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Ahh slot canyons. I love them and got to see another new one in the spring: Willis Creek slot canyon! I think I found this one in the fall of 2019 as an option for when my parents were visiting, but saved it for later, which happened to be this spring.
We decided to spend a few days in Escalante and I knew, aside from Lower Calf Creek Falls, one of the things I wanted to do while we were there was hike the Willis Creek Slot Canyon trail in nearby Cannonville. We set out for the trailhead in the morning and managed to get there in one rattled piece.
On our way we saw a giant black dog thing that kind of looked like a wolf run across the road. I’m not sure what it was since it was out of sight pretty fast, but it was cool and a little creepy. Thoughts of the wolf dog aside, we made it to the trailhead and there were only a couple of other cars there.
There are two options for the trail across the road. You can either head into the wash and go through a small narrow section there ( we didn’t do this) and come out on the trail or you can go to the left of that and up a small dirt trail (we did this). That small trail will drop you down into the wash and then you head left from there.
The whole trail is through a wash so there is some water in it, but it’s pretty easy to stay dry by walking along the sides or on rocks. There is also a small waterfall near the beginning that you have to walk around, but once you’re at the bottom of it you can walk back to admire it.
Soon you’ll see the canyon narrow into the first slot section. The walls practically glow gold in the sunlight and while that it wonderful, it’s also kind of a bummer. Not the glow, but the canyon. Horses come through here so there is poop all over and it’s just busy so there are also foot prints and mud handprints everywhere, which for pictures, is annoying.
I got over that and just tried not to look down too much. Between two of the narrow sections we saw a hummingbird nest! The hummingbird was actually in it with an egg! It was so cool to get to see one so close and actually in a nest since I’ve never seen anything like that before.
We spent some time watching her but moved on when people came through so it didn’t get even more stressed. I was surprised to see it in the canyon and so low since it’s such a busy place.
Once we got to the giant boulder that is at the end of the narrows, we hung out for a bit, met some dogs, then headed back out. The lighting was worse on the way out and we didn’t stop as much. It was a lot busier on our way out, too.
Overall, I enjoyed the hike, but it’s not my favorite in Utah. If you’re looking for a nice hike a little drive from Escalante or as a stop on your way to/from Bryce Canyon, this is a great option, especially if you’ve never been in a slot canyon. It’s great for beginners, families, and furry friends.
I don’t want to scare you out of hiking any slot canyons with the section below, but I do want you to be knowledgable and understand the risks when entering them, so definitely don’t skip that section (unless you are familiar with them). Know the risks, but still have fun!
Slot canyon hiking safety
Flash floods are a huge risk in slot canyons and people die from that far too often. In May 2020 a 7-year-old girl and her 3-year-old sister died in a flash flood in Little Wild Horse Canyon, a popular slot canyon in the San Rafael Swell. This isn’t even a super narrow canyon. And it’s popular. It can happen anywhere.
In 1997, 11 hikers died in a flash flood in Antelope Canyon (the storm was 15 miles away) and that’s a huge reason you need to go with a tour now.
Flash floods are no joke kids. I haven’t seen one in a slot canyon but I did see one right as it was starting in a more open canyon and it really picked up fast. I also saw one in Zion along the Mt. Carmel Highway this summer. It was small but they just happen so fast, please be safe.
- DO NOT ENTER THEM IN THE RAIN
- DO NOT ENTER THEM WITH RAIN IN THE FORECAST
- DO NOT ENTER THEM IF IT’S NOT RAINING IN THEM BUT NEAR THEM TOO
- If you don’t feel comfortable with any climb or narrow squeeze and can turn back, do that! You don’t want to get hurt or stuck and need to be rescued. I linked tons of stories of this below.
- Make sure you’re following the right fork. A lot of slot canyons have multiple forks or are close to other ones and ending up in the wrong one can have dire consequences (especially in the North Wash area of Utah.)
How long is the Willis Creek Slot Canyon Trail?
3+ miles, depending on how far you go. We stopped where the slot sections end and that’s 1.4 miles in so it would be around three miles round-trip to that. This section ends where there is a giant boulder in the middle of the canyon. You can go past this if you want, hence. the +.
I included a picture of the giant boulder with a caption so you can see the right spot. Once you see it in person, you’ll know though. The narrows sections are broken up so there isn’t just one long narrow section, there are a few. If you just want something short, you can turn around after the first one, but you drove all the way out here, so I’d go a little farther.
I would plan 2-4 hours for this, depending on how far you hike. That would be a good estimate including the drive time, too. There is also very little elevation gain so it is easy, but it is through loose sand. I think it’s one of the best easy hikes in Utah.
What to bring on the Willis Creek Slot Canyon hike
Snacks – These are more important for long hikes, but you never know when you’ll get hungry! I like EPIC bars (kind of like beef jerky but different), Sahale nut mix things, and Moon Cheese. There’s always the good old Clif Bars and trail mix, too.
Where is the Willis Creek Slot Canyon Trail?
Once you get to Cannonville from wherever you’re coming from, turn down Kodachrome Road (towards Kodachrome Basin State Park) which will eventually turn into Cottonwood Canyon Road. Don’t go all the way to the state park though, turn onto Skutumpah Road (BLM 500) before crossing the Paria River.
Follow Skutumpah road for about 5.8 miles (20ish minutes) until you get to the trailhead. The parking is on the right and the trail is on the left. You’ll most likely see other cars parked here.
It’s usually a good road and easy to drive even without 4 wheel drive, but that can change. If the road is wet or it’s raining, it may be impassable to keep an eye out for that. You also just shouldn’t be in a slot canyon if it’s raining anyways. As of October 2020, it seems part of Skutumpah road is impassable due to deep sand.
You can also get to this from Johnson Canyon Road between Kanab and Page, but that is currently closed, so if Google Maps tries to take you that way, don’t.
Can you take dogs on the Willis Creek Slot Canyon hike?
Yes! I don’t think there are any technical rules on leash/no leash. If I had to guess, I would say leash is required since they are on most trails. I think we saw a couple dogs off leash, but most had them. Some would have a leash and just be walking on their own and if people came by the other way the person would grab it or clip it on.
Can any car make it to the Willis Creek Slot Canyon trailhead?
Most of the time. You can find road conditions here, but I’m not sure how often it’s updated. I saw that in October, Skutumpah road was impassable without high-clearance 4 wheel drive about a mile from the trailhead thanks to very deep and loose sand. If you don’t think your car can make it through that, turn around or park and walk the rest of the way!
The road is usually in good condition but can still be washboard-y and pot hole-y so you do have to go kind of slow depending on that.
When to hike Willis Creek Slot Canyon
Anytime that it isn’t raining! I would say October to April or May would be best since summer will just be super hot, but there isn’t really a bad time to go.
I would go earlier in the day since it will be cooler and just leas busy, no matter the time of year you go. Winter also won’t be as busy on the trail as it would be in the summer or fall. The lighting will be best in the morning or evening.
Is the Willis Creek Slot Canyon Hike worth it?
Yes! Especially if you’re in the area, have never been in a slot canyon, or want a good, easy non-technical slot canyon. I would definitely add it to your Utah bucket list. I don’t think it’s the best thing to do in Escalante, but it is a great hike.
Have you hiked the Willis Creek slot canyon trail? What did you think of it? Do you want to do it?