The only thing on our agenda for Sunday was a trip down Little Wild Horse Canyon. A popular spot for those camping in and around Goblin Valley SP, Little Wild Horse Canyon is a non-technical (no ropes necessary) slot canyon that is accessible to most ages and types. From what I’ve read, Little Wild Horse gives you the most bang for your buck, particularly as a beginner.
Hikers can do Little Wild Horse Canyon as an out-and-back trail or create a loop hike with Bell Canyon for an 8 mile trek. We didn’t have that kind of time, plus I’d talked to a couple of our camping neighbors and they’d told me there was thigh-deep standing water after about a mile and a half in Little Wild Horse. So we were prepared to go as far as the water and then turn around.
The hike begins at the clearly marked Little Wild Horse Canyon trailhead. When we arrived around 10am, the main parking area was already full and we had to park across the road. (When we left, there were even more cars, so it’s best to start early.) I signed us into the register, and we got started.
The first part of the hike followed a dry wash which was sandy, rocky, and a little cumbersome for Truman. He started slowing down pretty quickly, so we opted to go ahead and just put him in his pack. After 0.4 miles we encountered water and a little farther, a large pouroff with an eight foot drop. There were a couple other hikers there and it took us a minute to recall that we were supposed to use the ledge to the left to circumvent the drop. After skirting around the pouroff, we dropped back down off the shelf and were met with the fork for Bell and Little Wild Horse Canyons.
We went through three sections of slots; each was broken up by an interlude where the canyon walls opened up before the next section began. The first section wasn’t quite as narrow and was a nice precursor to the tighter sections. The sandstone here was captivating. There were lines sweeping down the sides of the canyon walls, swirling in different angles along with pockets of honeycomb weathering, tafoni, which created beautiful patterns. We were lucky to have soft morning light when we started which transformed the sandstone into varying hues of pink, orange, and purple.
The second section tightened up and presented us with alcoves of sandstone that changed color depending on the angle. At times it was impossible to walk in a straight line, we simply had to follow the path the water had carved. I was at the back of our group, and I often fell behind. It’s easy to become mesmerized by the formations and colors of the sandstone.
The third section was significantly tighter. I wasn’t sure Truman would fit with his head sticking out of his pack, but he did – barely. This portion was more crowded as we caught up to those in front of us and others began turning back. There were a couple of times we had to press ourselves into the side of the sandstone to let others pass by. This section also had more obstacles – nothing difficult – which gave us the opportunity to scramble up and down a couple pouroffs or over chokestones. This section would be the most fun for kids; even I enjoyed catapulting myself from the stones to the sandy gravel below.
After the third section we came to a cavernous opening. The next section already had some visible puddles, and the couple ahead of us confirmed that we had reached the water-logged area. They rolled up their pants and went for it barefoot, but we decided to save that portion for another time. We let Truman take a break from his pack, had some snacks, and then turned around to go back out the way we came.
Even though we didn’t go the entire length of Little Wild Horse, the parts we saw were amazing. I’ve looked at photos from hikers who did the entire loop, and honestly, the parts we did were the best. I can be a little claustrophobic and the thought of water rushing through the slots is terrifying, but it’s equally exhilarating. I really loved this hike. It’s impossible to walk out of the canyon without a smile plastered to your face.
*Do your due diligence and check the forecast before you do this hike or any other slot canyon. Flash floods are a real danger.