Grand Staircase Escalante has all of the beauty of one of the nearby Utah national parks but it is a little more rugged. The roads might be a little rougher and the driving distances a little farther than other locations. But hiking Escalante’s famous slot canyons in Utah is a bucket list item unlike any other.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about hiking in slot canyons. You’ll find all of the specifics for Escalante’s most popular hikes including what to bring, trail regulations, trailhead GPS coordinates and detailed trail instructions.
Table of Contents
- Escalante Area Slot Canyons
- How much is admission to hike Escalante slot canyons?
- Peek A Boo and Spooky Overview: Most Popular
- Zebra and Tunnel Overview: Most Photogenic
- Coyote Gulch Overview: Most Adventurous
- Other Hiking Options in Escalante
- Lower Calf Creek Falls
- Escalante Natural Bridge
- What is a slot canyon?
- Know Before you Hike a Slot Canyon
- What to bring to hike a slot canyon
- Trail Regulations
- How to Mentally Prepare for Hiking a Slot Canyon
- Getting There (including trailhead GPS coordinates)
- Why is it named Hole in the Rock Road?
- Driving Directions
- Most Popular Slot Canyon Hikes in Escalante
- Hiking Peek-a-Boo and Spooky
- Is it best to hike Peek-a-Boo and Spooky as a loop or an out and back?
- Why is it named Peek-a-Boo?
- Why is it named Spooky?
- Navigating Peek-a-Boo and Spooky (trail instructions)
- Hiking Zebra and Tunnel
- Why is it named Zebra?
- Why is it named Tunnel?
- Navigating Zebra and Tunnel (trail instructions)
- Hiking Peek-a-Boo and Spooky
- Summary: Hiking Slot Canyon at Grand Staircase Escalante
Escalante Area Slot Canyons on Hole in the Rock Road
Southern Utah and Grand Staircase Escalante are known for their amazing slot canyon hikes. The most popular and accessible slot canyon trails are located on Hole in the Rock Road near the small town of Escalante. Among these are Peek-a-Boo, Spooky Gulch, Zebra and Tunnel.
How much is admission to hike the Escalante slot canyons?
Hole in the Rock Road is located on Bureau of Land Management property in Southern Utah. It is public land and is open for everyone’s enjoyment. Admission is free so start planning your trip now.
Is Grand Staircase Escalante worth visiting?
Grand Staircase Escalante is definitely worth visiting. We enjoyed the hiking as much as the nearby Utah national parks. It is much less crowded and has more types of hikes than most of the parks. Slot canyons are some of the most popular trails in Escalante.
Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Overview: Most Popular
Peek-a-Boo, also known as Red Canyon, is the most popular slot canyon in Escalante. It can be hiked individually or combined with Spooky to make a loop.
Easy Slot Canyon Escalante: Peek-a-Boo
Peek-a-Boo is classified as an easy hike and is a nice introduction to slot canyons.
Beware, the Peek-A-Boo entrance requires scrambling up a 10-foot rock face to access the canyon. There are hand and foot holds to assist in the short climb. Also the entrance can have standing water during wet seasons. Prepare to walk through the water on your hike.
Spooky is a bit narrower and longer than Peek-A-Boo. Many sections of the trail are too narrow to get sun. These sections are considered dark and spooky to many hikers.
Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyon
Distance: 4.4 miles roundtrip
Time Required: 3 to 4 hours depending on skill level and current conditions
Difficulty: Peek-A-Boo (easiest) Spooky (moderate)
Best time to visit: year-round (summer is the rainy season and dangerous flash floods are possible)
Zebra and Tunnel Overview: Most Photogenic
Zebra Canyon’s unique pink stripes make it a very photogenic canyon. The trail to the canyon is exposed with no sun protection. It is a short canyon but can be challenging due to extremely narrow sections and standing water.
Zebra and Tunnel Slot Canyons
Distance: 6.6 miles roundtrip
Time Required: 3 to 5 hours depending on skill level and current conditions
Difficulty: easy (exposed to sun)
Best time to visit: year-round (summer is the rainy season and dangerous flash floods are possible)
Coyote Gulch Overview: Most Adventurous
Coyote Gulch is a longer and more challenging option for the most adventurous hiker. It is not technically a slot canyon but is an awesome option in Escalante. It follows the Escalante River through a canyon. The trailheads are also located along Hole in the Rock road.
Coyote Gulch can be done as a long day hike or an overnight backcountry trip. Backcountry camping permits are necessary and can be obtained at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab, UT.
Escalante River Slot Canyon Hike
Coyote Gulch follows the Escalante River through a canyon. It can be accessed from several trailheads along Hole in the Rock Road. Trail sections range from 2 miles to 13 miles one way.
Hikers are rewarded with a dense concentration of natural features including a natural bridge, two arches, and several waterfalls. Check out the NPS site for more details about hiking Coyote Gulch.
Coyote Gulch Trail Options
Red Well trailhead to Escalante River – 13 miles (one way)
Hurricane Wash trailhead to Escalante River – 12.3 miles (one way)
Fortymile Ridge: Water Tank to Coyote Gulch- 2 miles (one way) (requires 100+ feet of class 5 friction climbing)
Fortymile Ridge: Crack in the Wall to Coyote Gulch– 2.5 miles (one way) (contains a large sand dune (700 feet of elevation)
Can you hike Grand Staircase Escalante?
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument covers over a million acres. There are several amazing hikes that don’t require squeezing into narrow slot canyons.
Other Hiking Trails in Escalante
Lower Calf Creek Falls and Escalante Natural Bridge are our favorites hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante. Both trailheads can get busy so arrive early.
Check out One Day at Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument: Some of Utah’s Best Hikes outside the Big 5 National Parks for all of the details on these hikes.
Lower Calf Creek Falls
Lower Calf Creek Falls is 7 miles roundtrip but ends at a beautiful waterfall. We saw several people spending the day at the cool shady area around the waterfall. Some people might get scared off by the idea of hiking 7 miles.
The trail itself isn’t very strenuous but it is exposed with little shade. Families and seniors alike were making this hike. We even saw locals hiking with full-sized folding camp chairs so they could spend some time enjoying the waterfall in comfort.
Considering the trail as a morning 3.5-mile hike and afternoon 3.5-mile hike makes it more manageable.
Escalante Natural Bridge
Escalante Natural Bridge is a 5.5-mile trail that leads to a natural bridge. The bridge is cool but the best part of this hike is the river crossings. There are 12 river crossings. Kids, of all ages, love them.
We had no experience with river crossings so it was fun and new to us. By the end of the hike, we decided to walk in the river to keep cool. Escalante Natural Bridge hike is really popular because it is an awesome walk around and through the river.
Now back to our regularly scheduled program – hiking a slot canyon in Escalante.
What is a slot canyon?
Slot canyons are narrow canyons eroded into slick rock. They are slots in the rock that some adventurous hiker thought they could fit through. Now we all follow the path they discovered. The slots grow in width with time and erosion.
Slot canyons are very common in the area of Utah around Escalante. Nearby Zion National Park and Bryce National Park both also have slot canyons. Check out our Zion and Bryce posts for more details on hiking in the parks and planning your trip.
Know Before You Hike a Slot Canyon
- Fill your fuel tanks in the towns of Escalante or Boulder before starting the drive down Hole in the Rock Road.
- Most slot canyon hikes require climbing over, under and through narrows spaces. Some previous navigation and rock scrambling skills will assist in these tasks but are not necessary.
- Arrive early to avoid crowds. The Escalante slot canyons are very popular and can get crowded.
- Narrow passages are common in slot canyons. Leave large backpacks at home. Most adults have to remove their packs (even small ones) to be able to fit through a few of the tightest sections. Those with claustrophobia should consider this before beginning the hike. Also, larger body types might find some of the most narrow spots challenging to pass.
- Upper body strength is helpful for navigating most slot canyons.
- Many trailheads along Hole in the Rock Road have pit or vault toilets.
- There is no drinking water available. Bring your own water. BLM recommends four liters per person.
- Hikers with claustrophobia, a fear of small spaces, may not enjoy hiking in the Escalante slot canyons.
- Standing water at the bottom of slot canyons is common. Prepare to get your shoes and feet wet and dirty.
- Check road conditions before driving any BLM roads in Escalante. Rain or snow can make the road impassable by 4×4.
- Leashed dogs are allowed in Escalante slot canyons. But only bring dogs who are good climbers. The canyon is too narrow to carry the dog in many spots.
- Watch for the snakes. Great Basin Rattlesnakes are native to Escalante’s desert and canyons.
- Do not hike if rain is forecasted. Surprising quantities of water flow into these canyons during a rain shower. Slot canyons are subject to dangerous flash flooding. Many people have been trapped and died in slot canyon flash floods.
What to Bring to Hike Slot Canyons
- A sense of adventure
- Decent upper body strength or enough determination to overcome weak arms
- Drinking water (southern Utah is hot in summer and dry year-round)
- Shoes with good grip that you can get wet and muddy
- Wear Sunscreen (for the hiking sections outside the canyons)
- Permits are not required to day hike Escalante’s slot canyons on Hole in the Rock Road.
- Camping permits are required for all overnight trips into the backcountry.
- Leashed dogs are allowed.
- Leave No Trace principles are in effect on all BLM property. If you pack it in, then you should pack out. This means all human waste should be packed out.
How to Mentally Prepare to Hike a Slot Canyon
Intrigued by slot canyons, I watched several YouTube videos of others taking this hike.
One guy, without any fear of small spaces, scraped up his legs and arms on the hike. He was a big, physically fit guy and had trouble fitting through several sections. He took an audible breath of relief at the end of the hike as he exited the end of the canyon.
I quickly decided slot canyons were not the best choice for my slight claustrophobia. I recommend watching at least one video to make sure you’re up to the challenge.
My favorite was this one by America’s Parks. They are experienced hikers without too much technical hiking. In short, they don’t take themselves too seriously.
Getting to the Slot Canyons at Escalante
The most popular slot canyon hikes in Grand Staircase are located on Hole in the Rock Road. It is a 58-mile dirt road.
The road can be a rough ride for a passenger vehicle in dry conditions but it is generally passable. However, any moisture can have a huge negative impact on the conditions.
Roads in the area often become impassable after rain or snow. The clay conditions make the road impassable to even 4×4 vehicles. To be safe do not dry on wet roads in the desert. Check at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab, UT for current road conditions to the slot canyon trailheads.
Why is it called Hole in the Rock Road?
In 1879, the San Juan Mission of Mormon pioneers named The Hole in the Rock near Escalante Utah.
The almost vertical Glen Canyon walls made crossing the Colorado River impossible until they discovered this “hole in the rock”. Even here, they spent six weeks creating a path for the wagon party to descent the 45-foot cliffside.
Hole in the Rock Road is a 56-mile maintained dirt road with several popular hikes.
Driving Directions to Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Hike
Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyon loop trail is a really popular hike. It is located 26.3 miles down the Hole in the Rock Road. Hole in the Rock Road can be accessed from scenic Highway 12 east of the town of Escalante. In Google maps, the trailhead is searchable by Lower Dry Fork trailhead.
Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyons Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 37.476782, -111.220040
Driving Directions to Zebra and Tunnel Hike
Zebra and Tunnel Slot Canyons is a shorter driving option than the Peek-A-Boo Spooky loop. It is located 8 miles after the cattle guard on Hole in the Rock Road. The trailhead is on the south side of the road.
Zebra and Tunnel Slot Canyons Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 37.639444, -111.445556
Can you drive to Zebra slot canyon?
Yes, during dry weather most passenger vehicles can drive to the trailhead for Zebra slot canyon. The hike from the trailhead to Zebra slot canyon is a few miles of the dry desert trail marked by cairns.
Most Popular Slot Canyon Hikes in Escalante
Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyon is by far the most popular hike in Grand Staircase Escalante. The total hike is 4.4 miles roundtrip and requires climbing over, under and through narrows spaces.
Equally as beautiful is the nearby Zebra Slot Canyon. It is a short hike with naturally occurring stripes in the canyon walls. Zebra can be combined with the Tunnel Slot Canyon for a 6.6 miles roundtrip.
Hiking Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Gulch Slot Canyon Loop in Escalante
Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Gulch slot canyons in Escalante are a very popular loop combination. They are on many visitors’ bucket lists. When we visited Escalante, I originally wanted to hike the slot canyons as well. But after researching, I chickened out.
I have a slight fear of small spaces and I got scared by others’ experiences. I regret not trying the more mild Peek-A-Boo option. It is possible to hike Peek-a-Boo and as an out and back instead of a loop combined with Spooky Gulch. The hike to Peak-a-Boo, also known as Red Canyon, is 0.7 miles one way.
Spooky has more narrow spaces than Peek-a-Boo but you don’t have to commit to both. The walk between the two slot canyons allows hikers the option to walk back to their car instead of towards Spooky.
How long does it take to hike Peek-a-Boo and Spooky slot canyons?
The Peek-a-Boo and Spooky loop hike can range from 3.5 to 5.5 miles depending on the paths you chose to walk when not in the canyons. Hiking speed varies so the time to hike Peek-a-Boo and Spooky can range from 2.5 to 5 hours.
Hiking in slot canyons is generally a slow process. Each step forward is different and requires its own strategy. Allow at least 4 hours to complete the Peek-a-Boo and Spooky slot canyon loop hike.
Is it best to do Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Gulch as a Loop or Out and Back hike?
If you love the idea of adventure and have no reservations about the hike, definitely do the loop of Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Gulch. It is one of the most popular hikes in the area for a reason.
Peek-a-Boo offers a good introduction to slot canyons and navigating obstacles. And if you don’t love hiking slot canyons, you can head back to your car after Peek-a-Boo rather than continuing to Spooky.
Spooky is quite a bit narrower and requires travel through tighter passages. Leave backpacks outside the canyon since you’ll need to be as small as possible to fit.
Why is it named Peek-A-Boo?
After finishing the canyon portion of the hike, you can actually look down and see hikers below peeping up through the narrow slot. Peek-a-Boo!
Why is it named Spooky?
Spooky slot canyon is so narrow that much of it does not get sun. The dark tight space is considered scary or spooky to many.
Navigating Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyons in Escalante
The Dry Fork trailhead leads hikers to a few short cliffs that require moderate scrambling down into a creek wash. There are cairns to assist with navigation. If visiting during a busy time, you can just follow other hikers.
After hiking through the creek wash, you’ll see the mouth of Peek-a-Boo canyon. There are notches in the 10-foot rock face to use as hand and footholds.
Once entering the canyon, you can’t get off course. Follow the canyon to the end.
At this point, you can walk back to your car or continue the loop to Spooky.
If continuing to Spooky, follow the trail and cairns. The distance between the two slot canyons can seem long in the sun after enjoying the shady canyon.
The trail leads past a juniper tree and then slightly right to the entrance of Spooky Gulch. The entrance requires a scramble down a rock face. The canyon tightens up quickly and you’ll understand the name.
Hiking Zebra and Tunnel Slot Canyon Loop in Escalante
Zebra is by far the most photogenic slot canyon in Escalante. The pink striped walls attract visitors despite difficult hiking conditions.
Zebra is more narrow than Spooky Gulch and can be 8-10″ wide in some spots. It also usually has standing water in it. Water depths can range from ankle-deep to chest-deep depending upon recent rains. However, the hike through Zebra Canyon is only 100 meters long in total.
Why is it named Zebra Canyon?
Zebra canyon has natural variation in the stone colors caused by past geological events. The unique pink stripes on the canyon walls are reminiscent of the black and white stripes found on a zebra.
Why is it named Tunnel Canyon?
Tunnel Canyon is a short section of a slot canyon in Escalante. It is less impressive than Zebra but is cool in its own way. Tunnel Canyon has boulders over the roof of the canyon causing it to look and feel like a tunnel.
Navigating Zebra and Tunnel Slot Canyons in Escalante
The trailhead is located across the road from the parking area about 8 miles into Hole in the Rock Road. Precise trailhead GPS coordinates are listed in the Driving Directions section above. The well-marked path leading towards Harris Wash and Zebra canyon starts near a cattle guard.
Follow this path for about 45 minutes to the bottom of Halfway Hollow. Stay on the trail on the left side of the wash as long as possible. You will need to go into Harris Wash at one point but do not cross over. Continue to walk in the wash for about 500 feet (150 meters) until the trail continues on the west bank of the wash. Follow this trail until you reach the entrance to Zebra Canyon.
Zebra canyon starts off very wide where it joins Harris Wash but it narrows within the first 10 minutes. Water is often standing in these narrow areas. The water can be several feet deep but you’ll need to continue past the water to reach the nearby zebra-striped section. After the zebra section, you’ll need to climb a small dryfall (i.e. a waterfall without the water) to exit the canyon as it opens back up.
To continue to Tunnel Canyon, go back to Harris Wash. Follow it for 20-30 more minutes to the first side canyon on the left. Tunnel Canyon can also have standing water which ranges in depth based on recent rainfall.
After completing Tunnel Canyon, return to Harris Wash. Follow the trail back to Halfway Hollow and the trailhead.
Summary: Hiking Slot Canyons at Grand Staircase Escalante
In conclusion, hiking options are abundant in Southern Utah. But if hiking slot canyons are on your bucket list, don’t miss Escalante’s gems. Admission is free so start planning your trip today.