Little Wild Horse Canyon is an awesome slot canyon, and one I can’t recommend enough to anyone looking to hike their first slot canyon. Located just outside of Goblin Valley State Park in the South-Central region of Utah’s desert, it’s only a 4hr drive from Salt Lake City and 2hrs from Moab. The canyon itself is stunningly beautiful, with eroded sandstone walls that you could spend a lifetime exploring. The best part about this experience, is that it isn’t a technical route. That means, no ropes (or canyoneering experience) is required. Simply lace up those hiking boots and follow the canyon walls as far as your heart desires.
While some hikers choose to do an out-and-back to some arbitrary turn around point in Little Wild Horse, we chose to check off the entire Little Wild Horse/Bells loop. What is the entire loop you might ask? Well, from the trailhead you reach a junction at 0.7miles where you can either go right, into Little Wild Horse, or straight, into Bells Canyon. Going counter clockwise, you can hike the 5 miles to the end of Little Wild Horse, then walk a 4×4 road for another 2 miles, and then enter at the top of Bells Canyon. Bells Canyon eventually drops you back down to the junction near the start of the trail. The whole loop is just under 10miles with a total elevation gain somewhere around 1,500′. But I can assure you, this will be one of the most fun hikes you’ll ever do. After all, it’s a slot canyon!
What exactly is a slot canyon? A slot canyon is defined as being significantly deeper than it is wide, and formed by the wear of water rushing through rock. Basically, it’s a very narrow trail with the rock walls being as close together as a couple feet. In Little Wild Horse, the canyon get’s so narrow that you have to pass through sideways or else your shoulders won’t fit. But don’t worry, you won’t get stuck. So it’s not too narrow.
After a heavy rainfall the week before, we were concerned about pools of water in the canyon. To be safe, I chose to hike it in my TEVAs and brought my backup DSLR camera just in case. Luckily, it was 95% dry, with only a few small puddles here and there.
Heading out from the trailhead, I wasn’t sure of what to expect. There was 6 of us, in total, in our party. Two of them had already hiked this and were complaining about how packed and crowed it was leaving the parking lot. Note, it was Memorial Day weekend, and the weather was incredible. Sunny and in the upper 70s. Regardless, we headed in with the rest of the crowd, passing by hoards of families with tons of little ones. We climbed our way over boulders and steps near the entrance of the canyon, and walked along the wide path for the first mile or so. The walls towered so high above and the morning’s sunlight just barely made its way down to the canyon floor. It was already an awesome hike, and then it started to get even better.
The walls began to close in on each other, 10 feet across, down to 5 feet, down to 3, and some parts down to just over a foot across. You had to climb your way over boulders that had been wedged into the canyon during a previous storm that gushed water downstream. Stemming your hands on both sides of the wall, pressing yourself up and over the step. It was such a new experience to most of us. The dogs, on the other-hand made, made light work of every single obstacle in their path. A quick jump, and boom! They cleared or climbed over it. For miles and miles we navigated through this maze of sandstone, taking in everything we could. The textures, the sounds, the light, the everything. There’s no cell service down there to distract you, just 100% nature. And a nature that I still have a hard time believing is real.
Eventually, the fun has to come to an end, when you reach the exit of Little Wild Horse Canyon and are spit out into a much more open section of the trail by the top of the loop. This section much more resembles hiking through the wash found all over the desert landscape. Coincidentally, it was also the perfect time for lunch. We found a spot under a roof section carved out by water to give us some reprieve from the scorching sun. Court and I broke out the meats and cheese, as per usual, while Gregor took a nap in the hot sun, also as per usual. The rest of the gang ate their snacks and we were headed off before we knew it. Up and around the bend, out into the hot desert sun we hiked.
After 2 miles of hiking in the open wash, on the 4×4 trail, we eventually started downhill into the mouth of Bells Canyon. Though it wasn’t nearly as narrow, or slotted, as Little Wild Horse, it proved to have its own challenges and excitement. Every 200 yards or so there were large drops that we needed to navigate down. Some so big that the dogs would just sit at the top waiting to be helped down! We’d grab’m by their harness and help them down into one of the many pools of water that they loved to jump into anyway. This was also the point when I was very thankful to be wearing my TEVA sandals. Hiking in soft sand, let alone through water, can be a real drag in hiking boots that somehow always fill up with both.
We wandered our way through the remainder of the 3 miles of Bells Canyon, with the sun directly overhead now. By this point, it had been a long day, and everyone was excited to be done. It’s hard to keep morale up after 4hrs in the hot sun hiking through sand. So once we got back to the junction and knew we had just a little more trail to go, we all were relieved.
Overall, it is an incredible experience. Even if you can’t do the whole 10mile loop, I still recommend checking this place out. Don’t worry, they’re will be plenty of other hikers there so that you won’t get lost or turned around. And even if you’re claustrophobic, the canyon never becomes too overwhelming. To experience what nature can do to a rock, by cutting through hundreds and hundreds of feet is truly breathtaking. So the next time you’re looking for a weekend adventure, or something to do outside of Moab on one of their busy weekends, go check out Little Wild Horse Canyon.