8 Best Slot Canyon Hikes in the Southwestern US
Slot Canyons – If you love to squeeze into tight places and feel the rocks up against you as you slide through narrow canyons, this is the place for you. We have hiked to each and every one of these slot canyons and these are our eight favorites. Some of these are lesser known and we didn’t want to rate the overly publicized canyons like Antelope Canyon, which we believe is ridiculous, because you shouldn’t have to pay money to enjoy nature unless it’s a National Park Pass, permit or money that goes to keeping the area maintained.
There are links to each slot canyon hike via the AllTrails website and/or app. AllTrails is our preferred method of researching, mapping, recording, etc. the trails we admire.
As with any hike, go to these canyons prepared with plenty of water, a GPS with a SOS feature, a reliable vehicle and let someone know where you are and when you’ll be back. Gloves, good hiking shoes and the right gear go a long way too.
DANGER! We are sure you are well aware, however it would be horrible of me not to mention that YOU SHOULD ALWAYS KNOW THE WEATHER ALL AROUND THE AREA (AT LEAST 20 MILES IN EACH DIRECTION) AND BE AWARE OF FLASH FLOODS. Every slot canyon is made by extreme wind and flood waters. Be aware of your surroundings before you attempt any slot canyon.
We are HUGE advocates of going in the Off-Season, which is usually Fall, Winter and Spring. Some of these canyons can be packed full of people, however we have tried to narrow down the lesser known slot canyons, however since we’re blogging about it, they are known to a few people already 🙂
So, come along and join us in some incredible slot canyons and HAVE FUN!
8 Best Slot Canyon Hikes in the Southwestern US
1. Utah - Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyons, Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument
We drove our car, “Pepe the Prius” all the way to the first parking area. From there, we needed to hike up to the high clearance parking lot, which is about 1/2 mile away. Most of the 4 x 4‘s and some other cars made it up, however we decided just to hike. The hike down to the slot canyons was somewhat hot and we knew it was going to be miserable coming back, so we are glad we brought a lot of water and our hats.
Once we got to the first slot canyon, we met some others that told us to make the clockwise loop from Peek-a-Boo to Spooky Gulch. It is much easier to drop down through Spooky Gulch rather than climb your way up counter clockwise.
Ensure that when you get out of Peek-a-Boo, once you reach the big tree in the wash, make a right and follow cairns up and over the brushy area. From there you will drop down into Spooky Gulch and it is a lot of fun.
Save some energy for the hike back up and out to your car.
You will be glad you made the trip. The heat is a little challenging but the slot canyons are well worth it. Our tip is, the earlier, the better.
2. Utah - Wire Pass Trail, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area
This is one incredible slot canyon hike. Once you make it to the Wire Pass, you go through several slot canyons and it eventually opens up into a giant area that looks like the cliff dwellings of the Southwest.
Don’t forget to sign the register book that is at this area. Look for the metal box.
As you venture forward, you come to a fork where you can go right or left. We chose to go right and hike a few miles up that canyon. There are some really beautiful formations in the rock. I believe it goes for 13 or so miles. When we chose to turn around and go back to our vehicle, we ended up hiking about 6 miles total. It was a great afternoon and well worth it. There were a few other hikers, but we did not feel rushed or like it was too crowded.
NOTE: There is a $6 fee to pay at the parking area. Envelopes are provided. Bring cash and leave the receipt on your vehicles dashboard.
3. California - Arroyo Tapiado Mud Caves, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
One of our most favorite hiking destinations in California. We come here often and have done many of the caves in almost all of the slot canyons.
With 22 known caves and nine slot canyons, you cannot do everything in one weekend. Some of the caves rival slot canyons in their tight quarters and slot canyon-esc formations.
The slot canyons in this area are amazing. As the day passes, different colors hit the walls and change them from blue to red to orange to yellow. Quite an amazing place.
Look for our video on our YouTube channel. Anza Borrego Mud Caves and Slot Canyons
NOTE: If you camp here, please follow these rules;
- Do not camp farther than one car length from any dirt or paved road
- Do not camp within 100 feet of any water source
- There is no garbage collection outside developed campgrounds so pack-in pack-out
- Ground fires are not permitted, and metal containers must be used for all campfires
4. Utah - The Narrows (Top-Down), Zion National Park
A slot canyon but wider than most. Lots of canyoneering in the finger slots off the main Narrows to be done here as well.
One of the more difficult hikes that we’ve done. GPS said 22 miles after traversing back and forth.
On the first day of our (first) Zion trip, we went to the Ranger Station/Visitor Center really early (when they opened) and obtained our hiking permit for the next day. Once we had our permit, we hired someone to drop us off at the The Narrows Top Down trail head the following day.
We arrived just before dawn and began our hike. The trail head is on the other side of the river, so you have to hike through the water right away to get to the trail head. An unbelievable and memorable hike. It was a lot easier for me. I’m 6’1”, however my wife is only 4‘11“ and it was much more difficult for her, due to the height of the water.
The canyon is amazing, however, it took us almost 16 hours to do the hike with more than 100 traverses back-and-forth across the water. We arrived at the end (parking lot) around 9 PM. There were no shuttles or people to take us back. We thought we were going to have to spend the night in the bathrooms. Luckily, one shuttle bus driver drove up one last time. We were so grateful, we gave him every penny we had as a tip.
It’s an amazing hike and I think we will only do it that one time as a check-off to my bucket list.
5. California - The Slot, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Pretty fun hike. We did it backwards after an amazing 6 mile hike through the back country. Lots of fun places around; including some wind cave and other routes.
The Slot canyon is easily accessible from the parking lot. Just follow the signs to the trail head. The beginning starts off nice and tight which is fun and it starts to open up as you go further down. Once the slot canyon opens up into the regular canyon wash, stay to the left and keep hiking and you’ll find some very awesome little wind caves up and off to the right.
6. New Mexico - Bisti Badlands Trail, Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness
An absolutely amazing place to hike and enjoy. There are so many things to do here.
The slot canyons here are a lot of fun, however it’s like a playground. As you hike around, you will find petrified forest, the most unusual rocks you’ve ever seen, mud formations, hoodoos, Badlands, and so much more. We spent two days here and couldn’t get enough of this place.
Here is a video on our YouTube Channel: Bisti Badlands New Mexico
7. Utah - Zebra and Tunnel Slots, Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument
These slot canyons are pretty close in location to our #1 pick (Peek-a-Boo/Spooky Slot). If you have a chance, do them all during the same trip to Utah.
Utah has so many slot canyons and amazing places that I wanted you to scroll down to here, so you just don’t go to Utah and never see any of the other amazing slot canyons in the Southwest.
If you are in Utah though, don’t miss these slots. They are filled with water sometimes and it’s a hike to get there, but well worth it.
8. California - Annie's Canyon via North Rios Trail, San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve
If you are looking to get away and do a quick slot canyon, this is the perfect canyon close to downtown San Diego.
Although it will only take you about 10 to 20 minutes to complete the slot canyon portion of this hike, it is still great to be outdoors and find a fun little slot canyon in the heart of San Diego.
This canyon can get very crowded on the weekends. We like to go in the morning during the weekdays.