Slot canyons can make for an enjoyable deviation from your every day hike. The "trail" is super easy to follow...once you find it.... though sometimes difficult to traverse. Technical canyoneering is becoming increasingly popular. If you are looking to get into it, southwest Utah is a great place to start. Zion is full of slot canyons and guide companies for all levels.
If you are looking for a quick introduction, then look no further than this brief guide of Peekaboo and Spooky canyons. This day trip required no ropes or gear; only a sense of adventure, a willingness to get a little wet, and abandon for any feelings of claustrophobia. Linking these two slot canyons together makes for a pleasant 3.5 mile loop hike.
These particular slot canyons are located just outside of the town of Escalante in the Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument. Take Highway 12 north/east out of town and turn onto Hole-In-The-Rock Road. Drive exactly 26 miles down this road before turning left onto an unmarked road that will take you to the trailhead. It is pretty easy to drive by this road--I did and I have been there before. We drove about a mile past before I realized we were over 26 miles and I had seen no other turn offs. After a quick pee break with the cows (they roam free all over the road--watch out for them!) and a 15 point turn, we made it to the correct turn off. The dirt road becomes progressively worse as you near the trail head. Some people elect to park about a half mile away and then walk to the main parking lot. If you have some off roading experience and are comfortable with it, you can make it to the trail head in even a small car.
That said, I have a fair bit of off road driving experience and rallied the SUV we had down the road. My passengers were incredibly skeptical about my choice. We did make it without wreaking or damaging the vehicle.
What to Bring
Bring what you normally would for a day out hiking in the desert. That said, it can get chilly in the slot canyons. Just because it is a balmy 90 degrees in the sun does not mean it won't be cooler in the slots. Make sure you wear shoes with good grip. There is about a 10 foot climb to get into Peekaboo canyon from the main gulch. Having grippy shoes makes this significantly more comfortable and doable. Also, consider bringing additional shoes, or shoes that are additionally, appropriate for water. Depending on recent weather, you may have a few ponds of water to go through/over/around. Also, when selecting footwear, keep in mind you will be doing a lot of hiking in sand. I wore some Solomon trail shoes and just took them off for the wet parts and to empty all the sand out. We ended up using the zip off part of a pair of hiking pants to clean our feet before putting our shoes back on post-water crossing.
Spooky gets very narrow. I scraped up my pack on the rough rocks. I also haphazardly chucked my pack down a 15 foot drop, which might have caused most of the scraping. Regardless, there are places where the only way through is to turn sideways. Be prepared to take your pack off in these spots.
Once you are all geared up and at the trailhead, head toward the trail register and sign in. There, you will find a trail over the slick rocks marked with intermittent cairns that leads down into the main fork of Coyote Gulch. This is the wide canyon that the slot canyons branch off from. Shortly after reaching the sandy floor of Coyote Gulch, you will see a canyon off to the left. This is the Main Fork Narrows. At it's narrowest, it is a few feet across. It is a straightforward hike up this canyon; a great warm up for the challenges to come! You can either follow the canyon back to the main gulch or top out and try to follow the intermittent cairns back.
Once back to the main canyon, continue up. Peek-A-Boo will be on your left. You will see the entrance, about 10 feet up. There are sketchy foot holds carved out in the rock. If you are a minimally competent rock climber and confident on sand stone and not afraid of heights, it is not too hard to climb up this. Immediately after entering the canyon, there is usually a pool to cross. It is fairly deep and difficult to circumnavigate. Good Luck! After the climb in and the initial pool, this is an enjoyable slot canyon. There are numerous far lesser obstacles along the canyon. The canyon eventually becomes so shallow that you surface back into daylight. From this point, to the right, there is a cairn trail you can follow to the entrance of Spooky Canyon.
I have done the Peek-A-Boo/Spooky Canyon loop twice now and those cairns were a bitch to follow both times. They disappear and there are multiple paths. Just keep walking in the approximate path and direction they mark. It is probably a 15 or 20 minute walk (that feels like 3 hours). You can't miss the entrance to Spooky Canyon.
Spooky Canyon starts off easy. It then gets narrower... and narrower. It is a matter of inches across in some places. Some areas have weird ups and downs and turns... while being inches wide to surpass. This canyon takes a good handle on subduing claustrophobia to complete. About half way through the canyon, it opens up. Unfortunately, in the opening is a crazy pile of boulders with a 10 foot drop that you have to somehow navigate. It is much easier to do it going this direction than if you are trying to climb it heading from the main canyon. That said, it isn't easy. There was a lot of swearing coming from that section of the canyon. This is where I chucked my pack down canyon. I didn't want to try to deal with it while trying to lower myself in a controlled manner through the obstacles. This section is do-able, just breathe and don't think about what you are doing too much! If you have kids with you, you might have to help lower them down.
The rest of the canyon is more narrow, inches wide, twisty-turny, scratchy sand stone fun. Reach the main canyon and continue on.
If you are itching for more, Brimstone Canyon is further up Coyote gulch. We tried to find it, but stopped just short of the start of the canyon.