Tips for for exploring narrows and slot canyons

Slot canyons are one of the many fascinating geological features of the desert. For millions of years, water eroded the sheer rock walls, providing an otherworldly experience for those daring enough to travel into their depths.

While hauntingly beautiful, slot canyons do come with their own challenges and dangers, and therefore should be approached with caution. Here is what you need to know before heading out to explore one of the many slot canyons of the Southwest.

slot canyon sandstone narrows southeast utah
Slot canyons come in all different shapes and sizes, which makes researching the route ahead of time an extremely important step.Tiona Eversole
Research the Route

Slot canyons vary immensely in difficulty. From an easy walk through high canyon walls to technical canyoneering routes that require climbing gear, you want to make sure you’re prepared for varying levels of terrain.

Depending on the location and time of year that you plan your slot canyon excursion, you may encounter standing pools of water — typical in the spring but not uncommon in the summer or fall, especially after a storm. Knowing if water will be present helps determine the kind of gear you should bring.

Check the Weather

Looking at a longer timeframe of weather patterns is crucial to your safety when exploring slot canyons. Knowing what the weather was like the few days leading up to your excursion as well as the day of could save your life, especially if a storm is present.

Monsoon season typically hits the Southwest from July to September. Exercise extreme caution if you are planning a trip during this time. Keep a close eye on any rainstorms that could have hit up to 50 miles from where you plan to explore, and pay close attention to the intensity of the rainfall. Storms that bring constant or abrupt rainfall should be cause for concern.

Flash floods are a serious hazard in slot canyons, which are extremely dangerous if you find yourself in a narrow spot with no escape. In the event that you notice a slow stream of water coming your way, immediately start looking to get to higher ground. Do not try and outrun a flash flood unless you are certain that you are near the mouth of the canyon.

canyoneering slot canyons utah
Rappelling into the canyon below.Terrance Siemon
Pack the Right Gear

For easy day hikes, use a small backpack that will not get in the way when small down climbs are necessary or while traveling in narrow areas. Bring a thin layer for cool shady spots in the slot canyon, shoes with grippy soles, snacks and plenty of water.

If water is present, a drysuit, dry pants or dry top are helpful. Despite the heat of the desert, deep pools of water found in slot canyons can be extremely cold, resulting in hypothermia if ill prepared. No dry gear? Bring a packable microfiber towel to dry off and a change of dry clothes after the wading is done. Just make sure your pack doesn’t get submerged.

For more technical routes, climbing gear is likely needed. Depending on the height of the rappels, make sure to pack a long enough rope and enough webbing, carabiners or rappel rings to make an anchor in the event that one is not present.

natural arch slot canyon canyoneering
You never know what awaits you around the next bend. Factor in additional time when route planning for unexpected challenges.Terrance Siemon
Allow Plenty of Time

Hiking slot canyons differs from a normal hike due to the presence of obstacles, which may result in longer times depending on the level of difficulty. Even small, 4-foot drops might require some unique body positioning and maneuvering to get to the ground below. 

If rappels are present on the route, take into consideration the number of people you have in your group and the complexity of the rappel. It’s always fun to have a group to explore with, but waiting for everyone to safely get through a section requires adequate time.