06 Jun A Slot Canyon Adventure
By staff blogger Sarah Travis
There is only one way to describe the Slot Canyons in Utah: unearthly. While there are quite a few slot canyons in the southwest US, we packed and went to two located in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on Hole-in-the-Rock Road. We hiked a loop that went through both Peekaboo Gulch and Spooky Gulch.
Before I begin to describe the magic these canyons conceal within towering walls of stone, I first must add that if you are to visit these places, please be respectful towards the rock and nature surrounding it. Do not carve your name and do not litter. Also, I would advise bringing a pack with water, sunscreen, and food, as you can get hungry while hiking.
Now we will get into peekaboo canyon, starting with what to expect while you are walking towards these natural wonders. The trail itself starts on a plateau where you can overlook spectacular views. As you walk near ledges and scurry down the rock, you may have to look for cairns to guide your way.
Cairns, in case you were not aware, are piles of rocks that help hikers continue traveling in the correct direction. These piles of stone are not only an addition to the beautiful scenery, but they also do not take away from the vast expanse of desert, which leads the eyes to gaze upon mountains and (if you look close enough) the canyons themselves. There are several cairns along this dazzling 1.3-mile walk, so make sure to keep a steady eye out for them.
Nearing the end of the trail, you will have to scramble down rock and sand pathways to get to the bottom of the canyons. From there, enjoy it!
The first slot canyon you will see is Peek-A-Boo. With a 12 foot wall to climb up into the entrance, many people will shy away from this particular gulch, but the view is worth the scraped up knees.
Archways make up this canyon, including smaller scrambles and climbing, each different and challenging in its way. With loops of sandstone, so perfectly formed by erosion, wind, and water, you will see a form of grace only nature has mastered.
Watch your head, though. My dad had to battle a headache after bumping his skull against the rock, which is harder than it looks. Though some areas of this canyon were tight, it ends at a flat stretch of desert land. To get to the next canyon in a loop, continue on the trail.
You will venture out into the desert, where you may see many lizards, beautiful flowers, and truly feel the essence of sand as it builds up in your shoes. The walk is around 15 minutes (and although you may think you’re lost, I can assure you that you are not). Cairns led us to the entrance of Spooky canyon.
Spooky Canyon deserves its name in every aspect. If you are claustrophobic, you may want to pass up this hike.
Though spooky canyon starts wide, do not be fooled. It will waste no time thinning out and will become only 10 inches wide in certain areas. At points, you will have to lean your backs against the side of the canyon and shuffle. Packs have to be taken off and held. It is tight.
That aside, the views are wonderful. The rock bends perfectly at each side as if it were imitating the careful bend of waves and currents. The shade this canyon provides can be a bonafide miracle on hot days. Part way into Spooky Gulch, giant rocks cut off the trail, leaving you to do one of two options: shift into rock climbing mode or go back.
To find a way through, climb up the rocks halfway and you will find a decently sized hole where you can drop down and continue walking down the main trail. This exit requires shoes with good traction and bravery. There were small divets to put your feet so you can jump down easier, but should you not feel confident in your strength or shoes, you may need to turn back or have someone stronger help you down.
The jump was around six, maybe seven feet, and you will land on a rock with light amounts of sand (hence the good traction). Don’t forget to bend your knees!
Once this obstacle has been beaten, the canyon will narrow again. Take this in stride and remember: the hike will end. It takes around 30 minutes to hike, depending on how far you go and how long it takes to get over some challenges. But rest assured, once out of the canyon you will come across a large, spacious rock to sit on and eat.
Bonus Slot Canyon: If you find yourself heading north in Utah, check out Little Wild Horse canyon. It has the perfect combination of climbing and peaceful walking, which gives you time to appreciate the rock and enjoy yourself. The rough sandstone has vibrant lines of oranges, reds, and yellows, that provide a brilliant display through the canyon.
Remember: you can always turn back on this hike. Some parts are tight, but there is always a space to step off to let others pass if you wish to leave the way you came. Because this canyon is particularly popular, pick a weekday to visit.
There was only one area in which we encountered some difficulty, and that is solely because of water. There was a large puddle that you can climb over (with much difficulty) or embrace the fact that you will most likely get your shoes wet. Compared to the other canyons, Little Wild Horse was perhaps the easiest. During this hike, there were people of all ages, so don’t worry about your children not being able to join in on this adventure.
You will not regret taking the time to travel far to see the sandstone curve through blue skies or running a hand along foundations that have been around for hundreds of years. These places make it feel like history is at your feet – with each step you take, you are going backward in time.
All these slot canyons are beautiful and unique, as if someone had taken a hand and molded them with clay, so don’t forget to enjoy each one. After all, you may never see anything like it again.