Post Summary: Deep dive into Little Wild Horse Canyon and if this hidden gem is worth visiting.
Little Wild Horse Canyon, located in Utah’s San Rafael Swell, is one of the most popular slot canyon hikes in Utah. Popular doesn’t always mean the best, though. With its remote location and proximity to the least visited national park in Utah, one might wonder if Little Wild Horse Canyon is worth visiting.
While road-tripping Utah’s National parks, we visited the San Rafael swell to see for ourselves if Little Wild Horse Canyon could live up to the hype.
Spoiler alert: It’s amazing.
Hiking through the canyon, with its coiling path and towering sandstone hallways, was one of our favorite things we did in Utah. If you’ve never done a slot canyon hike, this is an excellent starter canyon.
Read on to learn more about why we think Little Wild Horse Canyon is worth visiting and a straightforward guide to visiting the canyon.
WANT MORE UTAH CONTENT? Check it out:
The Ultimate Mighty 5 Road Trip Itinerary
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Arches National Park With Kids: A Complete Guide
Should You Visit Arches National Park In Winter? Yes, You Really Should.
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5 Reasons Why Little Wild Horse Canyon Is Worth Visiting
While I’m not sure I would argue that this area of Little Wild Horse Canyon is EASY to get to, it’s also not HARD to get to. The roads are clear and well-marked. There’s ample parking, a bathroom, and a clear trailhead with a big map. You don’t have to hike eight miles just to get to the canyon, which, in my book, makes it way more accessible for most people.
Little Wild Horse Canyon is the perfect introduction to slot canyon hikes. It’s not a technical hike, and you don’t need any experience in bouldering or climbing. While it does take physical strength to climb and scramble the rocks, we saw people of all ages on the trail. It’s the main reason you’ll see throngs of children on the trail. Which brings me to my next point…
Little Wild Horse Canyon is easily one of the most family-friendly slot canyon hikes in Utah. We did it with a three-year-old, and he had the time of his life. I really can’t imagine anything more fun for a kid than a slot canyon hike.
Little Wild Horse Canyon is mesmerizing in its beauty- the undulating corridors, the textured sandstone, the apricot and coral hues. It’s all so spectacular. While going through the canyon is physically stimulating and fun, it’s the visual splendor that makes it so extraordinary. Photographers will have a blast capturing the curvature and rugged qualities of the canyon.
Proximity To Other Sights
Little Wild Horse Canyon is an easy stopover if road-tripping from Arches National Park to Capitol Reef National Park or vice versa. It’s on the way! It’s also 20 minutes from Goblin Valley State Park, which, in my opinion, is a must-do. The ideal itinerary for someone driving through would be a half day at Goblin Valley and a half day at Little Wild Horse Canyon.
Even if you’re not road-tripping between those two destinations, you can add it if you’re road-tripping from Arches to the Salt Lake City area or going between Bryce Canyon NP and Arches NP. Do I think it’s worth adding? For us, the national parks in Utah are outrageously gorgeous, but Goblin Valley and Little Wild Horse stand out as two of our favorite memories in Utah.
READ NEXT: What To Do At Goblin Valley State Park
Two Slot Canyon Hikes In One
Little Wild Horse Canyon is the most talked about slot canyon in that area, but you can actually do TWO canyon hikes in one day if you’re up for a longer hike. Many slot canyon hikes are out and back, but Little Wild Horse is unique because you can do it as a loop by adding Bell Canyon. I’ll get more into the details of Bell Canyon below.
GOOD TO KNOW: If you want to see a video of the canyon, you can check out our Instagram reel here.
Hiking Little Wild Horse Canyon + Bell Canyon
Let’s break down the logistics of the hike. There are two options for hiking the slot canyons.
- Little Wild Horse Canyon Trail Out and Back
Distance: Roughly 3-4 miles out and back
With this option, you’ll hike through Little Wild Horse and turn around at the canyon’s end or whenever you feel you’ve done enough. This is a great option if you’re traveling with kids, have limited time, can’t physically do an 8-mile hike, or just want to enjoy the fun of a thin slot canyon since Bell Canyon doesn’t have the same “wow” factor.
- Little Wild Horse Canyon To Bell Canyon Loop
Distance: 8 miles, It’s estimated the full loop takes about 4-6 hours.
With this option, you’ll get to experience two canyons. You’ll hike through Little Wild Horse Canyon and then walk on a 4×4 road that will connect you to Bell Canyon. Bell Canyon may not be as stunning as Little Wild Horse, but we would have done it if we hadn’t been traveling with a three-year-old. Continuing on to Bell Canyon is a great way to have solitude since most people make the out-and-back choice. Also, it helps to keep the traffic one way in the much smaller slot canyon!
In this article, we’ll describe the out-and-back hike through Little Wild Canyon and what to expect.
The first stretch of the Little Wild Horse Canyon Hike is level and quick, primarily traversing through a sandy wash to get to the canyon. There is a little bit of slick rock to contend with, so shoes with excellent grip are a must! While the entire hike will require light scrambling, climbing, and hoisting up, I think the most challenging part is the initial rock wall you have to get over before you even get to the canyon.
I’m 5’2 “, and it was a little taller than me, so I’d guess it’s a little bit over five and a half feet tall. I was able to climb up it just fine, but we did have to lift my son up because he wasn’t able to make it. He sure did try, though! For anyone who can’t physically do that, I did see people who bypassed it by climbing a lower rock wall on the right further back.
When you get to the entrance to the canyon, it’ll start out with lower walls and slightly wider corridors. As you progress through it, the drama of the canyon intensifies as the walls rise higher and draw closer together. This is when it’s just pure fun! You’ll have a good section of time to navigate through some of the canyon’s tightest squeezes, clamber over boulders, and zig-zag through the canyon walls.
If hiking with dogs or small children, you will have to give them a hand and hoist them over for sections.
Once the canyon opens up again, you can decide how much more you want to do. We opted to hike through until we reached the 4×4 road and turn around since we wanted to get to Goblin Valley State Park before sunset.
One thing to note is that the canyon is tight and thin at sections, so if you have someone coming toward you in the opposite direction, you’ll need to find a way to get around each other. This was never a problem, and everyone we interacted with was considerate, and either we or they would backtrack to find a wide enough spot to pass comfortably. HOWEVER, we were visiting in a low traffic time. I can imagine it’s tough when there are many people—another reason to get there early or visit in off-peak times.
Planning a Visit To Little Wild Horse Canyon
When planning a visit to Little Wild Horse Canyon, timing and preparation are crucial to enjoying your time there. The experience of exploring nature’s most fantastic maze can vary greatly depending on the season, weather conditions, and how well you’re prepared. Here are a few vital things that are good to know:
BEST TIME TO VISIT
Weather Conditions Throughout the Year: like much of Utah’s desert landscape, Little Wild Horse Canyon experiences a wide range of weather conditions throughout the year.
Summers can be sweltering, with daytime temperatures often exceeding 100°F, making hikes during the peak hours less enjoyable and potentially dangerous. Summer is also when the monsoon season starts in Utah. If there’s rain in the forecast, you should not hike the canyon. It’s dangerous to be in any slot canyon when it’s raining or if rain is expected. Please don’t take this warning lightly. I dive a little deeper into flash floods in the info box below.
Early spring and late fall are fantastic times to visit. Crowds will have diminished, the weather will be cooler, and the risk of flash floods is lower. We did the hike in early March, and it was a little cold, but nothing that couldn’t be handled with a good layering strategy! There were definitely people there, but nothing overwhelming.
Winter can be amazing for its lack of crowds, but snow and ice can make navigating the canyon challenging. It’s a toss-up and will be different every year. If you hike the canyon in winter, traction cleats could be helpful if the ground is icy.
Avoiding Peak Times: To enjoy the canyon with fewer crowds, plan your visit on weekdays or during the shoulder seasons (early spring or late fall). Get there early (7 a.m.) or in the afternoon to avoid the highest foot traffic. While we would have loved to be the family that arrived at 7 a.m., we rolled up around 11:30 a.m. and did not have too many people in the canyon with us. Most of the people we saw were circling back and headed back to their cars rather than starting the hike. That being said, we were visiting in low season, so there weren’t as many people in general.
WHAT TO BRING
Essential Items for a Day Trip: Proper preparation can make the difference between a challenging outing and a delightful adventure. Important items for your day trip to Little Wild Horse Canyon include:
- Water: Bring a reusable water bottle with plenty of water to stay hydrated, especially during the warmer months. No water sources are available in the canyon, so pack more than you think you’ll need.
- Sun Protection: The desert sun can be intense, even in cooler weather. Wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen to protect yourself from sunburn.
- Appropriate Footwear: Wear waterproof shoes with good grip. The canyon floor can be muddy and filled with water at points, so waterproof shoes are ideal.
- Snacks: Pack high-energy, non-perishable snacks to maintain your energy levels throughout the hike.
- Lightweight Daypack: Because you’ll be scrambling and climbing, a lightweight backpack that doesn’t weigh you down is ideal. A crushable daypack like REI’s Flash Pack is ideal.
Little Wild Horse Canyon Directions
Little Wild Horse Canyon is located in the heart of Utah’s San Rafael Swell, about six miles away from Goblin Valley State Park. We used Google Maps and found it to be accurate. However, it’s always good to have written directions.
- On UT- 24 W, drive towards Hanksville, Utah
- Follow signs for Goblin Valley State Park and turn right onto Temple Mountain Road
- After five miles, turn left onto Goblin Valley Road
- After six miles, you’ll turn right onto Wild Horse Road
- Continue for 5.4 miles till you see the parking area.
The parking area is decent-sized and can probably fit roughly 20 cars. Vault toilets are available at the trailhead.
There is no charge for parking, and a permit is not needed for the hike.
From Capitol Reef National Park: 65.5 miles (1.29 hour drive)
From Arches National Park: 101 miles (1.53 hour drive)
From Salt Lake City: 227 miles (4.03 hours drive)
GOOD TO KNOW: There is no cell service in the area, so have your maps downloaded before you leave.
WHERE TO STAY
If you’re looking to stay near Wild Horse Canyon, your only option is to camp, whether that’s at Goblin Valley State Park or boondocking on BLM land. We saw countless people doing that, and if we had rented a campervan in Salt Lake City or Las Vegas, that would have been an excellent choice. You can learn more about dispersed camping in the area here.
We were on a road trip through Utah in our renovated vintage camper, so we opted to stay in Hanksville, Utah, the closest “town” between Capitol Reef National Park (our next stop) and Goblin Valley. There are a handful of motels and RV parks where you can comfortably rest your body for a night.
Subsequently, if you’re heading toward Moab and Arches National Park, you can go in the other direction toward Green River, Utah. It’s the best halfway point between the two and, like Hanksville, Utah, offers a small handful of RV parks and motels. You can check for highly-rated hotels here.
What do you think? Is Little Wild Horse Canyon worth visiting?
We certainly think so! Hopefully, you can reach this magical pocket of Southern Utah. If you have questions about Little Wild Horse Canyon, let us know in the comments below.