Slot canyons are a specialty of Utah, and something we wanted to experience while visiting. Little Wild Horse Canyon requires a rain-free forecast and an adventurous spirit. It has been on my Utah bucket list for a while. We were hoping to go up Little Wild Horse Canyon, pop out on a 4×4 road, and then come back down Bell Canyon to complete a loop that is about 8 miles long.
From the parking lot, we headed about ½ mile up the main wash. There is a well traveled right-turn about 300 yards from the parking lot that side-tracks people. We saw about 8 people wandering confused-like in the wrong direction! Stay in the main wash until you get to the Little Wild Horse / Bell Canyon junction that is marked by a signpost. On route to here you will encounter a slighty tricky scramble. The kids and grandparents needed a little boost!
We chose the right-turn to Little Wild Horse Canyon. It is the more spectacular and narrower of the two canyons, and is significantly longer. The kids were in heaven being able to run, scramble and scale the walls. They climbed into holes and echoed their voices.
Our progress was slow because of all the ‘rock climbing’ possibilities. Our 6 year old is stoked to be a climber ‘when he grows up’ so apparently he needed to practice lots. We eventually got to an area that opened up a smidge, and the real ‘slot’ was ahead. Narrow it was, and about a foot of water filled the bottom of it. Not to be deterred by wet feet we charged ahead.
The weather prior determines how much water. For us it was no deeper than our knees and lasted for maybe 70 yards? If we really wanted to we probably could have stemmed across the slot to avoid it, but it all seemed like part of the fun. There were some areas that weren’t even wide enough to have your shoe fit comfortably in the bottom. It was skinny!! I have to say, I was taking note constantly of where I would seek refuge if water did start to fill up the canyon. One such place was here – another area where it opened up a little, though the canyon walls were still sheer. We played around here, had a snack, and a group photo. After our break, it became a smidge wider, and easy, flat travel for quite a distance. From the map we estimated we had traveled about 2 miles to the point where the slot canyon was done and broadened out. We stopped for lunch and made the risk management call that we weren’t going to carry on any further. We were hoping the weather was going to become all sunshine and white puffy clouds and it hadn’t. During our walk up it had drizzled a tiny bit and we didn’t feel confident doing another 6 miles if it was going to rain more. We knew where we had come from, and could therefore travel more quickly, and decided to return the same way. A flash flood was not on our list of things to experience. As soon as we made the decision the sun came out, but back we went anyway. It was fun to do it all over again.
I was disappointed that we didn’t get to do the whole loop and thought maybe I might run it in the evening by myself. In the end we decided that we would take the four older kids, leave our 2 year old with grandparent’s, and go for a quick look up Bell Canyon. The kids were so reluctant, and were even offering to do the dishes so they didn’t have to come. I didn’t get it! We insisted though, and just as we were leaving it started to rain through the sunshine – hard, for about 5 mins. We waited for the heaviness of the shower to pass and carried on in the slight drizzle for another 5 mins. We weren’t in the narrow slot and knew we would be safe. I was taking a picture just as we had passed the junction to go into Bell Canyon, and hubby was calling me in an excited voice. “Quick! Come!”. I couldn’t imagine what the urgency would be that would require me to move fast. As I came up over the rise I saw the surge of water.
The canyon was starting to flood! It was pretty neat to watch from our safe vantage point, and such a great opportunity to hammer home a point to the kids. We can tell them of what the potential hazards are under certain circumstances, but because we are working to manage the risks so negative outcomes don’t happen, I think they can get to thinking stuff is no big deal. We watched, listened (it was loud!) waited, talked about it and played.
It got about ankle deep, and within about 5 mins of it starting, the water began to subside.
What began as 4 kids wanting to stay and play at camp, turned into them being so excited that they got to experience a minor flash flood. After about an hour the water was all gone and the wash became a dry river bed once again.
Utah! approx 50 miles SW of the township of Green River. It is near Goblin State Park on BLM land.
From Green River travel west on the I-70 for 10 miles. Take exit 149 onto Hwy 24. Travel 25 miles. Turn Right onto Temple Mtn Rd. Travel 5 miles. Turn Left on Goblin Valley Road. Travel 6 miles. Turn right on Wildhorse road. Travel 5½ miles. You come to a wash with a concrete ford. Just beyond that there is a couple of parking lots, outhouse buildings, and the Little Wild Horse trailhead. The road is paved all the way.
We camped right in the overflow parking lot, but it wasn’t busy at all. The first night we saw nobody, the second night one other RV joined us. There is a couple of nice places to pitch a tent under the trees. Other wise prior to the parking lot, choose any dirt road you like and there will be camping. We went for a drive to check out some of the other places for camping potential for future trips and there are some really neat area’s. That seems like a really great thing about BLM land – the ability to freedom camp.
Goblin State Park also has an official campground but I understand you need to book right when it opens for reservations (4 months prior to your stay).
Flash floods are a real thing, with super high consequences. A slot canyon is no place to be with rain on the radar. Check the forecast, look at the sky, and be wise 🙂 What we experienced was a very very minor event, and we were in an area that was safe. It would be a different story entirely if it wasn’t just a very short passing shower and you were in the slot canyon. It was interesting to note that the vast majority of the water was in Bell Canyon and just a trickle in Little Wild Horse, and goes to show how isolated weather incidents can be. There is nothing to absorb any of the water. It literally pours off the rocks like a giant funnel, into the canyon, and in no time flat you can have a raging torrent. The hazard is near to our hearts knowing of 7 young people who lost there lives in a flash flood in New Zealand.
Ensure you have enough water and food, especially when it’s hot.
FIGHTING THE CROWDS:
From what I can tell from my research this is a busy and popular hike. It seems hard to imagine because in the two days we were there (middle of May) we probably only saw 15 people total. I imagine when it is bustling you would want to be strategic in your timing, either going earlier in the morning or later in the day. We needed to pass by a group that was going out as we were going in, and it wasn’t that easy to pass in the narrow confines of the canyon. A great thing about Little Wildhorse, is you don’t have to go far to get a sense of the grandness of the terrain.