Western Traveler

Little Wild Horse and Bell Canyons, Utah

There are good hikes, and there are great hikes. This was a GREAT hike in every sense.

In a September 2004 visit to Utah, my buddy Jeff and I decided to try our hand at slot canyon hiking. It was decided that we’d head into the area known as the San Rafel Swell, located in Emery County.

We began our hike at the trail head which starts a loop hike (9.2 miles) of two connecting canyons, Little Wild Horse & Bell. Almost immediately we were greeted with a breakdown which required us to scramble over fallen boulders.

Little Wild Horse & Bell Canyon 4

For the next six hours we found ourselves walking sideways through narrow slots, climbing over breakdown, canyon walking and hiking through beautiful and amazing scenery. The day was warm, the sun was shining and everything was literally perfect, something you can rarely say on any outdoor venture.

We hiked non-stop for about four hours before we finally decided to take a break at the confluence of the two canyons. Sitting on the red sand, we took a few minutes to rest, have a snack, try out some new “power gel” and take stock of the hike so far. For the record, the Power Gel was pretty awesome, really gave me a quick charge to keep moving forward on the hike.  It was like drinking a pot of coffee in about five minutes.  To this point most of our time had been spent in the narrow slot canyons.

Little Wild Horse & Bell Canyon 5

Little Wild Horse soon opened up into Bell Canyon which offered us panoramic views of huge canyons. The terrain got easier as we strolled through this wonderland of red rock, sage, cottonwoods and rabbit brush.

Little Wild Horse & Bell Canyon 7

Even though we were both tired at the end (something which if very rare for Jeff, the bionic hiker) we both reveled in the day’s adventure.

As in most outings, there were a few lessons to be learned here.

First, slot canyons are NOT the place to have a fixed-length hiking staff or trekking poles as scrambling over and under the breakdowns make the staff a real nuisance.  As a result of this hike, I invested in a collapsible hiking staff for just such occasions.  When it gets too close-quartered for it, I put it into one of the water bottle pockets in my day pack and keep on truckin’.

Secondly, the use of a hydration system vs. water bottles is much preferred. Third, shorts, or very loose-fitting trousers are the way to go. Jeff prefers shorts while I like the protection offered by brush pants, each to his own.

Little Wild Horse & Bell Canyon 6

Lastly, you will need an entire day for slot canyon hiking, just to give you adequate time for photography. I could have taken a thousand photos of this one area alone if time had allowed. Poor Jeff was constantly being stopped while I took time out for photography. Even so, he allowed me the luxury to take the shots I really wanted…. what a guy!!

Last modified on: January 15th 2014.
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