Trail Guide: Zebra Slot Canyon (Grand Staircase Escalante, Utah)

Trail name: Zebra Slot Canyon
Location: Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah
When to go: Spring, Winter, Fall
Distance: 5 miles RT

Grand Staircase Escalnate National Monument, in southern Utah, is home to many natural wonders and landscapes. The area is named for the stiarcase-like geology of the surrounding mountains and canyons, as each “stair” has it’s own distinct geologic features.

For today’s trip, we decided to take a drive down Hole-In-The-Rock Road, just outside of Escalante, Utah. This dirt road provides access to the slot canyons of the Escalante River, and ultimately, Lake Powell.

The trailhead to this hike can be tricky to find, as it is not clearly marked. You’ll need to drive 7.8 miles down Hole-In-The-Rock road until immediately after the 3rd cattle guard. There is a small dirt lot on the right side of the road, which indicates the trailhead. When we went in February, there were no other cars there, so it is easy to miss. Be sure to track mileage on the odometer on the drive in.

The parking lot for Zebra Slot Canyon.
The parking lot for Zebra Slot Canyon.

Once you have parked in the dirt lot, the trailhead will be directly on the other side of the road. As I mentioned before, it is not clearly marked, so you may need to look around for a few to find it. The picture below shows the start of the trailhead.

The trailhead for Zebra Slot Canyon.
The trailhead for Zebra Slot Canyon.

Once you hit the trailhead, it is a fairly smooth hike to the entrance of the slot canyon. It is roughly 2.4 miles from the trailhead to the entrance of the canyon and will take 1-1.5 hours to get back to it. About a mile back on the trail, there is a fence across the wash, presumably to keep cattle out. Don’t be alarmed, as the trail continues directly around it. Also, on another note, the trail can be tricky to follow at times. My brother and I lost the cairns a couple of times, but were able to find our way by following the wash.

After about an hour, we arrived at the entrance to the slot canyon. It is jaw-dropping from the start. As with most slot canyons, the entrance is fairly wide. But, it quickly becomes narrow and tough to maneuver. After about 100 yards of walking, I had to remove my backpack and set it down, as I was not able to fit through the canyon while wearing it.

The beginning of Zebra Slot Canyon.
The beginning of Zebra Slot Canyon.

We hiked for about a quarter mile before coming to a 15-foot chokehold in the canyon. For most people, this would be an excellent spot to turnaround. The canyon is extremely narrow and is quite thirlling up to this point. For those willing to be a little risky (or for good climbers), you can continue up the chokehold for another 40 yards or so before coming to a giant bowl in the canyon.

Hiking through Zebra Slot Canyon.
Hiking through Zebra Slot Canyon.

The bowl makes it nearly impossible to continue on, unless you have climbing gear, ropes, or an expert-level climbing ability. We opted to rest here for a couple of minutes before turning around and heading back towards the entrance.

I enjoyed the walk back out of the canyon almost as much as walking in. With the mid-day light shining on the canyon walls, it was easy to see why they called it Zebra Slot Canyon. The colors of the rocks are beautifully striped and look as if they are from another planet. Quite the view the take in.

Looking back through Zebra Slot Canyon.
Looking back through Zebra Slot Canyon.

Overall, this was an excellent hike. We completed our trip in just under 2.5 hours at a fairly quick pace. We went on a cool February day and saw only 2 other people on our hike out there. I would imagine that closer towards the summer, you may see a bit more people out there. I highly recommend this hike if you are in the area. It is easy to access, not too crowded, and exemplifies the beauty and solitude of southern Utah.

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