3 Tips for Exploring Utah’s Slot Canyons

Sep 2016

The canyon country of Southern Utah has become a world-renowned destination for avid adventurers. Until recently, many of these public lands were little explored but the increasing popularity of hiking, backpacking, and canyoneering has popularized many previously-unknown canyon routes. There are still many places to find solitude and explore slot canyons without too much trail company. Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument holds the distinction of the last-mapped spot in the country and is ripe with adventure opportunities. Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Escalante now see a hardy crew of hikers and canyoneers every year, eager to experience these surreally beautiful and solitary places. For many, the ultimate experience is a hike in the area’s slot canyons, or high-walled, water-carved canyons that often span just feet apart. If you’re answering the call of the canyons, take these three vital tips along with you

A man walking in the slot canyon.

1) Identify whether you want to hike or canyoneer

Are you looking for a canyon experience with long, technical descents, sheer drops with ropes and harnesses, or slots so deep that they keep perennial pools of water? You may want to enlist the services of a local canyoneering company. They can provide exciting instruction and technical gear, including harnesses, ropes, and dry suits for canyons where cool pools are part of the journey. Without these amenities, attempting to hike a technical area will quickly result in a dead-end. We highly recommend Zion Adventure company or Excursions of Escalante  if you decide that high adrenaline canyoneering is the route you’d like to take!

If you know that a simpler hike is what you’re looking for, unencumbered by extra equipment or services, make sure you research your planned destination well. Many slot canyons that look easy on a map may contain steep drops or other technical areas. There are many online resources that review individual trails and rate various components like distance, elevation gain/loss, environmental factors, and the ease of trail navigation. These resources will make you more informed and in turn, make you more prepared and your experience more pleasant. Take a look through the Bureau of Land Management’s website for the Grand Staircase Escalante to kickstart your planning.


2) ALWAYS check the weather before your hike

The narrow confines of Utah’s slot canyons make them both uniquely stunning and dangerous. They are carved deeper every year by rainwater, which funnels violently down the narrow passages during and after rainstorms. When this happens, a slot canyon is the last place you want to be. A narrow canyon can easily fill with fast-moving water and mounds of debris, creating a potentially fatal situation for an unwary hiker. Always check the weather the day of your planned slot canyon hike. If there is a thunderstorm or heavy rain in the forecast, it’s best to stay away from canyon hiking. July and August hold the highest risk for hikers of fast-forming thunderstorms in Utah. Even after reviewing the forecast, keep your eyes peeled for unexpected storms rolling in. When in doubt, identify the specific park or monument you’re in, and contact the local ranger station for advice.


3) Take a buddy

Peekaboo Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Even the most well-researched of canyons can hold surprises. Sudden storms or a random rockfall can change the topography of a slot canyon in minutes. Since these adventures hold a higher risk than other hiking areas, it’s always best not to go alone. Plan your trip with a friend or a group, and you’ll feel more secure during your hike as well as having someone to share the incredible sights with. A good practice for any hike, even if you have company, is to always let someone else know where you and your party are headed. Include details like specific trailheads and times. With that back-up security from the world outside, you can fully enjoy the peaceful solitude of hiking Utah’s slot canyons.

Hiking is a fantastic way to explore, release stress, and exercise, just remember to prepare and educate yourself. So on your southern Utah hiking trip, whether you are a returning adventurer or a novice, remember these key tips to make sure you have a safe, successful trip, and above all else have fun!

  • Decide what activity you want to take part in
  • Plan your route
  • Research your environment
  • Check the weather
  • Make sure others know your plans if you decide to take on a solo adventure