Little Wild Horse Canyon

Written by on June 7, 2016 in UT Outdoor Adventures - 2 Comments

The southwest is known for its abundance of slot canyons: narrow, water-worn gorges that are far deeper than they are wide. One of the most famous, The Narrows, lies in Utah’s spectacular Zion National Park, while nearby Arizona’s Antelope Canyon may be the most-photographed.

But you don’t have to travel far within Utah to find one of the better slot canyons. At the southernmost point of the San Rafael Swell is hidden a majestic slot, Little Wild Horse Canyon. Located only a short five-mile drive from Goblin Valley State Park on the graded dirt Temple Mountain Road, access to Little Wild Horse is as easy as parking in the small lot at the trailhead, strapping on your daypack, and heading up the wash and into the canyon. Be wary, however, because on weekends—and especially during summer months—the lot and its adjacent overflows fill up, and parking can be hard to come by.

Little Wild Horse Canyon sits in a stretch of remote and undeveloped south-central Utah. To see why it has earned its acclaim, go for the 8-mile loop linking Little Wild Horse and Bell canyons. You start down a dry streambed past gnarled cottonwoods. Take the higher route up the rocks to the left to avoid having to scale the dryfall, and be sure to turn into the rightmost canyon, Little Wild Horse (Bell is on the left). Within a short distance you encounter the first narrows, and your shoulders brush the pocked sandstone walls, you stoop to unnatural angles or scramble over newly lodged boulders to continue, and you see firsthand the beauty of a place such as this. You encounter a second narrows and then it opens up a little for views of the breaking sky and colored rocks. At any point you can turn around and return the way you came, or push on through into the heart of the swell itself, where you veer left and descend down again via Bell Canyon. This entire loop, and particularly the Little Wild Horse section, is relatively flat and easy trekking, perfect for families and children (with perhaps some assistance needed to get up a perched rock or two).

In winter months and after rainfall the canyon can be much more difficult to navigate, so take precaution. Flash floods have been known to overturn precariously parked cars; hikers have had to turn back shortly after entering due to too much ice or pooled water. These situations are dangerous, and should be planned for accordingly, but they are also the provenance of the canyon itself. Over the millenia, watery forces have molded and shaped slots like Little Wild Horse into what we encounter today. Slot canyons are rare because the perfect combination of elements must be present: little rainfall, elevation differences, and malleable minerals such as sandstone and limestone. The San Rafael Swell was made for canyons like this.

Nearby attractions:
Goblin Valley State Park
San Rafael Swell
Arches National Park

Recommended reading:
Hiking and Exploring Utah’s San Rafael Swell (3rd Edition) — Michael R. Kelsey
San Rafael Swell, Trails Illustrated Map #712

About the Author

Currently living and wandering in the state of Utah.

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