Slot canyons are the epitome of the American Southwest whose rustic grandeur wouldn’t be the same without these intimate excursions into the arteries of the earth. Some are just narrow slivers of space between adjacent canyon walls or seemingly randomly flung boulders, but others are sleek sculptures polished by wind and water to a jewel-like sheen with soft curves that glow with vivid beauty when a sunray pierces the shadows.
Slot canyons can be found in Capitol Reef, Escalante, the Grand Canyon, the San Rafael Swell, Lake Powell, the Paria River and Page, but Zion possesses one of the areas richest treasure troves for intrepid explorers willing to match their wits, their legs and their fingers against Mother Nature. There are slot canyons for everyone, dry hikes through sandy washes as well as scrambles up rivers and over cliffs.
Fat Man’s Misery is considered one of the most delightful places in the park and offers hikes for all levels of adventurers, depending upon where you turn back. The hike includes accessed from the parking area of Checkerboard Mesa, and takes a bit of finding, so get directions and a good map before heading out. Once there, you’ll find lots of twisty narrow canyons, tree frogs bathing in water holes, boulders, water features and even a waterfall. Much of the hike is for the experienced technical hiker. Turn back at the Powell plaque if you aren’t ready to get out your rope.
Mineral Gulch lies just outside park boundaries, but it’s water flows into the Virgin River. The secluded canyon has a number of narrow passageways along a rough, 3-hour trail that includes a dry scramble. Most hikers include an overnight stay to truly enjoy the canyon.
One of the region’s most colorful canyons is the Parunuweap Canyon, that lies up the East Fork of the Virgin River. The portion that lies within Zion has been closed off to visitors to protect the native habitat, but just outside the park the narrow canyon offers intrepid visitors deep canyons, pools, waterfalls and even some quicksand.
Kanarra Creek lies north of the Kolob Canyon section of Zion at the slopes of the Kararra Mountain. Follow the stream within the red canyon walls to Kanarraville past several waterfalls, tree-lined cliffs and wildflowers.
Peek-a-Boo Canyon, sometimes called Red Canyon because of its glowing walls, lies east of Zion. The canyon drains into Kanab Creek and offers the sooth, striated walls most prized in slot canyons. The curved passageways can be up to 100 feet deep.
Sand Wash, or Red Cave, don’t include wading through streams, but the narrow passageways and sandy bottoms are fun to scramble through. The wash contains two branches to hike, each about a half mile long and sometime so narrow you feel as if you need to turn sideways. The upper fork includes a dry waterfall.
Spring Creek Canyon is another predominantly dry streambed that contains volcanic tufa as well as plentiful wildlife, spring flowers and birds including falcons and eagles. The mile-and-a-half hike is a great trek for geologists who will appreciate deep red and black cliffs and the geological story they tell.
The Left Fork of North Creek may be the second-most popular slot canyon in Zion. It offers the explorer nearly every canyon experience in the book, including fun rappels, bouldering, scrambling, swimming, wading, climbing and cool waterfalls. The Subway is a section upstream made faous by its deep channels and roaring sound.