Slot Canyons – What are they? Why should I explore them?

You can travel most anywhere in the world and find a place to ride a horse or ATV, go hiking, mountain biking, even surfing (ocean or now behind power-boats), but there are just a few places where you can experience a slot canyon.

Standing in the bottom of a slot canyon (southwestern Utah).


So why is this important?
  For starters, if you've never been in a slot canyon then the saying "You don't know what you're missing" would strongly apply.

I'm gazing up at walls that rise 100+ feet straight up and in spots I could touch finger to finger on both walls.


Where are slot canyons found and how are they created?
There found anywhere the rock is soft and is more easily eroded by wind and water and Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and a few other western states have terrain that is highly conducive to the creation of slot canyons.  Utah may well offer one of the highest concentrations of slot canyons found anywhere in the world. With five national parks, multiple national monuments, and a slew of state parks all found in a relatively small geographic area, southern Utah  seemingly has a slot canyon around every bend in the road.  Much of Utah was once the bottom of a large inland sea, and sandy soils/sediment was deposited at the bottom of this large body of water.  Once these waters receded, the softer sediment turned to stone (sandstone) and since that time, mother nature has done it's best to cut deep chasms into this sandstone, and the result is a large number of slot canyons.  So to get more to the point, just google "Slot Canyon Utah" and you'll find a long list of options to choose from.

A group of women work with a guide to descend a section of a slot canyon.

What do slot canyons look like?
The sandstone slot canyons of southern Utah are often referred to as convoluted, meaning that they have been so intricately carved by floods, and wind, that they look like twisted works of art.  Indeed when the light is just right inside a slot canyon the experience of standing in the bowels of one of these narrow passages is best described as ethereal or even magical.

Gazing up at a large boulder (big as a truck) that has become wedged into the slot.


Are slot canyons safe, and can I experience them on my own?
As long as their is not rain in the vicinity of a slot canyon, they are generally safe.  You may be familiar with the movie 78 Hours which documents a man who got his arm trapped under a bolder.  This was a rare occurrence. You may also have read true stories about people being caught in a flash flood, or getting trapped in a spot where they could not get out. These are also rare occurrences, but the answer is yes, there are some slot canyons that are generally safe to be explored on your own.  Like the Olympic diving competitions, there are different degrees of difficulty for slot canyons, and there are many slot canyons that require some specific skills with rappelling ropes.  If you have those skills, or have a friend or associate that has those skills then you're good to go, as long as you're confident that this friend has quality equipment, and well practiced.  For all others then the best way to experience a slot canyon is with a trained professional guide.

A man wades through a deep pool wearing a wet-suit to insulate his body against the cold water.


Seasons / Needed Gear:

The best time to explore slot canyons is during the warmest time of the year.  The reasons for this may be obvious but these narrow slots just don't see much sunlight and so the canyon can be quite cold, and if there is water in the canyon then hypothermia can be an issue.  Some get around the cold by wearing wet-suits or even dry-suits.   Come prepared to get a little wet, and come with some extra clothes and a towel wrapped tightly in a waterproof bag.  As always bring other outdoor gear essentials that you would carry for any emergency or precaution.

Explorers wear dry suits that stop the water from getting against their skin in an effort to remain warmer in this slot canyon.


Where can I find a professional guide?
Search for the words Canyoneering Guide and associate these words with your desired location and you will find the qualified companies that offer guided slot canyon exploration services.  In Utah the areas around St. George, Cedar City, Springdale, Zion National Park, Kanab, Panguitch, Bryce Canyon, The Grand Staircase, Capitol Reef, Moab, Monticello, Blanding, Bluff, and The Bears Ears are good places to find canyoneering outfitters who can guide you on a slot canyon adventure.