A slot canyon begins as a hairline crack in rock, which is beaten upon by rapidly flowing water until it becomes larger; finally over a vast period of time and a multitude of flash floods have eroded the rock, it forms a narrow crevice. The final result is a hiker and photographers paradise of almost claustrophobic caverns, twisting and turning, often allowing only a glitter of glowing light into its depths. Wind, water and time carve lines on the walls of some slot canyons like Red Cave where flowing patterns run fluidly like the wind that help make them. An irregularity can cause water to swirl forming a hollow, then another and another until the canyon is a series of walls and hollows. It’s only a short distance between the hollows in some slot canyons while others are farther apart, creating what is known as a technical canyon. A canyoneer navigating a technical canyon will set up a rope in a hollow and rappel down a wall to the next hollow.
Exploring Slot Canyons - Exploring Slot Canyons - Utah has the densest population of slot canyons in the world due to the eroding soft sandstone and arid conditions found in the state. Although most people have heard of two or three slot canyons, there are actually over one-thousand slot canyons south of I-70. Not all are easy to explore due to water and other obstacles within them. Twisting, turning slot canyons often trap pot holes of water, keeping the liquid hidden from the sun until it becomes ice cold and others are simply not worth the time. Most slot canyons require at least a scramble over boulders, between crevices and even swimming through ice cold water to explore. Once in a while a drought will leave a portion of a canyon empty that normally holds water and during those times it can be more easily explored such as Echo Canyon in Zion. Many, but certainly not all of the slot canyons in Zion require rope and canyoneering skills to explore.
Zion Narrows - The granddaddy of slot canyons, the Zion Narrows, reveals over eighteen-million years of geological history in its caverns. The Zion Narrows is ranked by National Geographic list as the fifth best adventure in the US, they authors need to do Kolob Creek or Imlay or even an easier canyon like Pine Creek and they would know that no where surpasses Zion National Park!
Echo Canyon - This is an enchanting slot canyon hidden in the heart of Zion Canyon. When the slot canyon is dry it's a moderate hike with some bouldering, however don't expect to find dry conditions very often. When I found it dry was a summer after years of drought.
Red Cave - This fantastic semi-technical slot canyon appears to be two separate canyons, but it is one with two forks; the upper and lower fork. No ropes are usually required, but someone in the group needs to have good climbing skills. This canyon is exceptionally photogenic.
Red Canyon - Expect to travel a deep sandy path to get there but it takes you right to the canyon door. The slot itself is an easy stroll. For a canyon that is so easy to explore it’s quite photogenic.
Mineral Gulch - This is a long day hike and the slot section is outstanding. To top it off there are arches, caves and petroglyphs. Rope skills are not usually required to get to the slot section.
Red Hollow - Located in Orderville, about 20 miles east of Zion is this short hike through a wonderful hollow ending at an impossibly narrow, but very short slot. When the water is running the waterfall is fantastic and the stemming is a blast. Rope skills are not required to get to this slot section.
Lick Wash - Lick Wash is an enjoyable slot canyon that families can enjoy together. The path has few elevation changes and the canyon walls offer shade and a host of cubby holes for kids to play in. This canyon has some nice photogenic areas. Rope skills are not required.
Willis Creek - Willis Creek is not far from Lick Wash. It is more photogenic and has a bubbling stream of water flowing through it. Rope skills are not required.
Bull Valley Gorge - This gorge is a gem in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument located near Lick Wash and Willis Creek. If water is present it can become a difficult canyon. Combine Bull Valley Gorge with Willis Creek for a wonderful 10-mile hike.
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Suggested Gear: A sturdy pair of shoes are recommend to hike the trails in Zion National Park. Many quality shoes will help grip the rocks and prevent injury.
Stay in the heart of the parks, Mount Carmel Junction, and visit the treasures of the Southwest and Utah.