Squeezing through a slot canyon that was so tight, I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d ever reach the end. With my feet wedged into the narrowest section on the bottom of the canyon, shimmying myself along the wall, my hips would go no further. I was stuck…
Zebra Canyon, located 13 miles outside of the desert town of Escalante, was the toughest slot canyon I’ve faced yet. But, I will also tell you it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had in the desert, not to mention you’re rewarded with an incredible photo at the end. With that being said, if you’re a claustrophobic person, I recommend you stop reading now.
Getting to Zebra Slot Canyon
Heading out from town, drive east until you reach the popular turnoff for Hole in the Rock Road (BLM 200). After 8 miles of some soul crushing, washboard rutted, dirt road, you reach the trailhead in the middle of nowhere. The slot canyon itself, doesn’t begin until you’ve hiked 2.5 miles across the barren desert wash first. Only after trudging through fine, deep, calf burning sand do you reach the mouth of the canyon. Following the trail leads you to what seems like a dead end, but for anyone who’s ever watch an Indian Jones movie knows, you’ve only reached the beginning.
Entering Zebra Slot Canyon
Based on the differing opinions and beta we read online beforehand, we were aware of the perpetual standing water near the entrance of the canyon. The reports indicated, at most times of the year, it is waist deep! Fortunately for us, the water was only above our ankles, but what water remained was colder than I could have ever imagined. Little did I know, this was going to be the easiest part of the entire canyon.
The four of us, Court, her Mom, Gail, Gregor, and myself passed through the frigid water and began to navigate the ever narrowing canyon. More than the rest of us, I was nervous that Gregor would get stuck; seeing as this was his first time walking through a narrow slot canyon. But after the first difficult section, after the pool crossing, the four of us made it to an open section with little difficulty.
Throughout the canyon, after each tight, claustrophobia inducing section, it would open up to a round, 4ft circular section that would allow us to regroup and leave bags behind before the next section. Unfortunately, only a few people can hang out there at a time before it becomes overcrowded. This is something we had not prepared for when we entered and quickly realized there was a group of 6 in front of us with 3 dogs in tow.
At risk of meeting the group in a narrow, impassible section, we pressed on through the tightest section of the canyon. Gregor, who always has to be in front, reached a spot where his butt could go no further. Quickly, he panicked and feverishly backed up. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t funny to watch him wiggle his butt backwards. I then climbed over him and tried to squeeze down the route myself. With my face nearly touching the wall in front of me, and my chest and butt pressed firmly into each side of the canyon, I side stepped my way towards the next opening. Slowly, but surely, I inched my way forward. Until I couldn’t. I was stuck.
I’ll admit, if it wasn’t for the open air at the top of the canyon, I might have panicked as much as Gregor did. But I calmly took a breath, backed up the way I came, and then attempted to move forward again with a different body angle this time. Stuck again. Embarrassed, and regretting the junk food I’d been eating all week, I twisted my body to the side and luckily was able to slip through. Gregor followed my lead and squeezed through as well. Court and her Mom on the other-hand, slipped through with no issues at all.
Now standing in another “open” section, we heard another group in front of us. There we waited for them to pass by. One of these canyon dwellers was the “instagram famous” dog mom, Brianna Madia and her two pups, Bucket and Dagwood! This was quite the surprise and only made this experience better than it already was.
The last section we had to navigate was another equally tight segment of canyon before we reached the Coup de grâce of Zebra Canyon. The candy cane patterned walls. Symmetry from top to bottom from eons of water forming this canyon’s shape. Contouring each wall carved by turbulent water during each season’s storms. It truly looked incredible, and another secret that desert has kept throughout the years.
Exiting the canyon went much smoother, knowing that we had already passed through, so we knew getting out was possible. We shimmed and stemmed our way through the canyon walls. Section by section, we navigated back towards the opening. Zebra Canyon does go a descent amount further than where we stopped, but it became too difficult to go further with a dog and our group. It didn’t matter to me, this slot canyon was incredible and cannot reccomend it enough.
I will reccomend to go as early as possible in the day. This place can be downright dangerous if overcrowded. On our way out, we counted 30 people were going to be entering an already full slot canyon. This is dangerous for you and for everyone else. And adding dogs to the mix doesn’t make it easier.
My name is Zachary Kenney and I’m an adventure filmmaker & photographer. My passion is to tell stories that will hopefully motivate you to go live a more adventurous life. Whether that is to experience the view from the summit of a mountain, or wandering through a new town on a road trip. Currently based out of Park City, UT.