North America Travel

The Desert’s Stripes in Utah: Our Favorite Slot Canyons

When you visit Utah, the desert reminds you just how beautiful the US can be. Utah has natural arches. It has amazing hoodoos in Goblin Valley and Bryce Canyon. And it’s home to some gorgeous, secluded slot canyons with multi-colored, multi-layered sand walls. Exploring the slot canyons was one of our favorite things to do in Utah, and one of the types of hiking we miss most! Our two favorites were Zebra Canyon and Kanarra Creek Trail.

Zebra Canyon

Zebra Canyon’s name is all too literal, but we’ll get there. This canyon is part of the Grand Staircase Escalante region of Utah. We LOVED exploring this region in general as it is stunning. But after we did a lovely hike through Calf Creek in the morning, we sought out to find Zebra Canyon for our afternoon hike. Like so many of our hikes, we went down a dirt road for A WHILE before finding the trail head. The number of times we almost turned back…

Finding the Trail

Then we saw an inkling of civilization – a car or two parked off to the side of the road. We pulled up and get out of the car, proud we found it. But wait, where was it? Looking out from the car, there was desert everywhere. No sign of a trail. We crossed the road and in the distance we saw what appeared to be a part of the desert other people had beat down to a path. That seemed like as good a guess as any to be the trail. We set off.

Given the frustrations of the long dirt road and the almost imperceptible trail, Neal and I weren’t too happy with each other when we started off. It was hot and we walked a mile before seeing our first sign of life (several cairn – the stones piled up on each other). There was no shade, no animals. There was just me, Neal and the 60 miles we’d hiked in the previous week. We were desperate to get there or turn back already

That is not to say it wasn’t beautiful along the way. After about a mile of flat desert, we entered into an area surrounded by large rock hills. This was the first glimpse of the infamous swirl in the rocks!

(In Bryce Canyon, these are much more well-defined and you can see white and orange strips in the mountainside everywhere. It kind of makes me wonder what they would look like cut in half like a geode.)

Finding the Canyon

The path through here was definitely a path, until you got to the wash. At some point in the year, this area must have water running through it. Perhaps in the Spring? It’s totally dried out by the end of September. The path turns straight into soft sand that you just have to trek through until you hopefully realize the canyon is just around the corner!

When we finally got to the canyon, there were people just walking out. Out of the water, that is. Our fear had come true: the canyon was filled waist-high with water. We didn’t have water boots and we didn’t have towels. What were we going to do? Had we come all this way to just look at the entrance? Hell naw.

The people coming out of the water encouraged us to get in. They said it was freezing and the canyon was difficult to navigate, but we had to do it. We took our hiking boots off and carried them in our hands, wading through the water. We thought at first it wasn’t too bad. The canyon was fairly wide and the water was just above our knees. But it quickly got deeper and narrower.

Then it got so narrow, there was no water anymore! At that point, we were climbing the rocks and seeing just how far it went. We knew we hadn’t gotten to the true zebra stripping yet, so we continued in, deeper and deeper.

When we finally got there, the stripping was gorgeous.

I was really happy to have held my boots through the water (some people wear ’em in). If I had to climb that much in wet boots, it would have been horrible. But it was hard work anyway climbing these walls. I took a rest or two in the rocks.

Once you’ve gotten through as much as you want to get through (I didn’t see a real way to climb all the way through the canyon), you just go out the way you came in. The whole thing takes 3 hours to explore and it’s unforgettable!

Kanarra Canyon

Another really beautiful canyon is at the end of Kanarra Creek Trail. You get to this trail by driving through a small town and then on a back road until you hit a parking lot in the middle of nowhere. You get to see these friendly sheep along the way!

When we got to the parking lot, a guy was selling water boots. We thought to ourselves, oh no! Another waist-high water adventure?? That would have been okay with me, but Neal wasn’t feeling it. We almost decided not to do it before finally pushing on. Thank god we did because we had so much fun on this trail and it was PERFECT for the fall.

Trail Conditions

The trail follows mostly along a creek. You also have to cross the creek many times before you get to the canyon.

We played a very fun game of who can keep their boots dry the longest? With skill and precision, I hopped rocks and won 🙂

Neal ended up with wet shoes by the end, but I decided to go all in. I took my shoes off by the end and the water was the coldest water I’ve been in in a long, long while.

The Canyon

The canyon, though, was exquisite. A nice, wide canyon you can walk through. If you’re wondering when to visit, I will say 100% the fall. It was just so gorgeous with the yellow leaves falling all around.

You can go in pretty deep.

If you can handle the cold!

And believe me, it’s worth it. We were all by ourselves when we hit the crown jewels of Kanarra Creek. There’s a ladder set up against a waterfall. You can climb it and use ropes to help yourself along. If you do, you’ll find another waterfall! We had a blast in nature’s playground.

And here’s the prized second waterfall:

We didn’t go any further because we had heard that although there was a third waterfall, it was really hard to get to and was a very modest waterfall in any case.

We felt like we’d really seen enough and head back out of the canyon. The walls of the canyon were charred with red veins and this incredible blue colored water.

We sat and took this place in for awhile. It was a bit off the beaten path, but, as with most off the beaten path activities, it was so worth going out of our way.

Utah is home to a lot of slot canyons, including the Narrows in Zion and Grand Wash in Capitol Reef.

But Zebra and Kanarra were out favorite. We hope you enjoyed the story and the pictures!

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