Named after the vivid stripes that line its walls, Zebra Slot Canyon in Grand Staircase Escalante is perhaps the most unique canyon in Southern Utah. To reach the stunning canyon requires an 8-mile drive down a dirt road, a 5-mile round trip hike that can be tricky to follow, and a challenging climb through very narrow canyon walls. Even though the Zebra Slot Canyon itself is only about a quarter-mile long, the long journey to reach it is completely worth the effort. In this article, we’ll lay out what to expect from the Zebra Slot Canyon hike and share our best tips for an amazing Utah adventure.


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!

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    photographing Zebra Slot Canyon in Grand Staircase Escalante

    Zebra Slot Canyon Utah: Overview

    Named for it’s striking orange-striped walls, Zebra Slot Canyon is located in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, a vast, remote area of Southern Utah. Unlike more popular slot canyons, such as the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyons in Arizona, you don’t need a guide to explore this one-of-a-kind slot canyon! All you need is a sense of adventure and a willingness to get your feet wet…

    That’s right, parts of Zebra Slot Canyon are filled with anywhere from a few inches to a few feet of water. Reaching the beautiful striped canyon walls is no easy task! It requires wading through murky water, squeezing through very narrow canyon walls and a bit of climbing/scrambling to maneuver through the tightest sections.

    But the beauty of the canyon’s zebra-striped walls will surely take your breath away! Zebra Slot Canyon is unlike any other canyon in Utah, and without a doubt worth the effort to explore.

    Be respectful to this beautiful place!

    Zebra Slot Canyon and the area surrounding it is a remote and rugged place. Please help keep it that way! Do not carve or vandalize the rock or leave behind trash. Use waste disposal bags to carry out any human waste.

    While there is no defined trail, you should do your best to avoid trampling the crypotbiotic soil (that layer of black or white crust over the sand the dirt). Walk through loose sand, previously disturbed land, or across slick rock where ever possible.

    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.

    Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

    Encompassing over 1 million acres in Southern Utah, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is one of the largest areas of protected land in the United States. It was actually the last area to be cartographed in the US 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 will come across unsuspecting cows and large tracts of land under which some of the most unique and diverse geological formations in the country are hidden.

    Grand Staircase Escalante is a paradise for hikers, campers, backpackers and those who love a little solitude. There is no shortage of space, great campsites, slot canyons, beautiful gulches, waterfalls, arches and other jaw-dropping sights in this massive stretch of land.

    Zebra Slot Canyon Utah hike details

    Hike Stats

    Hiking distance | 5.2 miles (+1.4 miles for Tunnel Canyon)
    Elevation gain | 400 feet
    Total time | 3 – 4 hours
    Epic-ness rating | 8
    Difficulty | moderate

    How difficult is the Zebra Slot Canyon hike?

    The hike to the entrance of Zebra Slot Canyon is an easy, 5 miles round trip hike with minimal elevation gain.

    The challenging part of the hike comes when you reach the start of the canyon. To get into the “zebra” striped section of the canyon, you will have to squeeze through several very narrow sections, at one point requiring some climbing/scrambling to pass. If you are very claustrophobic, Zebra Slot Canyon may not be enjoyable for you.

    Following the trail to Zebra Slot Canyon can also be a bit difficult, particularly as you get closer to the canyon. It’s quite easy to mistake a dry wash for the trail and get off course. We highly recommend investing in AllTrails Pro, which allows you to download the trail map for offline usage and provides amply peace of mind while hiking in desert terrain where trails can be easy to lose!

    Our experience

    We started our hike around 7:00 AM on a spring Sunday morning, arriving to the entrance of Zebra Slot Canyon by 8:00 AM. We were the first people in the canyon and had the place entirely to ourselves for a good 30 minutes! By the time we started our return hike, several other groups had arrived at the canyon.

    Exploring Zebra Slot Canyon completely alone was one of the coolest (and frankly, terrifying) experiences of my life! As you venture into the canyon, you slowly lose any sight of the outside world. In complete silence, you can fully take in the immense beauty that surrounds you.

    All that to say, we highly recommend getting an early start. Even if you aren’t the first group to the canyon, it does get crowded later in the day so it’s best to beat the crowds.

    Parking and getting to the trailhead for Zebra Slot Canyon

    The parking lot for Zebra Slot Canyon is located about 8 miles down Hole in the Rock Road, a 40 mile bumpy washboard dirt road. While road conditions get rougher farther down Hole in the Rock road, Zebra Slot Canyon trailhead is typically accessible with 2WD. However, the road can get muddy following heavy rains and may require 4WD.

    Be sure to check current conditions before you go, carry a spare tire and know how to change it! Also beware that it will take more time than expected to drive on the the unpaved, washboard road. The parking lot will be located on the righthand side of the road driving from Escalante, and the trailhead is actually across Hole in the Rock road.

    Zebra Slot Canyon Trail Map

    The map below shows the trail from the parking lot off Hole in the Rock Road to Zebra Slot Canyon. You may also choose to add a detour to the nearby Tunnel Slot Canyon, which adds about 1.2 miles roundtrip to the hike.

    The hike out to Zebra Slot Canyon

    The hike to Zebra Slot Canyon starts with a flat walk through an open field of low lying brush and desert sand. Soon, you’ll make your way into a shallow canyon and come across a large fence between the canyon walls that may appear to block the way. Don’t fret, the fence is meant to keep cattle out the canyon – it’s attached to a rope, so you can just swing it open and continue on your way.

    When you exit the canyon, you’ll hike through another section of open field. The trail can be a little difficult to follow here, as it crosses paths with a wash several times. Look out for cairns and keep an eye on your GPS or map.

    Entering Zebra Slot Canyon

    When you arrive at the entrance to the canyon, we recommend dropping your bags and changing into your water shoes. The canyon gets so narrow that carrying a bag would make maneuvering through very difficult, if not impossible.

    The opening of the canyon is rather wide with low walls. As you continue into the canyon, the slot becomes progressively taller and narrower. At first, the canyon walls are dull and rough – nothing too spectacular, but don’t be too quick to judge…

    entrance to Zebra Slot Canyon

    Zebra Slot Canyon

    Only a few minutes after entering Zebra Slot Canyon, the walls will feel like they are closing in on you. You’ll soon reach a point at which the floor of the canyon is filled with (very cold!!) water, anywhere from ankle to waist deep. This is where the fun begins!

    After wading your way through a few murky sections of water-filled canyon, you will catch your first glimpse of the distinctive stripes that give the canyon it’s name. To actually get into the “zebra” section of the canyon will require a bit of work. The canyon becomes so narrow you’ll have to carefully squeeze through sideways.

    At one point, the canyon walls become so narrow that you won’t be able to fit through sideways. Instead, you’ll need to push your body up the wall, using your feet as support on the opposite wall. Then, scoot yourself over a few feet until the canyon is wide enough to fit sideways again, before dropping back down. It sounds complicated, but it’s actually a ton of fun!

    Once you’ve made it to the “zebra” section, there is enough room to move around reasonably comfortably. When we hiked in mid-April, this section of the canyon was entirely clear of water.

    Scrambling through Zebra Slot Canyon

    The return hike

    The entire slot canyon is only about 1/4 of a mile, so it won’t take too long to make it through. You will know you’ve gone as far as you can when you reach a tall wall at the end of the canyon, which is clearly not passable. Once you’ve finished exploring the slot canyon, backtrack through the canyon and return to the trailhead following the trail you took in.

    beautiful orange striped walls of Zebra Slot Canyon in Grand Staircase Escalante

    Optional Detour: Tunnel Canyon

    If you are looking to extend your a hike, you can visit another nearby slot canyon with a quick 1.2 mile detour. Tunnel Canyon is not quite as impressive as Zebra Slot Canyon, but still worth a quick visit if you have the time.

    beautiful stripes inside Zebra Slot Canyon

    Planning your Zebra Slot Canyon Hike

    When to hike to Zebra Slot Canyon

    The best time to hike Zebra Slot Canyon is in the spring or fall, when temperatures in southern Utah are typically mild. During the summer, temperatures can often reach 100°F and the trail offers little shade, making for a blazing hot hike.

    Weather conditions

    Zebra Slot Canyon, as with all slot canyons in southern Utah, is prone to flash floods that can be dangerous and even life-threatening. For obvious reasons, you don’t want to be caught in a slot canyon during a flash flood!

    Be sure to check the weather forecast and radars before you depart, and do not hike if rain is expected in the area.

    Water levels in Zebra Slot Canyon

    The amount of water in Zebra Slot Canyon varies throughout the year. Typically, water levels are higher in the spring due to melting snow from the surrounding areas. When we hiked in early April, the water reached mid-thigh in places.

    Keep an eye on weather conditions leading up to your hike, and when in doubt, check recent reviews on AllTrails.

    Where to Stay

    Escalante

    The closest town to the Zebra Slot Canyon trailhead is Escalante, Utah, located just 10 minutes from the start of Hole in the Rock Road. Escalante makes for a great place to fill up your gas tank, stock up on last minute supplies or get a good night’s rest before starting your hike.

    Dispersed Camping in Grand Staircase

    Dispersed camping is permitted anywhere along Hole-in-the-Rock Road, offering plenty of awesome spots to camp. To get an early start on your hike, plan to camp as close as you can to the trailhead the night before.

    The dispersed camping sites are top notch – relatively easy to access, plenty of space, nice views and some even come equipped with fire rings (although you may share your space with some neighbors of the bovine variety…).

    Tips for a great hike

    • Go early! Especially on weekends, the canyon can get rather crowded. The last place you want to be with large crowds is a narrow canyon that is barely wide enough to fit one person sideways.
    • Camp on Hole in the Rock road the night before: dispersed camping is permitted anywhere on Hole in the Rock road (even the trailhead). Camp as close by as possible to help you get an early start!
    • Pack lightly: with the exception of water, you should try to pack as little as possible. You won’t want to try to squeeze a large pack through the narrow canyon with you. Alternatively, you can leave your bag right outside the entrance to the canyon.
    • Check the weather forecast before you begin your hike. Do not attempt this hike if rain is in the forecast.

    P.S. Looking for a complete list of what to pack for a day hike to Zebra Slot Canyon? We’ve compiled our complete list of essentials here:

    Other hikes in Grand Staircase

    Planning a trip to Grand Staircase Escalante? We’ve got a ton of other great resources on hikes in the area you may also like:

    For all things Utah: Utah Travel Guide

    Interested in hiking to Zebra Slot Canyon in Utah? Questions or comments about this hike? Let us know below!

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