a car, will visit Valley of Fire, Zion NP, Bryce Canyon, Page to see a few slot canyons and Horseshoe bend, then on to the Grand Canyon south side then onto Sedonia and back to Las Vegas. hope to take some great photos, hope you enjoy your trip.

      Cheers

      Terry

  14. Thanks for this great list.

    Just did part of Buckskin Gulch (and Wire Pass, the slot canyon shortcut to the Gulch). Below the Wire Pass/Buckskin Gulch intersection, the pools of cold water were sometimes up to mid thigh in early April, while the walls soared above us. Upstream was great too, even when the slot canyon opened up and turned into something entirely different and fantasy-like. Check it out for yourself.

    And as for Antelope Canyon, also try kayaking up the bottom from Lake Powell and then hiking (possibly through an obstacle of thick mud) to this lonely and quiet part of the canyon–still with curvy slots hardly wider than your shoulders.

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  15. Which hikes in Grand Staircase-Escalante are the best for young children? Our youngest is 4, but she likes to hike with the “big kids”. Thanks! BTW, we loved your advice for our trip to Isle of Skye this summer. We followed your itinerary quite closely and absolutely LOVED our trip.

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      Hello Heather. I am so glad you had a nice time on the Isle of Skye. In Grand Staircase I would recommend Willis Creek. It’s mostly flat and you can hike out as far as you want and turn around when you are ready. Zebra Slot and PeekABoo/Spooky Gulch is probably too challenging for a 4 year old, although your older kids may like squeezing through the narrow Spooky Gulch slot canyon. Nearby is Devils Garden, a great place for kids to explore. Near Grand Staircase (really, it’s practically part of it) is Kodachrome Basin Park. There are lots of short, family-friendly trails here. Have fun! Cheers, Julie

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