Located in the vast remote land of Grand Staircase Escalante in southern Utah, the hike to Big Horn Canyon is an off-the-beaten path adventure that provides the opportunity to find some solitude while exploring two incredible slot canyons. While many people visit Grand Staircase to explore the more popular Zebra, Peekaboo and Spooky Slot Canyons, Big Horn Canyon remains off the radar of many. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to plan your hike to Big Horn Canyon in Escalante, and hopefully, convince you this hidden gem is worth adding to your itinerary!
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
Big Horn Canyon is located in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, a massive area of protected land encompassing over 1 million acres in Southern Utah.
In fact, Grand Staircase Escalante is the largest area of protected land in the United States. It was the last area to be cartographed in the U.S. and it still has that rugged, adventurous spirit that characterizes the American West.
You won’t find long entry lines or throngs of tourists. Instead, you may come across unsuspecting cows, who are only slightly more timid than they are curious, and large tracts of land filled with some of the most unique and diverse geological formations in the country.
Read more about Escalante
Big Horn Canyon in Escalante, Utah
- Hiking distance | 6 miles
- Elevation gain | About 380 feet
- Total time | 2-4 hours
- Epic-ness rating | 6
- Difficulty | Moderate
Find this hike on AllTrails: Big Horn Canyon Trail
While Grand Staircase Escalante itself is less visited than nearby national parks, like Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, Big Horn Canyon is off the beaten path even by Escalante standards.
Typically overshadowed by the more popular Zebra Slot Canyon and Peekaboo and Spooky Slot Canyons (P.S. these are popular for good reason – both are incredible and we highly recommend adding to your bucket list!), we think Big Horn Canyon deserves a place on any Escalante itinerary.
While perhaps less visually stunning than its neighbors, Big Horn Canyon offers something that other slot canyons in the area cannot: solitude!
When we hiked Big Horn Canyon, we were entirely alone in both slot canyons and only passed one other group of hikers on the entire trail. So if you’re looking to explore a slot canyon without bumping elbows, waiting in line to pass, and jostling for photos, Big Horn Canyon is the hike for you!
- Explore two unique slot canyons
- Ditch the crowds!
- Close to other great hikes in Escalante
- Trail can be difficult to follow
- Road to trailhead is washboard, dirt road
- Admittedly less visually stunning than other slot canyons nearby
Remember to Leave No Trace. Pack out what you pack in, stay on trail, be well-prepared, leave nothing behind, take only photos and memories with you, treat the area with respect and help preserve this beautiful spot for generations to come.
How difficult is the Big Horn Canyon hike?
Big Horn Canyon is a moderately difficult hike due to the distance and a few very minor rock scrambles, namely one large boulder blocking the slot canyon which must either be crawled under or climbed over. While the trail is fairly flat, much of the hike requires walking through sand, which adds to the difficulty level.
The most challenging part of the hike is staying on the trail, as the nature of the wash makes it hard to follow. We highly recommend downloading the trail map in advance for offline use, using an app such as AllTrails Pro or Gaia.
As with any slot canyon in Grand Staircase Escalante, you shouldn’t attempt to hike Big Horn Canyon if there is any rain in the forecast, as flash floods are possible in the canyon. Additionally, beware that heavy winds are possible, which can cause sandstorms in the canyon (so be prepared to cover your eyes and run!).
What to pack for hiking to Big Horn Canyon, Escalante
Before you head to Escalante to hike Big Horn Canyon, make sure you are prepared with the following essentials:
- Rain jacket or windbreaker | When we hiked Big Horn Canyon, heavy winds whipped through the canyon blasting sand around and stinging our skin. A windbreaker or rain jacket would’ve been great to have to break the sandy wind!
- Backpack with bladder (Hers: CamelBak Helena 20L, His: Camelback Rim Runner 22L) | We both use a similar Camelback backpack for day hiking – they’re comfortable, lightweight and just big enough to hold the essentials without weighing you down. Plus they both come with a 2L bladder.
- Hiking boots (Hers: Danner Mountain 600s, His: Salomon Ultra 4 Mid GTX) | A pair of quality hiking boots with good traction are helpful for walking in sand and climbing around the slot canyons!
- Hiking pants (Hers: Athleta Headlands pants, His: PrAna Stretch Zion Pants) | Even if it’s hot out, you may prefer to hike Big Horn Canyon in pants rather than shorts due to the possibility for heavy winds, making the sand absolutely brutal!
- Hiking socks (Darn Tough) | Darn Tough makes our favorite hiking socks – they’re thick, comfortable and durable. Everything you need in a good hiking sock.
- GPS Device (Garmin InReach Mini) | There is no cell service on Hole in the Rock Road. We always carry our Garmin In-reach Mini in case of emergency in areas without cell service and it gives us (and our parents) peace of mind.
- Map downloaded on AllTrails Pro | The trail to Big Horn Canyon can be difficult to follow, so you will want to have the trail downloaded in advance to make sure you are able to find your way.
- Sunscreen and chapstick | So important to keep your skin and lips protected during a long day in the desert sun!
- First Aid Kit | A key essential for day hike in case of an emergency.
- Plenty of water| There is no water or shade along the trail, and the desert sun is strong. Be sure to pack plenty of water – at least 2-3 liters per person.
- Sunglasses (Goodr) | At only $25, Goodr sunglasses are cheap, durable and non-slip (perfect if you’re the type of person that tends to loose sunglasses, like me!)
Tips for a great hike
- There is no service in Grand Staircase Escalante. Make sure to download trail maps in advance.
- The trailhead is located down Hole in the Rock road, a bumpy washboard dirt road that is typically passable without 4WD (but may not be if it has recently rained, so be sure to check current conditions).
- Dogs are permitted on the Big Horn Canyon trail (as well as other hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante).
- Most of the trail is through sand, so be prepared for the hike to take longer than a hike of similar distance and elevation normally would.
Details | Big Horn Canyon, Escalante
Now let’s get into the details about the Big Horn Canyon hike!
Getting to the Big Horn Canyon trailhead
The trailhead for Big Horn Canyon is located 4.5 miles down Hole-in-the-Rock Road, a roughly 20-30 minute drive from Escalante, Utah. Exact driving time depends on how fast you are willing to drive down Hole-in-the-Rock road, a bumpy washboard dirt road.
There is a small parking area on the right side of Hole in the Rock Road. Given that this hike is less popular, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting a spot. Note that the trailhead starts from the left side of the road.
Starting the hike
To start the hike, cross over to the lefthand side of Hole-in-the-Rock Road and head towards the wash to pick up the trail. When you first start the hike, you may be greeted by a herd of cattle, perhaps more living creatures than you’ll see for the duration of the hike!
The trail to Big Horn Canyon meanders through Harris Wash, crossing the water or dry creek bed a few times. The trail can be difficult to follow, so keep an eye out for cairns and check your downloaded trail map every now and then to make sure you are on track.
At 1.7 miles into the hike, you will come upon a wooden cattle guard. Walk through the cattle guard and turn left towards Big Horn Canyon, continuing about 0.3 miles until you reach a fork.
There are two sections of Big Horn Canyon to explore that branch off in different directions – the main section of Big Horn Canyon to your right and the West Fork to your left. Both canyons are worth exploring, and you can start with either!
Big Horn Canyon
The main section (or East Fork) of Big Horn Canyon branches off to the right from the trail. Inside Big Horn Canyon, you will find a few obstacles to climb over and uniquely striped and swirled orange rock walls.
Big Horn Canyon gets narrower in the middle section, but never quite as narrow as other slot canyons in Escalante, like Zebra, Peekaboo, and Spooky.
Continue for about half a mile through the slot canyon until the canyon walls start to level off. At this point, you can take a short spur trail to the right-hand side of the canyon up to a viewpoint looking down over Big Horn Canyon. Then retrace your steps back to the entrance of Big Horn Canyon.
West Fork Big Horn Canyon
Branching off to the west (lefthand side of the trail), is the West Fork of Big Horn Canyon, a much shorter and narrower slot canyon compared to the East Fork. The rippling orange walls of the West fork are reminiscent of a much smaller version of Antelope Canyon.
Once you’ve finished exploring both forks of Big Horn Canyon, return the way you came following the Harris Wash back to the trailhead.
Other hikes nearby
Planning a trip to Grand Staircase Escalante in Utah? Be sure to check out these other great hikes in the area!
- Grand Staircase | How to Visit Cosmic Ashtray: an Epic Adventure
- Grand Staircase| The Ultimate Coyote Gulch Backpacking Trip: Grand Staircase Escalante
- Grand Staircase | How to Hike Zebra Slot Canyon: Grand Staircase Escalante
- Grand Staircase | 9 Best Hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante
- Grand Staircase | Peekaboo and Spooky Slot Canyons: A Complete Trail Guide
- Grand Staircase | Why You Should Hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls
Have you hiked Big Horn Canyon in Escalante, Utah? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!