- Near Hanksville and Goblin Valley State Park
- 8.6 miles (loop)
- 5 hours
- Elevation Change:
- 730 feet
- Year round
DescriptionThis dry, desert canyon hike follows the bottoms of two narrow slot canyons as they cut their way through the southeastern side of the San Rafael Reef. The hike begins by following Bell Canyon from the south to the north side of the reef, then returns through Little Wild Horse Canyon to the starting point. Both canyons have some impressive narrows, but the narrows in the last half of Little Wild Horse Canyon are especially noteworthy. In one section the canyon meanders along for well over a mile with the distance between the sides rarely exceeding five feet. Walking down Little Wild Horse Canyon often feels more like exploring a cave that hiking in the desert. Children seem to get a particular thrill out of walking in the narrow passages, and this relatively easy hike is a good one for a family outing.
The next section of the hike is an easy walk up the flat, sandy bottom of Bell Canyon. The canyon is quite narrow at first, but it steadily widens, finally breaking out of the San Rafael Reef and onto the San Rafael Swell some 1.9 miles later.
As you leave the canyon watch carefully for a jeep road coming into the streambed from the right. If you walk more than 0.1 or 0.2 mile from the mouth of the Canyon you have missed the road. You will have to turn right onto this jeep road to reach Little Wild Horse Canyon. The road winds gently eastward along the base of the San Rafael Reef, climbing about 370 feet before dropping down again. After 1.6 miles it crosses a smaller wash which is a tributary of Little Wild Horse. Turn off the road at this point, and follow the smaller wash for 0.6 miles until it joins Little Wild Horse Canyon.
Little Wild Horse looks much like the end of Bell Canyon for the first 0.5 mile, but then the canyon suddenly drops down under a boulder and into its first section of narrows. This is an introduction to the long stretch of extremely tight narrows that begins about half way down Little Wild Horse. As mentioned before, it is more like walking through a cave than a canyon. There may be water in a few places in the narrows if it has rained recently, but usually you won’t have any trouble getting through with dry feet. There is no permanent water in either of the canyons, and the rainwater seems to drain out quite quickly. Needless to say, however, the canyons are no place to be if a storm threatens. The water can come up to the danger level as quickly as it goes down, and once inside the narrows there is no place to escape a flood.
After 3.3 miles Little Wild Horse Canyon emerges again at the confluence with Bell Canyon, and from there it is an easy matter to retrace your steps the 0.6 mile back to the road.