During our Utah adventure, hiking the slot canyons was one of our family’s favorite ways to explore. We loved Zebra Slot Canyon, and we did a lot of research before heading out. We’ve collected that info for you in this post so that you don’t have to struggle like we did.
WHY WE LOVED IT
Distance: 5.2 miles
Elevation Change: 377 feet
Area of the State: Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
I’ll be honest: There are more iconic slots, more adventurous slots, more beautiful slots….all within the same area. But there is something mesmerizing about the colorful, stripped red rock of this short slot canyon. In some spots the canyon walls maybe offer 8 inches of squeeze room, which is another exciting part of the journey!
We hiked with another family…six kids hiking 2.5 miles each way in the summer sun…for a 200-300 ft slot. I was worried..would it be worth it? Absolutely! The kids adored the scramble, and the colors lived up to the hype.
BEFORE YOU GO
You know the drill…if there is any hint of rain in the forecast, you’ll want to stay home from visiting Zebra Canyon (or any slot canyon). Flash fooding is real, and really dangerous.
After you’ve checked the weather forecast, give a call to the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center to ask about the height of the water in the tunnel slot. They don’t have cameras in the slots…but they do hear regular reports about the canyon.
Because we had the kiddos, we didn’t want to go if the water was too high. We gave a call to the BLM office and they told us that a hiker just the day before reported to them that the slot was dry. Huzzah!
Ready to head out? You’ll take Hole in the Rock Rd (off Highway 12) to get the the trailhead. If you’ve already visited Peek-a-Boo or Spooky Gulch slots then you’ll already be familiar with this road. It’s a rocky devil, with washboards to boot. While we were in a 4WD, we noticed several low-clearance vehicles that seemed to be making it just fine.
As soon as you turn off the highway, reset your odometer. You’ll go 7.8 miles down the gravel road. As you cross over the third cattle guard, look on the right side of the road for the parking lot to the trailhead.
THE APPROACH TRAIL
The first 2.5 miles of this adventure is through the Harris Wash, and the elevation change is so slight that it feels flat, flat, flat. There is zero shade on this part of the hike, so be sure to bring plenty of water for everyone.
Shortly after you begin your walk, you’ll notice a large cattle guard gate to you right (you see it at the beginning of the Instagram video above.) Go through the gate and continue through the gorgeous red rocks. As you can see in the photo above, the short section of walls here give the impression of The Wave on the Arizona border. OK, maybe not as majestic…but without a permit, this will do. 🙂
We really struggled to stay on the trail here; there are a ton of paths leading in various directions and no cairns to lead hikers through the wash. We would have been lost if not for downloading the AllTrails map prior to setting out. I can’t recommend this enough. With the map it took some effort, but it led us right to the opening of the Zebra Slot Canyon.
NAVIGATING THE ZEBRA
In my research, I read an online recommendation to leave our backpacks at the start of the canyon so we did that and boy was I glad we did! The slot canyon is pretty short so you won’t be gone long…and you’ll see others things along the side walls.
Once inside, the walls will grow more and more narrow. We ran into two groups coming from the opposite direction. Luckily we met the first group in a place with a small bump out, which allowed our group of 10 to pass them. The second group? It was a little more like Slot Canyon Twister. Ha!
There is one section of the slot that is more challenging than most – you can see it in the video above, where Elliot is sliding across the rock in a squatted position. The rock offers only about a 3-inch gap from about hip width down. You’ll need to climb up out of the lower section, squat, and Spiderman your way across. It’s only about 5 yards, but it’s not easy!
About 200-300 feet into the tunnel, past another climb (but without the shimmy) you’ll come to a large hole in the slot. It was filled with water when we visited, but regardless, it felt impossible to pass. That was the end for us; we turned around and headed back.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
WHERE IS ZEBRA SLOT CANYON?
In Grand Escalante, take Hole in the Rock Road off of Hwy 12 for 7.8 miles. The trailhead parking lot is on the right.
ARE DOGS ALLOWED IN THE CANYON?
Yes, dogs are allowed in the Zebra Slot Canyon. We didn’t travel with pets, but in the large amount of research we did prepping for this hike we noticed a half-dozen or so people say they wish they hadn’t brought Fido with them. It’s just too tight!
HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU NEED TO HIKE IT?
With kids ranging from 8 to 13 and a hellishly hot day, we were averaging about 30 minute miles through the wash. With time to explore the canyon and take photos, it took our large group of 10 about 4.5 hours.
CAN I CAMP NEAR THE CANYON?
Absolutely! There is a ton of dispersed camping off Hole in the Rock Road. We use Campendium to help find the best camping spots, and this option worked well for us. The Verizon signal was great, too.
The only thing I’ll note about the coordinates is that we found it better to go in off Hole in the Rock Road rather than going into the camping area off Hwy 12. Put the coordinates in, but keep going to the gravel road. The system will re-adjust for you…and you’ll be closer to the other hikes down this road.
HOW CAN I TELL WHAT THE WATER LEVEL IS INSIDE THE CANYON?
There is not a guaranteed way to know without first going. It can get pretty high, as evidenced in the photo above. That is not my photo – we didn’t run into water. I’m sharing because I want you to understand what it means to hike through water in a slot canyon. You have to be ready.
That said, you can do what we did and call the Escalante BLM Office (link above) and ask the rangers if they have any recent reports on the water levels. They were able to tell us that someone went the day prior to our hike and didn’t experience water.
ARE THERE MORE SLOTS IN THE AREA?
Many people hear about taking the entire Halfway Hollow loop when on this hike, visiting Tunnel Slot, as well. Our last report indicated that this area has been fenced off and is no longer accessible as of March 2020. It was not open when we visited in summer 2021.
Peek-a-boo and Spooky Gulch are MUST-DO hikes down the same road, and they are both along the same trail. You can read more about them here. If you only have time for one hike, I’d suggest Peek-a-boo and Spooky over the Zebra slot, hands down!
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO UTAH
- UTAH: 50+ Astounding Things To Do In Utah: Your Ultimate Bucket List
- KANAB: 12 Mind-Blowing Things To Do In Kanab (Plus Day Trips)
- PARK CITY: Your “Things to Do in Park City” Family Fun Itinerary
- HYATT CENTRIC PARK CITY: Your “Ski With Kids” Logistical Treasure
- UTAH NATIONAL PARKS: Plan a Breathtaking Trip to See the Utah National Parks