9 of the Best Slot Canyons in Utah That Will Transport You Into Another Planet

There’s nothing more magical than hiking one of the many slot canyons in Utah. These water-cut canyons transport you to another world. Sandstone walls wind and turn, taking you to another planet.

These eroded sandstone wonders make for excellent hikes. Although most slot canyons in Utah require special gear to visit, this list of the best Utah slot canyons features perfect hikes that you don’t need any special training to enjoy.

As a professional writer for the outdoors and full-time adventure blogger, I’ve traveled the American Southwest in search of amazing slot canyons. I love nothing more than to explore the weird world of sandstone.

If you’re looking for how to enjoy the best slot canyons in Utah like a pro, and not a tourist, then you’re in the right place! 

About this Guide to the Slot Canyons in Utah

Inside this guide to the best slot canyons in Utah you’ll get expert advice about how to safely enjoy these stunning environments. Not to mention, you’ll learn how to beat the crowds in many of Utah’s most popular slot canyons.

You’ll also discover:

  • What a slot canyon is
  • The best time to hike a slot canyon
  • The best slot canyons in Utah that don’t require special gear or skills
  • Info about each canyon including distance, difficulty, and any advanced permits
  • Tips for hiking your first slot canyon
  • Additional Utah travel resources
slot canyons in utah

When is the Best Time to Hike a Slot Canyon?

The most important thing to know about hiking a slot canyon is the weather. All of the slot canyons in Utah are prone to dangerous (and deadly) flash flooding. 

Therefore, the best time to hike a slot canyon is when there is no rain in the forecast. Use a tool like weather.gov to check the weather for the specific canyon you plan to visit. Check often, including the day you hike.

Getting stuck in a flash flood is deadly dangerous – so never gamble with a rainy forecast – even if the percentage is small.

Generally, spring and fall are the best seasons for desert hiking, since the temps are mild and the weather is manageable. Spring can see wet days, so check the forecast.

Hiking slot canyons in the summer can be extremely dangerous. It’s not only ungodly hot, but the monsoon season in the desert brings torrential rains to canyon systems.

Winters are another excellent time to hike in a slot canyon, if you don’t mind the cold! The desert can be very cold in the winter. However, it’s the low season for tourism, so many of the more popular slot canyons in Utah are empty this time of year.

What are Slot Canyons?

Slot canyons form when soft rock – like sandstone, erode slowly from rain and wind. Over time, the eroded sandstone forms narrow channels, or canyons that cut deep into the cliffs and sandstone mountains found throughout Utah.

A slot canyon refers to a sandstone canyon that has a narrow width (usually a few feet wide or less). The result are winding, smooth canyon walls that are simply mesmerizing.

Utah happens to have the largest concentration of these unique landmarks in the world – making it an ideal place to explore these natural wonders.

Why are There So Many Slot Canyons in Utah?

Utah is home ot some of the most unique geology on the planet. The uplift from the Colorado Plateau causes the water in bigger canyons to move more quickly, which cuts deeper canyon walls. As a result, the streams carve out deep slot canyons as they fill and empty throughout the year. It’s almost like far-reaching fingers of deep-cut canyons throughout the region.

Amazing Slot Canyons in Utah

If you’re interested in exploring slot canyons in Utah, you’ll want to start with these easier, non-technical routes. Some of the best hikes in Utah are these incredible canyons – so be sure to add these destinations to your bucket list!

Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch

As the longest-known slot canyon in the world, Buckskin Gulch is a true wonder. The easiest (and prettiest) way to access the heart of this incredible canyon system is via the Wire Pass slot canyon

From the Coyote Buttes/Wire Pass Trailhead, head down the wash until you reach an obvious slot. Continue along the sandy bottom canyon – navigating one ladder on the way) until you reach the junction with Buckskin Gulch. 

Look closely at the canyon walls to see the ancient petroglyphs (no the handprints are not ancient – some tourist made them in 2019). From here, head either left or right until you’re ready to turn around. 

Local Tip: This is an EXTREMELY popular canyon, arrive before 8 am if you want any chance at solitude.

Mileage: 1.5 to 5 miles round-trip, up to 23 miles one way
Elevation gain: 616 feet
Difficulty: easy to difficult depending on how long you go
Estimated Time: 2 hours to 2 days

Entry Fee: $5 per person and $5 per dog
Permits required? Yes, but unlimited. A select number of permits are available for overnight trips. Book well in advance
Pet Friendly? Yes, but there is an 8-foot ladder you will need to lift your dog down.

Highlights: The longest known slot canyon in the world. Easily accessible. Petroglyphs and rock art.

slot canyons in utah

Little Wild Horse Canyon in the San Rafael Swell

Little Wild Horse Canyon and Bell Canyon are arguably one of the best slot canyons in Utah, thanks to the unbelievably smooth walls and gorgeous lighting. 

Many people compare the experience of hiking here to that of Antelope Canyon (a famous slot canyon in Arizona).

Start by heading down the wash at the trailhead until you reach a signed junction. Start at the Little Wild Horse Canyon entrance first to avoid swimming up traffic in the narrows.

Make your way over a few rock obstacles (you’ll need to use your hands) until you empty out on the backside of the canyon.

Take the Behind the Reef Road for 1.5 miles until you reach signs for nearby Bell Canyon. Bell isn’t as narrow, but it’s still surprisingly beautiful.

Local Tip: There are a lot of other amazing things to do in the San Rafael Swell, so it’s worth it to spend a couple of days exploring this under-rated area.

Mileage: 8 miles round-trip
Elevation gain: 787 feet
Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated Time: 4 hours
Entry Fee: None
Permits required? No
Pet Friendly? Yes, but some scrambling is required so you may need to lift your dog.
Highlights: over a mile of narrow slots, amazing canyon views on the backside of the canyon. Beautiful desert scenery.

best slot canyons in Utah

Spooky and Peek a Boo Canyon in Escalante

Experience one of the most unique slot canyons in Utah with the Spooky and Peek a Boo Canyon loop. 

Travel quite a ways down a series of rocky ledges until you reach a basin. From here you’ll see the Dry Fork Narrows to the left (save that for last) and a slot canyon that starts about 10-feet up a rock wall.

This is Peek a Boo Canyon. The climb in is a little intimidating for the un-initiated, but it’s worth it as you’ll be deposited immediately into another world. Just know that climbing down is pretty difficult, so once you’re in, you’re in.

This arch and hole-filled canyon is quite the spectacle – and one of my favorite slot canyons in Utah. Follow the faint trail to the right once you exit the canyon until you reach the obvious start of Spooky Canyon.

Spooky lives up to its namesake. The canyon gets narrower and narrower until you’re mostly in the dark. The narrowest part is just over a foot wide, meaning you’ll have to walk sideways to get through the canyon!

Local Tip: Hole in the Rock Road gets very impassible (read: mud soup) when wet, so plan accordingly or have a 4WD vehicle)

Mileage: 5.6 miles round-trip
Elevation gain: 633 feet
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Estimated Time: 3 hours
Entry Fee: None
Permits required? No
Pet Friendly? No. Moderate climbing, a fixed rope line, and extremely deep and narrow slots prevent this from being dog-friendly.
Highlights: Super-narrow canyon, small climb in the beginning, an arch within the slot canyon.

spooky slot canyon

The Narrows in Zion National Park

Recommended by James Ian from Parks Collecting 

The Narrows is one of the most iconic hikes in Zion National Park. You actually need to hike in the river that runs through the narrow slot canyon!  

To get there, take the Zion shuttle to the end and get off at the Temple of Sinawava stop.  From there, it is a one-mile easy walk on a paved trail alongside the river to the start of the slot canyon and The Narrows hike. 

The easiest way to hike is to cross the river back and forth, seeking out narrow beaches along the way to give yourself a little break from wading in the fast-flowing river the entire way. The canyon starts a little wide but narrows as you get deeper into the canyon. 

You can turn around at any point, but most people hike/ wade as far as the Wall Street section, which is three miles in. At Wall Street, the canyon is just a few yards wide and hundreds of feet high, so it is extremely dramatic.   

You don’t need any special equipment for the hike, though you will need shoes that are comfortable when wet. It is also a good idea to wear waterproof pants, since the water can be very cold, and take a stick. The river bed is uneven and the water is flowing, so having a stick to stabilize you is very helpful. 

Mileage: 15.5 miles
Elevation gain: 1,017 feet
Difficulty: Difficult
Estimated Time: About 8 hours for the bottom-up hike and two days for the top-down trail.
Entry Fee: $35
Permits required? You don’t need a permit for the bottom-up hike. However, you do need a permit for the lesser-visited top-down hike.
Pet Friendly? No
Highlights: Conquering one of the most iconic trails in Utah, wading through the river that runs through a narrow slot canyon, and getting to see some of the most dramatic sceneries of Zion National Park.

beautiful slot canyons in utah

Kanarra Creek Canyon Near Zion National Park

Recommended by Jordan Wohlwend from The Homebody Tourist

When visiting Utah, make sure not to miss out on visiting Kanarra Falls, which is located less than an hour away from Zion National Park and is considered one of the best slot canyon hikes in Utah.

Starting at the small town of Kanarraville, the Kanarrs Creek Canyon trail is an out and back trail that’s 6 miles long and features two amazing waterfalls and a narrow slot canyon 

During the first part of the trail, you will find yourself walking next to a creek, but soon you will enter the slot canyon and the only choice will be to walk directly through the water.

Kanarra Falls is a permit-only hike and is limited to 150 hikers a day, so make sure to snag yours up ahead of time. This leads to smaller crowds and a more peaceful hike! 

No special equipment is needed, although a pair of neoprene or wool socks always come in handy to stay warm. Moreover,  make sure you bring enough water for the hike.

Mileage: 6 miles
Elevation gain: 1,017 ft
Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated Time: 4 hours
Entry Fee: $12
Permits required? Yes, you can purchase it online.
Pet Friendly? No
Highlights: Two beautiful waterfalls (one which you’ll see earlier in the trail and one inside the slot canyon at the end) + a natural waterslide perfect to grab a quick lunch at.

Slot Canyons in Utah
Utah Slot Canyons

Image courtesy of Jordan Wohlwend from The Homebody Tourist

Zebra Slot Canyon in Escalante

If you’re looking for colorful sandstone walls that will blow your mind, then you’ve got to check out the Zebra Slot Canyon in Escalante. As one of the top hikes in Escalante, this slot canyon sees surprisingly little traffic.

Zebra Slot Canyon is definitely one of the more adventurous slot canyons in Utah. Often filled with water, wetsuits are recommended for this hike. The big highlight are the unique patterns along the canyon walls – a lot like zebra stripes.

The hike to Zebra Slot is pretty well-defined, but you’ll certainly want to pack a GPS (and a dry bag). 

Local Tip: It’s a tight squeeze to get into the canyon, but it is doable if you hike sideways and think thin or stem (put both feet on the side of the canyon walls and walk up the walls) to get some more room.

Mileage: 5.2 miles
Elevation gain: 377 ft
Difficulty: Moderate
Estimated Time: 2.5 hours
Entry Fee: None
Permits required? No
Pet Friendly? Dogs are allowed, but swimming is often required.
Highlights: Zebra-striped canyon walls. Lots of solitude. Unique rock formations on the hike in.

amazing slot canyons in utah

Willis Creek in Escalante

Almost anyone will enjoy this family-friendly Utah slot canyon. Willis Creek features a creek, waterfall, and plenty of water to play in.

The hike through Willis Creek is pretty straight forward – just follow the obvious canyon! It’s a weird, lumpy, landscape that’s tone of fun to play in on a hotter day. Be on the lookout for petroglyphs, blooming cacti, and more.

Willis Creek isn’t as narrow as other canyons on the list, but it’s grand and has a bit more vegetation than other slot canyons in Utah.

Local Tip: The creek can dry out in the summer. 

Mileage: 5.8 miles
Elevation gain: 1,227 ft
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Time: 3 hours
Entry Fee: None
Permits required? No
Pet Friendly? Yes. Also horse friendly.
Highlights: Water. Fun rock formations. A waterfall and wildflowers.

The Joint Trail in Canyonlands National Park

If you’re into symmetry then the Joint Trail in Canyonlands National Park should be on your bucket list. Best done if you’re backpacking in the Needles District of the park, this trail features a narrow, straight, steep mini canyon that’s a satisfying sight.

You’ll hike many different trails to reach the Joint Trail, unless you have an OHV permit to drive the Butler Flat Road (high-clearance 4WD required).

The entire trip is around 12 miles, but the long distance is totally worth the effort. The Needles, or tall hoodoos (rock spires) give this area of Canyonlands National Park it’s name. 

To reach the Joint, you’ll wander through the needle filled canyons and get a real sense of the vast, unique beauty that the Needles District has to offer.

At the end, you’ll reach the Joint – a narrow slot section that feels like you’re in a trash compactor. You can turn around from here, or continue to the road.

Local Tip: The creek can dry out in the summer. 

Mileage: 4 miles from Butler Flat Road or around 12 miles round-trip from the Elephant Hill Trailhead
Elevation gain: 567 to 1,200 ft
Difficulty: moderate to difficult
Estimated Time: 2 hours or 6 hours
Entry Fee: $30
Permits required? No, day-use permit is required for Butler Flat Road.
Pet Friendly? No.
Highlights: Red rock hoodoos, unbelievable canyons, and a narrow slot canyon

Ding and Dang Canyon in the San Rafael Swell

Often overlooked in favor of other Utah slot canyons, Ding and Dang are well-worth doing if you like to scramble and climb around rocks.

You’ll need a 4WD high-clearance vehicle to reach the trailhead, which is really just a stop along a dry river bed.

But if you like adventure then Ding and Dang Canyons are for you. Although you don’t need any technical gear, a helmet isn’t a bad idea since you’ll be climbing up and down 10-foot sections of rock. You’ll be using plenty of basic canyoneering and climbing skills such as stemming and bridging (if you don’t know what these are, then this is likely a somewhat dangerous adventure for you).

There are a few set hand lines and ropes to assist with some of the climbing. Don’t worry – you’ll be rewarded with and adventure-filled day in a stunning setting.

Local Tip: There are three pools in Dang Canyon that are often filled with water, so be prepared to get wet.

Local Tip: The creek can dry out in the summer. 

Mileage: 5.9 miles
Elevation gain: 636 ft
Difficulty: Difficult
Estimated Time: 3 hours
Entry Fee: none
Permits required? No.
Pet Friendly? No.
Highlights: Scrambling, canyoneering skills, beautiful rock formations and a stunning drive to the canyon.

best slot canyons in utah

Tips for Hiking Utah Slot Canyons

If you’re new to hiking slot canyons in Utah (or anywhere for that matter) there are a few important safety tips to keep in mind.

Never hike in a slot canyon with a rainy forecast. So important I said it twice. Flash flood hazards are a real threat and floods kill people in slot canyons every year.

Bring layers. It can be blazing hot in the desert, but slot canyons see little sun. Always bring several layers to stay warm. Extra socks aren’t a bad idea either – especially if there are reports of water in the canyons.

Leave it better than you found it. Don’t trash the canyon! Scratching your name on the walls and destroying ancient rock art with your own markings are actually federal felonies, so don’t do it. Also, don’t build cairns or put pebbles in holes. This destroys the natural feel of the canyon and can disrupt the homes of animals. Always pack out your trash, including toilet paper and dog poop!

Don’t bust the crust. If you’ve hiked in the desert you’ve probably seen the raised, bumpy soil that dots the landscape. This is actually a living organism (called cryptobiotic soil)! It’s an essential part of keeping erosion in check in the desert. It takes forever to grow, so walk around any cryptobiotic soil you encounter.

Pack out your poop. If you’re hiking in a slot canyon, you’ll want to carry WAG bags – or special “toilet in a bag” kits that are designed to pack out human waste. The desert is a delicate place and waste does not break down, so packing out your poo (or using toilets at trailheads) is the best way to respect this fragile environment.

Are Slot Canyons Safe?

Slot canyons can be extremely dangerous places if you don’t know what you’re doing. Flash flooding is a real threat and I really can’t stress this enough – DO NOT ENTER A SLOT CANYON WITH A RAINY FORECAST.

Also, many of the slot canyons in Utah are far removed from civilization, making things like rescues difficult. Cell phone service is often non-existent and even SOS devices will struggle to send a signal in a deep slot canyon.

Lastly, climbing up is always easier than climbing down. Whenever you’re on an upward climb, ask yourself, “can I get back down this?” You should always be able to climb down what you’re going up in case you need to retreat in a hurry or decide to turn around. Otherwise, you can get stuck in a slot canyon.

Definitely come prepared and be aware of your surroundings as you hike. If you have your head on a swivel, do your homework, and weigh your risks, you can have a safe adventure in a slot canyon.

Are there Slot Canyons Near Salt Lake City?

The short answer is kind of. The closest slot canyons to Salt Lake City are about 3.5 hours away in the San Rafael Swell (Little Wild Horse Canyon and Ding and Dang Canyon). 

Otherwise you’ll need to head towards Escalante (4 hours and 45 minutes away) or Kanab (also 4 hours and 45 minutes away) for slot canyons near Salt Lake City. 

Are there Slot Canyons Near Moab?

Unfortunately, Moab doesn’t have too many slot canyons. The landscape is more grand – so think big towering cliffs, wide canyons, and arches galore!

One slot canyon near Moab is the Mary Jane Slot Canyon. You can find this canyon along BLM road 98 about 40 minutes east of Moab. The canyon isn’t really a slot canyon. It’s narrower, but not really the iconic slot canyon. However it does have a creek and is dog-friendly!

Additional Utah Adventures You’ve Got to Check Out

Planning a trip to Utah? You’re in good hands with these pro resources from someone who has scoured the state for the past 8 years. Be sure to check out…

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The most beautiful slot canyons in Utah that are perfect for beginner canyoneers visiting Utah. If you're traveling to Utah soon and looking for an incredible hike, you've got to check out these amazing slot canyons in Utah!
Visiting Utah and wondering what to do? If you're up for a real adventure, you've got to check out this incredibly beautiful slot canyons in Utah that are perfect for beginners!

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Meg aka Fox is a 30-something who's born to explore. Her mission is to get you out on your greatest adventure. She'd rather be dirty than done up.