Tunnel Slot Hike

The first car that wakes me up travels down the bumpy graveled Hole-in-the-rock-road at about 4:30 am. Just outside our open window with only a couple Juniper Trees to block the noise I stir, this wouldn't be my first choice of campsites. However, upon our arrival yesterday afternoon, it is the first camp we could find close to all our intended destinations. It also was about all our bodies could handle the rough road yesterday.

I drift back to sleep, but soon there is a constant sound of vehicles, so I decide to get up and get ready to go. I'm excited about today's adventure, the temperatures are pleasant, and our hike isn't long. Looking outside, I see a slight stir of the trees, and I'm grateful that the breeze continues to blow the dust to the east. The sun is rising as we put plenty of water in our packs, load the ATV, and head to the trailhead.

Including Round Valley Draw, Tunnel Canyon, and Zebra Canyon to name a few. It’s like a slot canyon haven. After visiting Buckskin Gulch I’ve become kind of obsessed with slot canyons. While Buckskin was the biggest and Round Valley was the funnest, Zebra Canyon is definitely the prettiest. We visited Zebra Canyon and Tunnel Canyon in one hike. Zebra Slot Canyon and Tunnel Canyon Hikes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah. Zebra Slot Canyon and Tunnel Canyon are two classic and easily accessed canyons of the vast canyons of Grand Staircase-Escalante. In spite of their notoriety, the canyons are still difficult to hike and require careful planning. To approach Tunnel Slot from the bottom, you’ll stay at the same general elevation as the floor of the canyons. With your back to mouth of Zebra slot, go straight toward the wide open area where the canyons converge, but bear left and head up the next main canyon on your left.

Zebra and Tunnel Slot Canyon trailhead parking lot already has about ten cars in the lot as a couple cross the road and head down the trail. By the time we are ready to leave, they are out of sight, and another car pulls into the lot. Zebra is a very popular hiking trail, and I expect it will be busy on a Saturday. The walking is easy, and the course is well marked as we follow the wash into the backcountry.

Unnecessary cairns mark a well-traveled path, some people are offended by cairns when they are not needed, but I love them and love to see the creative nature of people who use stones to tell a story. As the ravine grows more profound, we drop into the stream bed and cross back and forth from bank to bank. There is still mud in spots, and I would hate to be on this trail during a rainstorm. The canyon walls are beautiful, and it's not hard to see where Zebra Canyon gets its name as colorful strips begin to appear in the rock.

We finally drop into Harris Wash and trek almost due north to the Zebra Slot Canyon entrance. We meet a couple on their return who mention they were 'turned back by water.' Zebra has water in it, not surprising; however, I am a little surprised because it hasn't rained in quite some time. I was hoping for a dry canyon, but we came prepared to get wet.

Tunnel Slot Hike Grand Canyon

Linda is averse to the cold, and slot canyon water is always cold. The sandstone rock's porous nature creates a refrigeration system as the water evaporates, and even in the hottest of days, the water is cold. It doesn't help that a dead mouse has washed up onto the sand at the edge of the water. I step in; it's cold, but my body quickly adapts to the chill, and the water is only about shin deep. Using my hiking pole, I prod the water ahead, feeling for any potholes or rocks. I make progress, but the water is growing deeper. Soon it reaches my thigh, then my waist. As the hiking pole is completely underwater now, I worry that we might not proceed much further. Linda is already up to her chest in the cold water. We find a high spot around the next bend to talk about how far we want to go. Probing the water with my hiking pole, I can't reach the bottom. That means swimming. We turn around.

Dropping onto the slick rock, making sure we have plenty of sunshine, we eat a snack. We sit at the next canyon's mouth to the east of Zebra when a couple emerges from the high trail. That is our next direction of travel. The track is faint compared to the freeway trail of Zebra, but we make our way through the sand and along the rocky rib. Connecting with a massive sandstone plateau, we hike and explore the area as we zig-zag along the rough outline I have on the map. We soon spot a few Mokie marbles, then a few more. Soon the ground is littered with the round balls of iron. It almost appears as if a Mokie marble hail storm occurred in the area, and we walk among them, looking at the odd and sometimes perfect shape of the stones.

The next canyon appears, and we work our way to the bottom, again following a faint trail. This canyon is large with a sandy bottom. The occasional rockfall creates some bouldering moves to get past, but it is easy traveling by in large. Two obstacles exist before reaching the Tunnel Slot Canyon. The first obstacle is a deep pool with a thick brush in the middle of the wash. We passed on the right-hand side, with a grip and drop to the sand move, along a thin shelf. The second obstacle is also water; this time, a large pond. It might be possible to walk through the water using the connecting sand bars to arrive at the opposite side. We climbed up the slick rock on the left-hand side and passed along the dry fall before reentering the sandy area. At this point, a juncture of canyons exist; turning right, we spot the entrance to Tunnel Canyon. More water.

Tunnel Slot Canyon is exquisite in its formation. Too narrow at the top, the canyon has filled in with rock and debris, closing the lid and creating the tunnel effect. While at ground level, it is wide enough to pass through while keeping hands on both walls. We see the light at the opposite opening, and I guess the tunnel is just a short walk before opening up into another wide canyon. My hope is we don't have to swim, but the truth is we need to pass through this way or backtrack all the way around. Linda and I enter the mouth with some trepidation.

Thankfully the water isn't too deep. It reaches above my waist; Linda stems the canyon's deepest part, but it is worth the short amount of time being wet; the canyon is stunning. I would add, if you don't plan on getting wet, don't hike to Tunnel Canyon. From the dry riverbank, looking in the mouth is not worth the hiking effort to arrive here. Jump in, get wet, and enjoy this fantastic slot canyon.

We exit Tunnel Canyon into Harris Wash and walk along the drying river bed back to the main trail. We have only bumped into the occasional hiker, we only saw one trail runner near Tunnel Canyon, but back on the main track, we pass a dozen or so hikers heading toward Zebra Canyon. It is a popular hike, but I'm happy we made the complete loop. We arrive at the trailhead, and the parking lot is full. Twenty-five or more cars fill the lot as I marvel; we didn't see more while hiking. Spread 50 or more people across 7 miles of trail, several canyons including nooks and crannies to explore, I guess I shouldn't be all that surprised.

Hiking Zebra Slot Canyon

Zebra Slot Canyon is located off of Hole in the Rock Road, near Escalante, UT. The hike is only 2 miles in, and the best section of the striped walls only lasts for about 100 ft. Getting to the slot is quite easy, as it meanders through Juniper & Sage brush, cuts through a beautiful red rock canyon, then open up as you walk through the sandy dry wash, and eventually leads to the iconic striped walls resembling zebra stripes.
Slot
The biggest issue with hiking through Zebra Slot Canyon is the water; 90% of the time this canyon has standing water from recent/prior rain storms. When I saw that some friends went, and said it was completely dry, I knew I had to hurry and get down there. I had attempted Zebra back in November 2014 but was full of icy water. I wasn’t properly dressed or had neoprene socks to walk through that. I knew I had to get back, and we timed it perfectly this time.

Drive East of Escalante, UT on HWY 12, then turn right onto Hole in the Rock Road. Reset your odometer and drive 8 miles. The TH/parking lot is right at a cattle guard, and the trail starts on the East side of the road.

Here is a driving map.

Distance: 5 miles RT

Elevation gain: flat, 23 ft

Time: 2-4 hours

Dog friendly? Yes, off leash but read advisory below

Kid friendly? Yes, but read advisory below

Fees/Permits? None

Can I bring my dog here?

Tunnel Slot Hike Trail

Though dogs are allowed off leash, and we brought ours along, I wouldn’t recommend taking dogs here. Zebra slot canyon is very narrow; there are also several tight obstacles they need assistance with – the hardest is getting them over a really narrow section at the bottom. We had to sit cross-canyon (legs and back agains the wall), and let the dogs walk over our laps to get across! Another option would be to bring them, but then each hiker goes one by one to get to the end, then comes back and trades off watching the dogs at the canyon entrance. If you still want to bring your dog, make sure they wear a dog harness to help pull them over obstacles.

Is this a good hike for kids?

Kids who are comfortable with tight spaces and scrambling will have fun and do well. They will need help getting over/through the tightest sections.

What should I bring?

Each person should carry at least 2-3 liters of water. The simpler & lighter you go, the easier it will be getting through the canyon. We opted to leave our packs at the canyon entrance so we didn’t have to worry about carrying them through. The best section is really short anyway, and you should need anything out of your pack for 15-20 minutes. Also don’t wear your “nice” hiking clothes – the canyon walls will scrape your clothes and they can get torn. Dress in layers – even in January we were down to tank tops when popped out of the canyon into the sun.

The parking area is big, and is right on the other side of the cattle guard off Hole in the Rock Road (HITR), on the West side fo the road.

The trail starts on the East side of HITR road.

The trail is very easy as it meanders through Sage & Juniper trees – pass the No Collection sign.

As you can see the trail is very exposed – no shade for the entire hike. Make sure you carry sunblock, plenty of water, and a hat, even in Winter.

Hike past the Wilderness Study Area sign, and you will now be in a dry wash called Halfway Hollow.

Cut through the gate either right through the swining ladders, or off to the right, where you can move a gate to get through.

You should now be hiking through some amazing red rock country!

Once you reach the large, dry Harris Wash, head left. You can either walk through the middle of the wash, or off to the side on the right through some sage brush. Either way it’s slow going since it’s thick sand.

Tunnel Slot Hike Grand Staircase

Entrance to Zebra. The temperatures weren’t even that hot, yet Charlie decided to take a break in the shade. We dropped our packs right around the corner so we didn’t have to shimmy through the slot with them on.

@adventuresofpollyandmac gets a boost from her mom as the canyon narrows.

I think they are all saying, “ME FIRST!” This was one of the toughest sections to get them over because the ground was too narrow for even us to put our feet. We had to put our backs and legs against the walls, then let the dogs walk over our legs!

Tunnel Slot Hike Game

Same tough spot, but looking back to the others as they get the last dog, Copper, across. He was the hardest since he is the biggest dog at 80 lbs.

Tunnel Slot Hike Games

The canyon stays narrow, but this time the dogs can make it through themselves. Paolo giovannini casino games.

And after one last boost up for Charlie, we found the best section. It’s even more amazing in person! The end of the canyon is only about 10 ft behind me. To be honest, it’s a long, dry, sandy hike to get to for such a short section of the zebra stripes. This was my second time here, and I finally got to see the best part, but wouldn’t do this hike again.

Trail map (you can see my GPS went a little crazy in the slot canyon)

The Ultimate Guide – Dog Friendly Hikes in Escalante, Utah!

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