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Slot Canyons: The Bucket List

Truck Camper Magazine readers share their favorite slot canyons and the recommended truck camping locations near by.  Looking for some of the most incredible hikes on planet Earth?  Heed the warnings, and walk into a slot.

A hike into Buckskin Gulch in May of 2010 remains one of our most incredible hikes, ever.  The undulating narrow canyons and towering red rock formed by millions of years of flash flooding and erosion was something out of a Hollywood movie.

The thick sand under our feet, the mesmerizing patterns of rolling rock, and the lizards on the canyon walls – all of it was truly breathtaking.  And a ton of fun.

6 Rules For Safe Slot Canyon Experiences

Before proceeding, there are six very important rules to follow before you walk into a slot canyon.  If you ignore these basic rules, slot canyons can be incredibly dangerous.  Please follow these six simple rules.  We hate to lose readers.

1. Never hike into a slot canyon alone.

There are many reasons for this rule including the various potential dangers of heat stroke, falling, and water hazards.  You’re also very likely to lose cell service inside of a slot canyon, and that’s if the area has it at all.  Having someone with you (or a group) to help in an emergency could be critical.

2. Always let others know about your slot canyon trip.

Before you go into a slot canyon, tell friends and/or family about your plan, the trailhead location and the date and time of your trip.  This is insurance that someone will come find you if you go missing.

3. Carefully choose a slot canyon that matches your physical abilities.

There are slot canyons that are essentially hikes (normal hiking risk), and slot canyons that require advanced rope work, rappelling and exposed climbing (extreme risk for experts only), and everything in between.

Make sure to do your homework ahead of time about the technical aspects, water features and time commitment of any slot canyon you consider.  Do not wander into a slot canyon casually without doing your research.

For example, if you want to hike Buckskin Gulch (highly recommended) do a Google or  Yahoo search and read about the description and difficulty of that slot canyon.

4. If you hit an obstacle you are not comfortable with, turn back.

It’s common sense, but another repeated piece of advice is to know your limitations and turn back when you hit something you’re not comfortable with.

When we ventured into one slot canyon, we eventually hit a bolder that was taller than us with a gnarly rope and some chalk stained grips in the rock.  That’s when we said, “Nope!  Time to go back!” and returned to our truck camper.

5. Always check the local weather in advance.

Flash floods are a very serious threat when exploring slot canyons.  A rain storm several miles away can trap you with sudden torrential flooding.

You can avoid this potential catastrophe with some advanced preparations.  First, pay close attention to local weather forecast.  This means not just the immediate vicinity of the slot canyon, but the surrounding area as well.  Any chance of rain or storms?  Postpone your hike until it clears.

The day of your slot canyon adventure, keep an eye on the horizon.  If you see a building rain or thunderstorm, get out of the canyon.  If you’re already in the canyon and see the water (if there is any) rising in depth, getting muddy, or increasing in debris, get out of the canyon.  And if you hear a sound like a jet engine (rushing water), get to high ground as fast as possible.

6. Dress appropriately, and have the right gear.

In my research for this article, every expert recommends mesh shoes that cover your toes, offers good arch support, and grippy rubber soles.  That means no sandals, no boots and no bare feet.

You should be prepared for deep sand, ankle-deep water (or deeper depending on the slot and conditions) and all kinds of rock surfaces – rough to smooth.

Other recommendations are to bring a light backpack and keep your hands free when hiking and climbing.  This will help with your balance and avoid potential falls.

Items you should consider for any hike include water, nutritious snacks, a small first aid kit, a knife or multi-tool, compass, sun protection, sunglasses, flashlights or headlamps, fire starting supplies, warmer clothing and rainproof clothing.

If You Follow The Rules, Slot Canyons Are Not Dangerous

Statistically, you are in more danger driving your truck down the road than hiking in a slot canyon – especially if you’re following the above rules and being careful.   It’s not like another slot canyon hiker is going to come at you at 60 miles per hour while texting.  Take it slow, use common sense, and have fun.

Bill and Kira Jones
2017 Ford F-350
2018 Northern Lite 9-6Q SE

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, Jemez Springs, New Mexico
3 to 5+ miles. Easy walk in sand to Class three rock scramble.

Kasha Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument

New Mexico’s Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument is a slot canyon with many geological features resulting from wind and water erosion.  It’s a fantastic and almost surreal place, well worth taking time to see in a mindful manner.

Kasha Katuwe Slot Canyon

Access is seriously controlled and limited in both time of day and number of people allowed on site for any given period.  We suggest that one attempt to be there in the morning when the gate opens.

Forget bringing the pet(s) into the monument area.  Security will not allow pets past the entry booth, even if the critter(s) will never exit the vehicle.

Cellular service is non-existent along most of the trail.  Furthermore, normal physical mobility, or better, is required to navigate some tight areas of the trails.  It is a Class 3 scramble (easy and moderate climbing) if you go to the upper elevation of the trail.

Gloves to protect your hands from the rock handholds and a small pack to carry your water and belongings is recommended for the hike.  It is important to keep ones hands free of items when climbing or descending.

Kasha Katuwe National Monument

There is little to no shade once direct overhead sunlight reaches into the canyon, so protective clothing and/or sunscreen is highly recommended.  Take plenty of water and a snack for the hike, especially if you plan to go to the upper elevations.

Tent Rocks National Monument

We camped overnight at a the Cochiti Rec Area in the Buffalo Grove Loop.  The campground is located at Unnamed Road, Cochiti Lake, NM 87083.

It is a low cost campground with water at the sites.  Use a regulator because the water pressure is high.  There is a bathhouse and a dump station.  It’s about nine miles from the campground to the canyon.

David Kiel
2017 Ford F350
2012 Phoenix custom

Great Channels Slot Canyon, Hayters Gap, Virginia 36.86445, -81.94690
6.6 miles out and back, a moderate (1,200 feet) climb all the way to the top

Rocks Inside The Great Channels

We’ve been to several slot canyons in Utah and really enjoyed them.  So, when we heard there is a slot canyon in Virginia, we had to check it out!

In the far south west corner of Virginia in Jefferson National Forest is a unique slot canyon.  The biggest difference between this canyon and what you find out west is the moss covered green rocks.

Moss Covered Rocks Inside The Great Channels

The second is how it was formed.  Great Channels Slot Canyon was formed by ice, not running water.  The ice made a series of deep fractured cracks in the capstone rock on top of Middle Knob that are more like a maze than the more “linear” water eroded slots of the West.

Click here for a detailed description of Great Channels Slot Canyon.

Great Channels Slot Canyon

It is a steep winding road to get to Hayters Gap.  No big RVs should attempt this road.  Also, parking is very limited at the Brumley Mountain Trailhead.

There are no immediate National Forest Service campgrounds within an hour’s drive, so we camped at the free Virginia Wildlife Management Area, Hidden Valley.

Hidden Valley has no campground, but dispersed camping is allowed along the lake front parking area.  It is still about a 40-minute drive to Hayters Gap, or a 12-mile hike one way from the other end of the Brumley Mountain Trail at Hidden Valley.

Russell Berquam
2014 Ford F-350
2015 Arctic Fox 1140

Antelope and Peek-A-Boo Slot Canyons, Page, Utah and Escalante, Utah
Easy and long

Slot Canyon Along The Burr Trail

Over the years we have been to several slot canyons.  Some are more memorable than others, and some have become overrun.

Page AZ Antelope Canyon 2006

Above: 2006 Antelope Slot Canyon

We had a great time in the Lower Antelope slot canyon back in 2006 when we first experienced the canyon.  When we returned last year in 2019, the only thing we saw were the crowds.

Page AZ Antelope Canyon Crowded 2019

Above: 2019 Antelope Slot Canyon

In 2016, we just happened to stop along the side of the road along the Burr Trail in Boulder, Utah and found a slot canyon called Singing Canyon complete with a professional photographer busy capturing lots of images.

Boulder UT Burr Trail Canyon Slot

When we were volunteering at Bryce Canyon we took a trip down the Hole-in-the-Rock Road in Escalante where there are several slot canyons.

Hole In The Rock Road UT Peekaboo Canyon

We choose Peek-A-Boo Canyon which narrowed down to a tight squeeze (pictured above). It was a long hike to get to the canyon, but it was easy.

Hole In The Rock Road UT Devils Garden

An added feature along the Hole-in-the-Rock Road is Devils Garden (pictured above).  We took several interesting photos there.  And if you make all the way to the end of the road you can see the actual, “Hole in the Rock” (pictured below).

The Hole In The Rock

In Page, Utah, we always camp at Lone Rock campground.  Lone Rock is a National Park Service campground along the lake, and it’s still great.

Along the Burr Trail we camped along the road not too far from the slot canyon.  And in Escalante on Hole-in-the-Rock Road you can camp anywhere along the road since it is all BLM land.  Everywhere has a great view.

Navajo Sandstone Walls Along Burr Trail

Beware of spiders and snakes.  They like to hide and can sneak up on you in the slot canyons if you are not careful.

Gary Gadwa
2012 Ford F350
2010 Eagle Cap 950

Buckskin Gulch, East of Kanab, Utah
21-miles of strenuous hikes

Buckskin Gulch Utah

Some say that Buckskin Gulch is the longest slot canyon in the world.  I can confirm that the canyon is absolutely awe-inspiring!  It’s even better that no guides are required and you only need a day permit.

Prearranged and very limited permits from the Kanab BLM office are required for The Wave, which is an ultra scenic geologic area side hike.

Editor’s Note: We have attempted to get permits for The Wave three times and failed to win the daily lottery all three times. If you’re not lucky, nearby Buckskin Gulch is a great second choice. We loved it.

As many know, slot canyons can be dangerous.  Also, if you are claustrophobic, slot canyons may not be for you.  There are some tight spots along the way.

Narrow Buckskin Gulch

It’s also critical to be aware of the weather report for the area ahead of your hike or backpack trip.  Numerous people have perished in Buckskin Gulch canyon over the years from falls and heat stroke, but floods are another potential threat.

Water In Slot Canyons

Above: Only a little bit of water in this slot canyon – you need to be aware of the upcoming weather before entering a slot canyon

Check with BLM authorities if there has been rainy weather or recent flooding as wet suits may be required in some areas.  Most casual hikers are weeded out in the first few miles.  The views are breathtaking and photo opportunities are endless.

Awesome Hike Buckskin Gulch

Editor’s Note: This hike remains one of our all-time favorites.  Don’t be scared off by the warnings.  Just go prepared with snacks and water, pay attention to the weather and surroundings, and know your limitations.  That’s what we did, and we absolutely loved Buckskin Gulch.

There is a small BLM campground a short distance south of the Buckskin Slot Canyon trailhead.  No camping is allowed at the trailhead.  There are a limited number of nice smallish sites available.

Eagle Cap Camper Near Buckskin Gulch

If it rains or snows, the road to the slot canyon as well as the road on south to the BLM campground and beyond can go from treacherous to impassable.  There is the Vermillion Cliffs and Paria Canyon Wilderness trailhead there.

My advice is to let the young overly zealous hikers get by you in a wide spot.  We like to take our time and take loads of photographs.  I not would suggest being at Buckskin Slot Canyon on a weekend or during Spring break.

Douglas Davis
2008 Dodge 3500
2004 Hallmark Cuchara

Red Cliffs Park, Harrisburg, Utah
Three miles round trip

Red Cliffs Park Hike

Red Cliffs Park is near Harrisburg, Utah about 15-miles north of St. George, Utah along I-15.  We were surprised at how easy it was to walk into this slot canyon from the parking/camping area.  Be prepared to be amazed by the power of what water can do.

Red Cliffs Park Upper Canyon

This is a great hike you can take kids on without too much worry.  There are also several other trails and an ancient American site.

Red Reef Trail Head Is The Route To The Slot Canyon

This is a BLM site and camping is very reasonably priced . There are no services other than pit toilets.

Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyons, Escalante, Utah
Three miles round trip from trailhead

The location of Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyons are about 10-miles east of Escalante, Utah off UT-12 then onto BLM Road 200.  Then drive another 15-miles or so to the trailhead.

Peek A Boo And Spooky Sign

The only place high clearance would be helpful is from the Peek-A-Boo Gulch parking area to the trailhead.

Both of these hikes are difficult and ropes would help if you intend on doing Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Slot canyons.  They can be done without ropes, but ropes will help.

Peek A Boo Utah Slot Canyon

Above and below: Peek-A-Boo Slot Canyon

Peek A Boo Canyon

These canyons are similar to Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona, but on a smaller scale.  If you like to photograph beautiful slot canyons, this area has some of the best.

Peek A Boo And Spooky Slot Canyons

We camped at the Dry Fork Trailhead which is on BLM land with no services, but it’s free.  The trailhead campground is less than a mile from the slot canyons.

These canyons get tight, so if you don’t like closed in places don’t go.

Wire Pass To Buckskin Gulch, near Kanab, Utah
Three miles or as much as you can take, moderate hike

Buckskin Gulch is located off Highway 89.  It is about 15 to 20-miles east of Kanab, Utah.  Then, travel south on House Rock Valley Junction road.  The route then turns to a gravel road for approximately 10-miles.

Buckskin Gulch Hike Slot Canyon

Park at the trailhead parking area for Wire Pass that leads to Buckskin Gulch.  Prepare to be in a remote area and plan your route accordingly.

This is one of the longest slot canyons in the world, so it can be quite a hike.  When hiking to Buckskin Gulch from the Wire Pass trailhead, it takes awhile to reach the slot.  There were a few drops in the trail of about three feet when we hiked it.

Sunlight Buckskin Gulch Utah

We went into the canyon for about a mile and came back out.

Always be conscious of the weather when entering a slot canyon.  Most of our hikes in Utah were done in mid to late March so it can be cool to cold.

Craig Horn
2017 Ford 350
2018 Northstar Arrow U

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, Jemez Springs, New Mexico
Three to four mile round trip hike, some steep areas

Tent Rocks Hike New Mexico

Tent Rocks National Monument is an awesome place to go.  There is a hike called Canyon Trail that includes a slot canyon and hoodoos.

It is a short and steep three to four-mile hike to amazing views.  Our advice is to go early because the parking area fills up.  They don’t let you in until people come out.

Tent Rocks New Mexico Slot Canyon

We stayed at Bluffview RV Park in Farmington, New Mexico.  There are full hookups, recently renovated showers, a small dog park, and a very friendly and helpful owner.   The spaces are close to one another, but it was quiet.

Douglas Blake
2001.5 Dodge Ram
2016 Northern Lite 8’5” Q Lite

Spooky Slot Canyon, near Kanab, Utah
Moderate hike, about two miles round trip

Go to the BLM office in Kanab and get your camping permit for Hole-in-the-Rock Road.  Unless it’s been raining it’s an easy dirt road with no need for four-wheel drive.  You just need high clearance.

Near Kanab Utah Narrow Spooky Slot Canyon

The canyons and washes were dry when we went.  They call it Spooky because there’s some very tight squeezes.  Don’t go here if you’re claustrophobic at all.  If you’ve got a bit of a beer belly you won’t make it to the end.  You may want to do some easier canyons before this one.

In Utah is Spooky Slot Canyon

They say you can’t camp at the trailheads, but we did so that we could get an early start. Driving to the trailhead will save you a couple of miles hiking.

After you hike the canyons you can drive further down the road and dry camp on top of the red rocks here (37°19’40.2″N 111°03’33.9″W). The stars at night were amazing!

Peek-a-Boo and Dry Fork canyons were right next to Spooky, so they can be visited on the same day.

Cindy Wallis
2002 Ford F250
2018 Lance 650

Wire Pass To Buckskin Gulch, near Kanab, Utah
1.5 to 2 miles until Buckskin Gulch

Wire Pass that leads to Buckskin Gulch is a small but beautiful slot canyon located down an eight to nine mile rough road near Kanab, Utah.

Just finding the road was an adventure.  We made several attempts that ended with a ranch fence or gate making us turnaround and try again.

We almost gave up, and then came upon the road.  It took about an hour to drive those miles, and it was much easier on the way out since we knew what was ahead.

Flash Flood Sign Slot Canyon Cindy Wallis

The canyon hike was a 1.5 to 2-miles long and joined with Buckskin Gulch and some more slot canyons.  We did not have time to go in that direction.

There is a BLM fee at the trailhead.  At the time we went in 2019, the fee was $6.

Wirepass Way Around The Slot

The actual hike was relatively easy.  It is best not hiked in sandals, which Joyce did.  The footing is mostly very loose sand, and when dry, fairly deep.

Wirepass Slot Canyon Rock Beautiful

There was no elevation change to speak of.  There is one tricky part on the trail inside the canyon where there is a steep drop.

Stick Needed To Get Through Slot Canyon

You can climb down a large stick to continue inside the canyon, but it’s also possible to go outside and around that part of route.

Wirepass Slot Narrow

If you continue far enough into the canyon you eventually will come across some wet areas, but not so wet as to not be easily passable.

Wirepass Slot Canyon Utah Rocks

Wire Pass a beautiful place and has very little traffic compared to the famous slot canyons in Page.  Take the challenge and practice your off-road driving to get there.  It will be worth it.

Jim Hignite
2016 Ram 3500
2009 Lance 1181

Birch Hollow Slot Canyon, Mystery Canyon, Ordeville Gulch, Little Wild Horse and more, All Around Utah
Difficulty depends on the canyon

I have explored many slot canyons over the years, mostly using my truck camper as a base camp because many of the roads to get to them are dirt and difficult to navigate in a large motorhome or travel trailer. The canyons range from easy to walk through to requiring canyoneering and repelling skills. I have included some pictures of a few of the slot canyons I have enjoyed exploring.

Birch Hollow Slot Canyon Just East Of Zion National Park

The first picture is from Birch Hollow Slot Canyon just east of Zion National Park in southern Utah.  The road to access it starts out as a good dirt road, but then the turn-off to the canyon requires a high clearance four whee drive.  We hiked in with all our gear about three miles to the entrance of the canyon.

Definite canyoneering and good repelling skills are needed for this slot canyon.  There are many drops.  A couple are about a hundred feet.  Once you enter there is no turning back.  It is short; only about half mile long.  As you can see from the picture, it is a beautiful canyon.  Camping can be done near the trailhead in many dispersed locations.

The next two pictures are in Mystery Canyon in Zion National Park.

Mystery Canyon In Zion National Park

A permit is required for this slot canyon. It is very long and the last repel, drops you about 100-feet down a waterfall into the Narrows of Zion National Park.  I have done the entire Narrows at Zion a few times.

Mystery Canyon Climbing Zion National Park

Canyoneering and repelling skills are required.  There is one 100-foot drop that drops you over a blind wall where you cannot see the bottom of the canyon from the top.  You can camp in Zion National Park or near the trailhead boondocking is allowed on BLM land in Utah.

The next few pictures are of Ordeville Gulch in Zion. A permit is needed for this canyon as well.

Ordeville Gulch In Zion Walk

This is a long canyon that ends in the Narrows.  No specific skills are needed for this canyon.  There are few technical areas, but they are easily navigated.

Ordeville Gulch In Zion Water Wade Through

You will get wet.  Some swimming is required.  Camping is the same as for Mystery Canyon.

The last picture of my truck camper is when we were boondocking just outside of Little Wild Horse slot canyon in central Utah just outside of Goblin Valley.  This is an easy slot canyon that can be walked through and navigated with children.  The road to the canyon is a good paved road.

Lance 1181 Slot Canyon Trips

There are some more easy slot canyons down the Hole-In-The-Rock Road just outside of Escalante, Utah.  Spooky and Peek-A-Boo are easy ones that kids enjoy.  There is dispersed boondocking camping all along the Hole-In-The-Rock Road.

Before entering slot canyons, check the weather.  Flash floods have killed people who get trapped in them during flash floods.

Know the canyon and your skill level before you enter a slot canyon.  Many require canyoneering and repelling skills.  Once you are in some of the slot canyons there is no turning back.  You have to continue to the end.

I continue to enjoy exploring slot canyons.  Many are very beautiful and there is a lot to explore.

Click here to read about other places to visit and camp in the United States and Canada.

 

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