Hiking Little Wildhorse & Bell Canyon Slots
We've billed Little Wildhorse as a great canyon adventure for kids or less experienced hikers. It's a scenic area with easy hiking on the lower end, getting more difficult — and more spectacular — as you make your way up the canyon. You can hike as far as you feel comfortable, then turn back and have an enjoyable outing.
But we don't want to sell this place short. The loop hike through Little Wildhorse and adjacent Bell Canyon offers enough challenge and wonderful, tight narrows to enthrall experienced hikers.
It's not a long or difficult hike. The round trip is about eight miles. There are boulders to scramble over, and dry falls to climb around, but they aren't particularly troublesome. I lead a group through the canyons recently and everyone did the complete loop — even out-of-shape adults — but a couple people had to be helped over rough spots.
Youngsters will certainly enjoy hiking in the lower end of either canyon, if they are closely supervised. But kids need to be at least 12 and good hikers before I would recommend they try the loop. Younger kids justdon't have long enough legs to climb the rocks without considerable help. (On the other hand, it's easier to lift a small person up over the rocks.)
Both canyons offer sheer walls, rock monuments carved into interesting shapes, and good narrows. Bell is certainly easier hiking — primarily because its narrows are not as tight or as long.
If you've never done a narrows hike, you've missed an experience. They are just fun. The sheer cliffs tower hundreds of feet above your head, and the walls almost seem to close in on you. There are many canyons in Utah where you can literally stretch out your arms and touch both walls. The breeze whistles through like you are in a wind tunnel. It's always cool and shady. Just fun.
In Little Wildhorse, there are a couple stretches of narrows so tight you can't just walk through. You've got to go through sideways. There are tighter narrows around, but these are perhaps the tightest in a canyon which is relatively easy to hike.
People who are in pretty good shape can make the loop in about four hours, but you will certainly want to take longer. These are canyons to play in, with little caves to explore and rocks which are too alluring to resist climbing. Plan to take your time and enjoy this unique environment.
Spring is a grand time to hike in this area which is on the southeastern edge of the San Rafael Swell. It gets hot in this area in the summer, but limited hiking is enjoyable in the morning or evening. Give yourself plenty of time to get back to your vehicle — you don't want to get stuck in these canyons after dark.
You'll need to carry water with you. There may be a few puddles if it has rained recently, but don't drink the water without purifying it first.
The trailhead is located just west of Goblin Valley State Park, near Hanksville. Follow the signs from Highway 24 to the park. Take the sandy road that continues west past the park, across a wash (where Chute Canyon crosses the road) and then over a ridge to Little Wildhorse. There may be deep sand in spots. It's about 5 1/2 miles from Goblin Valley to the trailhead. Little Wildhorse looks like a pretty ordinary wash where it crosses the road, but it is easy to recognize because you'll see a parking area and a couple camping spots.
Most of the hike is within a wilderness study area, and vehicles are not allowed in that area. I was shocked to see someone had driven right over one of the wilderness markers, and continued driving up the canyon into the study area. Don't do that. You'll only save a few hundred yards, and antics like that will just bring tighter controls which may ruin the area for all of us.
Start hiking up the wash. You'll soon come to a fork — Bell goes left and Little Wildhorse right. Take your choice. Both canyons open up on the top end, and then come to an old mining road which now serves as a trail from one canyon to the other. It is probably easier to find the road if you hike up Bell and then over to Little Wildhorse. The road has deteriorated considerably, and if you don't keep your eyes open you could walk right past it.
There's almost always someone camping near the trailhead. There are several good spots in the area, but no facilities at all. If you want a modern campground, go back to Goblin Valley. It has flush toilets and a solar power system which produces hot water and electricity for lights in the restrooms. You can even shower there. There is a $8 fee to camp at Goblin Valley.
Goblin Valley is an incredible place in its own right. You can walk right down among interesting rock formations, and climb on them if you dare. Beginning rock climbers love the park because there are low-level challenges everywhere. However, most of the formations are composed of soft sandstone which often crumbles as you fight for handholds.
While in the park you are required to keep vehicles, including mountain bikes, on the paved road. Bikers are tempted to ride out among the goblins. Don't do it! The park ranger will track you down, hand you a rake and make you erase the bike tire tracks. And threaten a fine if you do it again. We learned the hard way.
There are plenty of rugged roads to ride on outside the park. It's difficult to take a bike off the road in this area because its sandy.
Little Wildhorse, Bell, Goblin Valley. This is a fun spot for hikers of any skill level.