Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park, Utah
Slot canyons are one of natures creations so unique and stunning that they draw you in and get your imagination flowing; you just feel like you have to explore them. Willis Creek Slot Canyon is conveniently located near Bryce Canyon in Southern Utah; inside the borders of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Park. Utah is the state that has the largest concentration of slot canyons in the world. Willis Creek is a very accessible slot canyon that people of all ages can enjoy – there is no serious climbing or technical skill needed to hike through it. Willis creek is also easy to drive. The 1 mile hike each way is leisurely if you’re only interested in the slot canyon section of Willis Creek. The official trail is just over 4 miles round trip but departs from the canyon just 1 mile in.
After experiencing the very popular yet overcrowded Antelope Canyon and canyons at The Narrows in Zion National Park I was determined to find a more secluded and tranquil slot canyon experience. The slot canyon at Willis Creek did not disappoint! After a short 7 mile drive through a rough and sometimes steep, hilly dirt road in a little Hyundai car (and a slight detour.. damn you Google Maps!) we made it to designated parking and found the starting trail marker. Upon first entering Willis Creek it’s not very impressive, and I began to wonder if I’d be regretting the out-of-the drive we’d taken to get here. But about 1/4 mile into the hike the canyon walls engulf you and the creek steadily narrows creating an eery yet beautiful surrounding.
The creek bed is dried up in many places and rarely ever more than an inch or so deep, although a few small pools of water along the way dampen my feet – never anything big enough to swim or lay in. The water was a welcome relief from the heat of the sun and helped wash away a growing layer of sweat from my skin. The canyon’s sandstone walls are carved up with cracks and waves of contrasting textures from thousands of years of flash flooding and water erosion. When the sunlight hits at just the right angle the contrasting colors are brightly illuminated and full of stunning patterns – so beautiful I stared so long that I sent myself into a near hypnotic state of concentration and observation.
The width of the creek narrows and expands along the way from around 50 to as little as 5 feet, and the canyon walls reach as high as 100+ feet straight up. To get an idea of just how high the canyon walls surrounding us are, check out how small my hiking partner looks in the picture below.
As the canyon narrows it becomes only a few feet wide in some places.
We walked slowly as to fully take in and enjoy the surroundings, and why not? How many times will the opportunity to visit such a wonderful place come around? With three hours of walking along the creek we encountered only 4 other people for brief moments as they passed by. This is one of the favorite hikes I’ve done in my lifetime and I highly recommend visiting before there’s a paved road and it meets the same fate as Antelope where the hoards of crowds make it impossible to truly enjoy to its fullest. As of now there are no fees or permits required for parking or entering the trail. The dirt road however would be impassible during bad weather, on otherwise normal conditions you can make it with a low clearance car. Use caution before entering, as with any slot canyons they can become a death trap if you get caught trapped inside during a flash flood with nowhere to escape.
See More of Willis Creek Slot Canyon
- Trail Difficulty: Easy
- Trail Length: 2-4 miles round-trip
- Permits/Fees: None required.
Prepare for the season you visit – it gets hot, bring ample water. It can also be sunny, be sure to protect yourself from over exposure.
Starting from Cannonville, Utah:
- Drive 3 miles South of Cannonville on Cottonwood Road (400).
- Turn right on to the Skutumpah Road (500).
- Continue 6 miles West on Skutumpah to Willis Creek.
- Park at a flat area on the right side of the road.