If you are a hiker that also happens to enjoy climbing, repelling, and at times swimming, there’s one sport that encompasses all of those skills – canyoneering. There are sites that very few individuals have seen if you’re willing to go the extra mile. In Utah, there are several options for canyoneering adventures ranging from easy to extremely advanced and technical expeditions. Here are a few on the easy to intermediate side all conveniently located in the Grand Staircase-Escalante area, which can help you decide if this is an activity you enjoy.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante area is host to several slot canyons at varying levels of difficulty, the easiest of which is Zebra Canyon. Once you begin your hike in the canyon, it becomes increasingly narrow, and at certain times of the year, or when it has recently rained, you may also discover a few pools of waist-high water. Though the hike itself is rated as easy, it is out in the open with minimal shade; it can be sweltering throughout the summer months. As such, it’s best to hike in the spring and fall.
Another relatively easy hike is Spooky Gulch combined with Peek-a-Boo Gulch for a 3.5-mile loop. Plan to spend 2-4 hours if you set off on this adventure. Peek-a-Boo is narrow and twisty and about a quarter of a mile long. You’ll ascend a 10-foot vertical rock wall to reach a 3-foot deep pothole. The pothole is frequently filled with water, but if you’re agile and skilled, you can get through without getting wet. The final 100 meters of the slot offers gorgeous interlocking swirls, arches, and fins. The trail brings you up out of the canyon where you can choose to return the way you came or continue to Spooky Gulch. Spooky Gulch requires comfort with squeezing into tight spaces. The narrow walls force hikers to turn sideways, and in some places, it can be difficult for an average-sized adult to pass. Near the upper end of the canyon, there’s an area of large boulders with an extremely narrow five-foot vertical crevice. The canyon’s floor is generally dry, but occasionally there can be mud and pools of water.
Another popular but somewhat more advanced trail is the Golden Cathedral. The Cathedral itself consists of three pothole arches dug into an overhang, and at certain times of day, the sun’s rays create golden columns as it streams down through the arches. The Golden Cathedral can be found a little over .75 miles into the lower part of Neon Canyon. To access the Cathedral requires some good navigational chops. The hike is an in and out trip unless you are prepared for a more strenuous and technical hike through the remainder of Neon Canyon.
If you find that you enjoy the challenges and beauty that these trails have to offer, there are plenty of other slot canyons throughout Utah. As always when hiking, come prepared and aware of the potential dangers of the specific trail you’re planning to take. Remember that recent weather conditions and seasonal differences can change the agility and skills required for hiking, climbing, repelling, and swimming your way through any given land formation.