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100 Hikes in Utah
by Steve Mann & Rhett Olson (The Mountaineers Books)
These canyons are located near Goblin Valley State Park in the San Rafael Swell, a large section of desert uplands formed when the earth’s crust swelled and broke open like a bubble bursting. The upward thrust resulted in a reef, or set of upward sloping cliffs surrounding the formerly swollen area. This hike follows two narrow canyons within the Crack Canyon Wilderness Study Area that pass through the reef of the San Rafael Swell. Little Wild Horse Canyon is perhaps the best easy slot-canyon hike in the Southwest, with its great narrows and no technical obstacles. After recent rains, some water may be in the canyon bottom.
I STRONGLY RECOMMEND BRINGING A HARNESS & ROPE, IF YOUR HIKING COMPANIONS INCLUDE MEDIUM TO LARGE DOG(S) AND/OR SMALL CHILDREN.
This hike offers a dry slot canyon with spectacular, otherworldly scenery. This trail is mostly easy with a handful of short, technical sections. The trip usually takes me 4-6 hrs, if hiking the loop with children and/or dog(s), I recommend hiking during the late fall & winter, or very early in the morning during spring school holidays & the summer.
Two days ago, the first 1/4 section section was swarming with children, and it appeared that many were unsupervised because they ran wild. Trash littered the trailhead. Lines of 12 people or more waited to use the two restrooms. Adults wandered about in flip flops, fussing with cell phone phones and colliding with people or tripping over their own two feet. Parents were yelling at each other and calling out the names of lost or misplaced family members. Not one BLM Ranger or staff member made an appearance to control the crowd or protect the land, wildlife & other natural resources. It. Was. Chaos.
But, after scaling the first climb over 7ft, the crowds disappeared, some wildlife made an appearance, and people were polite & smiling all around, making it all worth the hassle of navigating the chaos. The remaining 7 miles was great fun!
Two great slot canyons with a nice road hike in between (hot in the summer!) Be prepared for big crowds, though, especially on weekends.
A great hike. I started in Bell Canyon first and it was entertaining but nothing compared to Little Wild Horse. Be ready for slow moving through some of the sandy washes, but the views around the back of the hike are great and give you a good sense of the reef. I hope to go back and explore more of the park itself, maybe even camp out by the reef.
What an incredible hike. Very beautifu!!! Hope to do it in the future. It does get tight in some places.
The combined loop for Bell and Little Wild Horse Canyons is a reasonable and scenic day trip. There are great sites for a base camp at the entrance to Bell Canyon, but I'm sure it doesn't need to be said to avoid parking in the wash or setting up camp to close to the wash. The canyons are generally cool, even in hot weather. There are slots that will require quite a squeeze. I had to remove my daypack at one of them. Lots of canyon wren songs echo down the canyons. There are great places to stop and rest, side canyons to explore, and at the end of Bell, a wonderful area to rest for a while. Little Wild Horse was an equally colorful return. Even in the slots, there are ways to get above an unexpected storm flow, but it's best to be weather aware. We had an overnight monsoon, and the wall of water that came out of the canyon sounded like a freight train down the wash. Based on both a flashlight observation and fresh erosion seen in the morning, the wall of water was 8 to 10 feet high.
Because this area is more than 30 miles from the nearest town (but about 10 miles from a state park), be sure you bring everything you need, including plenty of water. However, it means there is absolutely no light pollution of the night sky. Bring a telescope or binoculars for a lifetime look at the stars.
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