Canyoneering In Utah
The best way to experience the diverse landscapes of Utah is by hiking through them. Utah has some very remote areas that are accessible only to serious canyoneers that often require a guide.
Utah is home to some of the world's best canyoneering routes. For the uninitiated, canyoneering is the sport of hiking/rappelling/swimming through narrow canyons filled with obstacles like high water, fallen trees or rockfall debris. Sudden thunderstorms lead to flash flooding, so check in with the local ranger before heading in and keep track of hour-by-hour weather. Some of the most popular canyoneering routes include:
Zebra Canyon | Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
A stunning and unique out-and-back canyon located in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Hike through the narrow slot to find the beautiful pink and white striped pattern along the sides of the canyon walls. Be prepared for standing water, which varies from inches to feet deep and can feel pretty bitter during the colder months. Larger packs (and people) might be difficult to wiggle through the tight slot.
Located near Goblin Valley, Little Wild Horse is a popular hiking spot for families and youth groups. The main attraction is a long stretch of "narrows," where the canyon walls are so close you have to turn sideways to get through. The rock walls are sculpted and very beautiful.
Spooky/Peek-a-Boo Gulch | Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Spooky Gulch is a short slot canyon hike in the Grand Staircase-Escalante area, located on the Hole-in-the-Rock Road — 26 miles south of the town of Escalante. Note that getting there can be tricky even with 4WD. Spooky is named for how dark it gets when deep in a slot, and for the panic-inspiring quality of its extremely narrow walls. Spooky can be combined with Peek-a-Boo Gulch to make a fun loop hike. Keep an eye out for Great Basin rattlesnakes.
The Black Hole is a dark slot in White Canyon, located in the Hite area above Lake Powell. The canyon makes a great semi-technical adventure hike. Access is easy and permits are not needed. It has become popular with families and youth groups. However, it is a challenging route carrying an element of danger, particularly flash flooding. While bringing a wetsuit on a hike in the desert seems counterintuitive, your extremities will thank you when you hit the year-round frigid water. Bring rope to save the rest of you from some tight spots as well.
The Narrows is the most popular hike in Zion National Park, and one of the world's best slot canyon hikes. It is pure fun and can be tailored to suit any ability level. The trail is basically the Virgin River. The canyon is so narrow, the river covers the bottom in many spots, which means you have to wade or swim to proceed. Waders and neoprene socks will help you focus on the scenery, instead of your toes, in the colder months. If a twisted ankle would interfere with your evening plans, wear sturdy shoes and carry a big stick (or trekking poles) for handling the slick rocks and uneven ground.
One of the most beautiful slots in Zion. It is a challenging 9.5 mile hike requiring short rappels or down climbs. The route also requires swimming through several deep pools of very cold debris-filled water, and a slippery walk through the actual subway portion. The normal route begins at the Wildcat Canyon Trailhead and ends at the Left Fork Trailhead. Plan on making it a day, cause this one ain’t an easy ride.
Golden Cathedral (Neon Canyon) | Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
The Golden Cathedral is a unique hiking destination within lower Neon Canyon in the Grand Staircase-Escalante area. This can be a long, hot one, so fill the saddle bags with plenty of vittles and liquid refreshment. (Surface of the sun hot? Only in the summer.) The Cathedral is located just over 3/4 of a mile up Neon Canyon from its confluence at the Escalante River, and consists of a great, domed pour-off from upper Neon Canyon, where the water has dug three separate pothole arches into the overhang.
Pine Creek | Zion National Park
A technical slot canyon packed with rappels and wading/swimming through cold pools. This is definitely more canyoneering than hiking, as you’ll be making multiple drops. The longest rappel is nearly 100 ft. and requires a 60 meter rope. This slot takes about 4 hours to complete. Bring a dry suit to avoid hypothermia, even in the summer.
Mystery Canyon | Zion National Park
A lesser-known but favorite of many technical canyoneers. Meaning don’t cut your teeth on this one, newbies. Only 12 hikers are allowed into the canyon per day. Technical climbing gear including two 140' ropes, harness descending equipment, emergency ascending equipment, emergency overnight gear and plenty of water are all necessary to do this hike.
Orderville Canyon | Zion National Park
Another popular and beautiful canyon. It is a winding slot that is a tributary to the famous Zion Narrows. It also requires short rappels and extensive swimming. Remember to get your wilderness permit and shuttle pass. If you’re planning to hike out through the narrows, save some energy for possible strong currents and a rocky river bed.
In 2003, Aron Ralston, descending the canyon, was caught beneath a boulder for days, and escaped by amputating his own arm with a pocket knife. Thanks to all the media hype surrounding Ralston's story, this is one of the most popular technical slot canyons in the state. Travelers attempting the full breadth of the canyon need technical and canyoneering skills. However, there are a few sections that non-technical hikers might be able to access.
Jacob Canyon | Zion National Park
A long and lovely route with some big rappels — you’ll want to start early. As this is also a difficult route, you’ll want to be an experienced canyoneer with anchor-finding skills, good downclimbing skills (especially on loose rock) and long-rappel skills.
Observation Point Canyon | Zion National Park
This lesser-known slot canyon for advanced canyoneers can be accessed from the Weeping Rock trailhead. It features several long rappels, the longest being 300 feet. This canyon requires a permit. A rockfall will close the entire trail, so check with the park’s official site before planning your day.
Sandthrax | near Hite (an hour east of Canyonlands)
In a class of its own. This route is for the advanced-advanced canyoneers with uber-technical canyoneering skills to navigate it. If you aren’t familiar with difficult off-width and stem large silos, or high stemming in general, this is not the slot canyon for you. Bottom line: If you’re not sure you can nail it, don’t do it.