Willis Creek Slot Canyon is a fun, family-friendly hike and underrated slot canyon in southern Utah. While most slot canyons in the area are known for their classic orange sandstone, Willis Creek is a bit different, with black and tan striped walls, making for a more unique experience. As far as slot canyons go, Willis Creek Slot Canyon is fairly wide and the trail is relatively flat, making it easily accessible for all hikers and a perfect adventure for the whole family. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to plan your Willis Creek Slot Canyon hike!

Hi there! We’re Sarah and Matt, two nomads road tripping across the United States with our cat, Fitzgerald, making a new place our home month to month while working full time and adventuring as much as possible. We spend any free time we can get hiking, camping, backpacking, and exploring new places! We hope that our experiences will help you plan for your next adventure and inspire you to be an outlier!

Willis Creek Slot Canyon hike in Grand Staircase Escalante

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About Willis Creek Slot Canyon

Willis Creek Slot Canyon (a.k.a. Willis Creek Narrows) is one of the more underrated slot canyon hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante. Though slightly less visually stunning compared to Peekaboo & Spooky Slot Canyons or Zebra Slot Canyon, Willis Creek Slot Canyon is easily accessible and never gets too narrow (roughly 4 or 5 feet at its narrowest).

Perhaps the best part of hike is that you get to pass through multiple slot canyons along the trail until you reach the tallest and narrowest section of the Willis Creek Narrows at about 1.5 miles into the hike. While most Utah slot canyon hikes offer a big payoff only at the end, with not much to see along the way, Willis Creek Slot Canyon will keep you entertained along the entire trail!

From the narrows at 1.5 miles, you can either turn back, or continue for another couple miles through the wider sections of the canyon if you wish to extend the hike.

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is one of the largest remaining areas of protected land in the United States, spanning nearly 1 million acres across southern Utah. The area is known for being remote and rugged, and gets significantly fewer visitors than nearby National Parks like Zion and Bryce Canyon.

Nonetheless, Grand Staircase Escalante is home to a huge variety of unique landscapes, from hoodoos to slot canyons and other crazy formations like the Cosmic Ashtray, Jacob Hamblin Arch, and Devil’s Garden. 

Many of the best hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante are located off Hole in the Rock Road near Escalante. Note that Willis Creek Slot Canyon is about an hour south of Escalante, near Cannonville and Kodachrome Basin State Park.

Willis Creek Slot Canyon hike

Willis Creek Slot Canyon Hike Overview

Hike Stats

  • Hiking distance | 3 miles (option to extend up to 6+ miles)
  • Elevation gain | 200 feet
  • Total time | 1 – 2 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 7
  • Difficulty | Easy
  • Trailhead | Located on Skutumpah Road (4WD and high clearance is recommended)
  • Location | Southern Utah, near Kodachrome Basin State Park

Find this hike on AllTrails: Willis Creek Narrows

How difficult is the Willis Creek Slot Canyon hike?

As far as slot canyons go, this is a very easy hike! The trail is nearly flat and the canyon never gets to narrow, making it easily accessible to all hikers. There are no challenging obstacles required to get into the slot canyon (like many other slot canyon hikes in Grand Staircase), making for a fun and stress-free hike!

The trail follows through a wash so walking through sand is perhaps the toughest aspect of the hike.

Willis Creek Slot Canyon hike

Highlights

  • Hike in and out of multiple slot canyons
  • Beautiful tan and black striped walls
  • Crowds are minimal

Lowlights

  • Trailhead is located down a dirt road, sometimes in rough condition
  • Canyon may be filled with water, depending on recent weather conditions

When is the best time to hike Willis Creek Slot Canyon?

The best time to hike Willis Creek Slot Canyon is during the spring and fall when temperatures are mild. Summer heat in Grand Staircase can be scorching. Luckily, hiking in the canyon offers some shade, but parts of the trail are still exposed. If you are visiting during the summer, plan to hike early in the morning to beat the heat. 

During the winter, snow is not uncommon in the area and can make the road to the trailhead impassable. When we hiked during late March, much of the ground inside the canyon was still covered in a thick layer of snow – be sure to wear a pair of hiking boots with good traction!

Weather conditions

As with all slot canyons in Utah, you should not attempt to hike Willis Creek Slot Canyon if there is any rain or snow in the forecast, as flash floods can be very dangerous.

ice covers the ground in Willis Creek Slot Canyon in Grand Staircase Escalante, Utah
ice covers the ground inside Willis Creek Slot Canyon in late March

Things to know before you go

Below are a few tips and things to know before you go for the best experience.

  • Dogs are permitted on the trail.
  • There are no entrance fees for Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.
  • Willis Creek runs through the slot canyon, so there may be water in the canyon (especially during the spring, due to snow and ice melt). A pair of water shoes or hiking sandals would be helpful to avoid getting your boots wet.
  • The most beautiful part of the canyon is located about 1.5 miles from the trailhead, although you can continue further if you want to extend the hike.
  • Don’t expect to have any cell service in the area. Download directions and trail maps ahead of time.
  • Check out nearby Kodachrome Basin State Park after your hike!
  • This is a fairly uncrowded hike, so it’s possible to find some solitude. We started at 8am on a Saturday morning and didn’t see another hiker until our return hike.
Willis Creek Slot Canyon hike in Grand Staircase Escalante, Utah

Willis Creek Slot Canyon Hike Details

Below we will give you all the details about the Willis Creek Slot Canyon hike so you know what to expect.

Our experience

After totally falling in love with Grand Staircase Escalante during our first visit to the area, we’d been dying to return to hike Willis Creek Slot Canyon for quite a while.

Our original plans were thwarted when heavy snow made Skutumpah Road impassable in early March. We tried again in late March, this time with success! Inside the canyon, the ground was covered in a half-foot thick layer of ice, but nothing that couldn’t be tackled with a slow-going pace and some careful foot placement.

We ended up hiking 6 miles roundtrip, following our AllTrails map without having done adequate research prior. We kept expecting to come upon another slot canyon, but instead, the canyon continued to widen. It turns out the narrowest part of the canyon is found just about 1.5 miles into the hike!

Despite our confusion, we loved the hike and thought the slot canyon was very distinct from other slot canyons in Grand Staircase Escalante.

Parking and getting to the trailhead

The trailhead is located 9 miles down Skutumpah Road, near Kodachrome Basin State Park. Although Skutumpah is a dirt road, it’s fairly well-maintained and we found it to be quite manageable with our Subaru Forester. 4WD and high clearance are recommended due to a few very steep sections and the possibility of sand drifting onto the road.

Note that the road may become muddy and impassable (even with 4WD) following recent snow or rain. Always check for updated road conditions before setting out.

The parking lot for Willis Creek Slot Canyon is a relatively good-sized gravel lot. We had no trouble finding a spot on a lovely Saturday morning in late March.

Starting the hike

From the parking lot, the trail to Willis Creek Slot Canyon begins on the opposite side of the road. The hike starts out briefly downhill before entering the wash and leveling out.

starting the hike to Willis Creek Slot Canyon in Grand Staircase Escalante

First slot canyon

Your first reward comes less than half a mile into the hike! The first slot canyon is the shortest and widest, but still quite impressive – the views only get better as you continue towards the Willis Creek Narrows.

At this point, you may encounter water in the canyon. As you can see below, there was still a thick layer of ice throughout the canyon when we hiked in late March, making for a rather slow going hike!

After exiting this first slot canyon, the canyon widens out for a bit. But don’t worry, you’ll reach the next slot canyon in no time!

Willis Creek Slot Canyon hike in Grand Staircase Escalante

Bypassing the drop off

The majority of the Willis Creek Slot Canyon hike is very flat and easy to navigate. However, there is one obstacle to be aware of – the wash leads up to a steep drop off into a small slot canyon. Keep an eye out for a bypass trail to the right hand side of the wash that leads you safely around the drop.

It looked like some hikers had also tried to take a ledge along the canyon wall to the left, but we found the trail to the right to be safer and easier.

Willis Creek Slot Canyon hike in Grand Staircase Escalante

Willis Creek Narrows

After passing in and out of several slot canyons, you will reach the tallest and most beautiful section of Willis Creek Slot Canyon at about 1.5 miles into the hike. The massive black and tan striped canyon walls will really make you feel small!

Willis Creek Slot Canyon hike in Grand Staircase Escalante

Continuing past the narrows

Most people turn back after reaching the Willis Creek Narrows, making for a 3-mile roundtrip hike. While you’ve certainly seen the best of the canyon at this point, it’s possible to continue through the wash to extend your hike.

The canyon slowly starts to widen and the sand becomes deeper and more difficult to walk through. At 2.5 miles into the hike Willis Creek intersects with Sheep Creek and you arrive at a sheer canyon wall.

From here, you can take a right and continue about half a mile until you reach an enormous sandstone canyon wall. This is where we ended our hike (about 3 miles from the trailhead), but you could probably continue further through the wash if you had the energy. We thought this spot was pretty but nothing particularly spectacular, and probably not worth the extra distance unless you want to get more exercise in.

Willis Creek Slot Canyon hike in Grand Staircase Escalante
End point of our Willis Creek Slot Canyon hike

The return hike

To finish the hike, turn back the way you came and continue back through the slot canyons to reach the trailhead.

Willis Creek Slot Canyon hike in Grand Staircase Escalante

Other hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante

Looking for other great hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument? Below are a few of our favorite hikes in the area:

For all things Utah: Utah Travel Guide

We want to hear from you! Questions about hiking Willis Creek Slot Canyon? What’s your favorite hike in Grand Staircase Escalante? Let us know in the comments below!

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