Dave Helgeson explores a slot canyon

RV Trips: Exploring Slot Canyons

Contributor Dave Helgeson has been a lifelong RVer, and when not organizing RV shows, enjoys ferreting out intriguing, little-known locations in the west that are remote, but deserve a visit. For Dave, home is where you park it, the more remote the better!

Let’s Take a Look At The Ins and Outs of Slot Canyons…

We have all seen the iconic photos of Arizona’s Antelope Canyon, featuring a beam of filtered sunlight streaking down red sculpted sandstone spotlighting the sandy canyon floor or backpackers hiking down Paria Canyon dwarfed by the soaring sandstone walls. These are classic examples of slot canyons and you can’t help but be attracted to their beauty. However, slot canyons aren’t reserved for just professional photographers and those with the endurance to carry a fifty pound pack for miles and miles, but are also available for casual exploring by active RVers.

First Off, What Are Slot Canyons?

Our friends at Wikipedia define them as follows: A slot canyon is a narrow canyon, formed by the wear of water rushing through rock. A slot canyon is significantly deeper than it is wide. Some slot canyons can measure less than 1 meter (3 ft) across at the top but drop more than 30 meters (100 ft) to the floor of the canyon. Many slot canyons are formed in sandstone and limestone rock, although slot canyons in other rock types such as granite and basalt are possible. Even in sandstone and limestone, only a very small number of creeks will form slot canyons due to a combination of the particular characteristics of the rock and regional rainfall.

Where Can You Find Slot Canyons?

As defined above, slot canyons are formed by water erosion through different types of rock with the most common occurrence being softer rock like sandstone and limestone. Therefore, you can expect to find concentrations of slot canyons where large expanses of softer rock occur, which brings us back to the iconic pictures mentioned at the beginning of this article. The large tracts of sandstone in northern Arizona and southeast Utah are prime locations to find and explore slot canyons. However, with a little research you will discover slot canyons in other rock types in states like Montana, Nevada, California and Oregon, along with others.

How Accessible Are Slot Canyons for the Average Person?

While some canyons are considered “technical” (meaning you have to have rope and climbing experience to navigate the entire length from top to bottom), they can also offer adventure for the casual hiker. Those lacking rope, harnesses and climbing experience can still explore the canyons by entering them via their outlets (rather than dropping in from the top like the pros). Beginners can progress as far as their comfort level and abilities allow, while those with a little experience, scrambling skills and higher comfort levels can proceed further before turning around and exiting the way they entered. Fortunately, most slot canyons outlet in a valley where there is likely a road making for an easy and safe “upstream” hike.

What Are the Safety Concerns?

We have all heard the story of Aron Ralston who didn’t inform others of his destination, became trapped while down climbing solo into a slot canyon, eventually amputating his own hand to escape. Therefore, never drop into a place that you are not 100% certain you can re-exit, explore with a partner, inform others where you are going and when they should expect your return. Also, you need to keep in mind that these very beautiful canyons were sculpted by water; there is a very real danger from flash flooding when hiking in slot canyons. Do not enter slot canyons if it is raining or threatening rain. Remember, a storm far off can trigger a flash flood in the canyon you are entering even though the sky is clear where you are.

A Beginner List of Slot Canyons...

The following are some non-technical slot canyons in the western United States to get you started:

  • California: The Slot – Curvy canyon carving through the mud hills of Anza Borrego State Park. N33° 10.935  W116° 12.856
  • Montana: Muddy Creek Falls – Deep chasm located on the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. N47° 59.419  W112° 42.296
  • Southern Utah: Little wild horse canyon – Classic sandstone slot canyon suitable for the whole family. N38° 35.340  W110° 48.407
  • Northern Utah: Box Canyon – Little known slot canyon that cuts through cemented river gravel. N39° 33.317  W111° 40.522
  • Oregon: Oneonta Gorge – Year around creek cutting through basalt. You will get wet! Great way to cool off with the kids on a hot summer day.   N45° 35.376   W122° 04.504
  • Nevada: Lovell Wash (aka Anniversary Narrows) – Just east of Las Vegas – Easy hike through a pretty limestone canyon.  N36° 13.224  W114° 42.184

The coordinates listed are for the entrance to each canyon. For more detailed information, perform an online search where you will find photos, driving instructions and hiking instructions. 

A great website for finding classic slot canyons in the southwest is: Slot Canyons of the American Southwest 

Include exploring a slot canyon on your next RV journey. Be safe and enjoy!

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