8 Dayhikes in the Utah Canyons

Metate Arch, Devil's Garden, Escalante National Monument, Utah, April

Metate Arch in the Devil’s Garden – April.

On our way back to Colorado from California, we spent about 10 days in the canyons of Utah car camping and doing some fantastic day hikes. We started in Escalante National Monument, probably my favorite canyon region in all of Utah.

Red Breaks, slot, Escalante, Utah, hiking

Hiking in a narrow slot canyon.

Our first hike was through a seldom visited slot canyon called Red Breaks. Although the guides I read called this a “non technical” canyon, it ended up being a very challenging slot canyon, with numerous puzzling chokestones that had to be climbed over. Some of these chokestones required sketchy exposed moves or chimney maneuvers to pass, and we became a bit worried after we had climbed over enough of these that turning back would not have been a safe option, yet each successive chokestone became more and more difficult.

Red Breaks, slot, Escalante, Utah, hiking

Hiking in a deep and narrow slot canyon.

Not only were the chokestones challenging in Red Breaks, but in some areas the slot was so narrow that we could barely squeeze through while pulling our backpacks behind us. A wider person or anyone with claustrophobia should not attempt this slot canyon! I would classify this slot as “non technical” only for very proficient canyoneers and comfortable climbers; for anyone else I would stress that this is an extremely challenging slot canyon. In fact it was the first slot that I was happy to finally exit!

cosmic ashtray, escalante, utah

A bizarre and fascinating sandstone formation, filled with orange sand.

From Red Breaks we hiked cross country over slickrock slabs and valleys to a fascinating sandstone formation called “The Cosmic Ashtray”. This is one of the more curious and mystifying geologic formations I’ve seen, and I have no idea how such a thing could have formed. It’s difficult to comprehend the scale in the photo above, but suffice it say, it’s enormous! We stayed until sunset and hiked back to the truck in the dark… all in all, a 12 hour day of hiking! Not too shabby for the first of eight days in a row of hiking!

slot canyon, Zebra, Escalante National Monument, Utah

The famous Zebra Slot.

Our second hike was to the famous Zebra slot. The slot itself is actually very short and not very deep, but it has these beautiful striations and embedded moki ball stones which make it very photogenic. Photogenic, that is, if you don’t care about taking the same photograph that every other photographer takes, more or less. Claudia was kind enough to pose in there for me, which adds some scale and reality to the otherwise surreal formations.

Little Death Hollow, Escalante National Monument, Utah

Hiking through deep narrows in Little Death Hollow Canyon.

After Zebra, we drove around to the other side of the Escalante River drainage via the incredible Burr Trail Road which leads east from the town of Boulder through jaw-dropping canyon scenery. I’m not sure if I’ve ever driven a more scenic drive in the desert! Our destination was Little Death Hollow canyon, another slot canyon off the Escalante.

Little Death Hollow, Escalante National Monument, Utah

Hiking through the narrows of Little Death Hollow Canyon.

Little Death Hollow is not an especially deep slot canyon, but it goes on for quite a long way and makes for a great hike – especially around midday when the sunlight is bouncing around between the canyon walls.

More photos below!

Halls Creek, Capitol Reef, Utah, hiking, reflection, april

Hiking through Halls Creek – April.

The next day, we continued east on the Burr Trail Road, as spectacular as ever as it winds down through the colorful Waterpocket Fold on the lower end of Capitol Reef National Park. Our destination for our fourth dayhike was Halls Creek, in particular the Halls Creek Narrows which I’ve been wanting to visit for years.

Halls Creek, narrows, Capitol Reef, Utah, hiking, April

Hiking between the enormous sandstone walls of Halls Creek Narrows – April.

Halls Creek Narrows did not disappoint – these three miles of narrows go through the tallest and purest sheer sandstone walls I’ve ever seen! Very impressive. The hike itself is also quite adventurous since it requires wading about half the time. After messing around barefoot and with flip-flops (both of which don’t work for this), we finally decided to just barge right through the water in our boots and socks! Neoprene socks with trail runners would be the way to do it properly, but we worked with what we had!

Surprise Canyon, Capitol Reef, hiking, April

Hiking through Surprise Canyon – April.

By our fifth day we were feeling pretty lazy and worn out, so we just did a short hike into Surprise Canyon, a deep groove in the Waterpocket Fold.

Grand Wash, Capitol Reef, Utah, hiking, april

Hiking through Grand Wash – April.

Heading north in Capitol Reef National Park, we spent a night in Torrey to clean up and charge batteries, then spent the next day on a wonderful hike up Cohab Canyon and down the Grand Wash. This hike could be THE classic Capitol Reef hike since it samples the best of both worlds in Capitol Reef – first you go up a high ridge where you have expansive views of the multi-colored landscapes, then you descend into and through another deep and impressive sandstone canyon.

Spring Canyon, Capitol Reef, Utah, hiking, april

Hiking through lower Spring Canyon – April.

Our seventh hike in a row was another one that I’ve been wanting to do for years – a one way hike from Chimney Rock Canyon through lower Spring Canyon. After seeing so many amazing canyons during the last week, perhaps I had become a bit immune to the scenery because I found this hike to be not quite so impressive. Maybe it was the dull overcast light that day, or maybe my heart just wasn’t in it so much anymore. Maybe I’d had my fill of canyons and reached my desert threshold. Anyhow, it really was a nice hike though, and after fording the Fremont River we caught a quick ride back to our truck.

Great Gallery, Horseshoe Canyon, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, pictographs

The Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon is known as the premiere ancient pictograph panel in North America.  The pictographs are estimated to have been painted around 3-4,000 years old, about the same time that the pyramids in Egypt were built!

Our final hike of the road trip was into Horseshoe Canyon to view the Great Gallery pictographs. Pretty fascinating place, and it was a pleasure to find a volunteer ranger at the site who explained to us the history and details about the pictographs.

All in all, another great spring trip in the desert!

21 thoughts on “8 Dayhikes in the Utah Canyons

  1. Hey Jack,
    Hope all is well – great series here on your favorite canyon region (mine too 🙂 ) – so much to explore and see and get lost in. Thanks for getting my psyched to go back .. Also really enjoyed your series on Catalina Island, sorry about the squirrels, hope you got all of your gear repaired! Hope I see some awesome spring corn descents from you soon 🙂

  2. You had to go and tell people about Red Breaks didn’t you……no worries! I hope people realize it is not easy going, I did it a few years ago solo going from the top down and was a little worried when the weather changed quickly, I ended up having to climb out up one of the steep slot walls. This is one place the average person who lacks climbing skills should keep out of, especially since the chance of seeing people out there is slim to none.

    1. Hey Jody, yeah I figured that since it’s in numerous guidebooks and on summitpost, it wouldn’t be the end of the world to reveal the location. More importantly, I think all the guides I read understated the difficulty of this slot! My wife really had some difficulties on a few of the chokestones, and we got pretty worried about it at a few points. This is not the average slot canyon!

  3. I felt like I was there, hiking behind you two while reading/viewing. Now I’m all worn out… Great adventuring imagery, Jack “Canyon Photographer”

    1. Ha ha! Well, exercise is good… you’re welcome. Not really a canyon photographer… just snapshots while hiking. Wasn’t really a serious photography trip, which was a relaxing change! (Although I did haul around the slr on most of these hikes).

  4. My wife and I drove across the Burr Trail one summer (quite accidentally) in our 1998 Honda Accord. We made it to those switchbacks that drop soooooo steeply only to see someone with a truck and trailer winding their way UP the road! We thought for sure we’d be run off the side!! What an awesome part of the desert though. Thanks for sharing your adventure. You’ve brought back some incredible memories!!

    1. Thanks Steve! Yes, that switchback road on the Burr Trail is intense… kind of reminds me of the one in Canyonlands NP that switchbacks down from Island in the Sky (before it washed out).

  5. Wonderful photos and insight! My wife and I will be going in October and hope to cover some ground, but alas, I know 9 days will not be near enough time. Part of the beauty of traveling is the planning. We’re already planning a more extended stay. Thanks for your inspiration!


  6. Hi jack,
    Wanted to ask a few questions on the accessibility of some of the roads to these canyons. Can’t seem to find anything on the Internet. Would be great to get some advice.
    Fantastic photos! You’ve definitely wet the appetite!

  7. I want to try to get to the cosmic ashtray this weekend, do you know if there is a way to get to it without going through red breaks?

    1. Hi Roxy, yes there is. Unfortunately I wouldn’t even begin to be able to explain… it’s the kind of route that you’d need to know exactly where it is on the map, or better yet GPS.

  8. Enjoyed the info you shared. Heading to the parks next week (finally). Booked only the first 2-nights in Zion, and plan to plan one day at a time while there (we have 10 days. What kind of shoes you find most comfortable? Hiking? Sneakers?

    1. Hi Rachel, depending on the hike I’ll usually wear either leather hiking boots like I wear in the mountains (for dry and rugged hikes), or probably the best all around shoe would be some kind of lightweight trail runner. Quick-drying trail runner shoes are great for hiking slot canyons when you might need to occasionally wade through water holes. If you do a wet hike like the Zion Narrows, it’s nice to wear neoprene socks so your feet won’t get cold while hiking through the water.

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