Little Wild Horse Canyon

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 8 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 4955 - 5678 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 4 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Little Wild Horse Canyon
Fee: none
Attractions: Fun slot canyons




Little Wild Horse Canyon is located 7 miles from Goblin Valley State Park between Green River and Hanksville, Utah. Combined with Bell Canyon, this 8 mile loop, is one of the most popular 'slot canyon' hikes in the San Rafael Swell. This spectacular trail, with its narrow shoulder width passages, can be hiked by people of all ages with some minor scrambling to overcome a few boulders that have fallen into the canyon and to negotiate a couple of short spillovers. While hiking we met an entire family, with children as young as 8 years old, who had already completed one of the canyons and were preparing to conquer the next.


From Interstate 70 west of Green River, Utah take exit 149. Follow UT-24 south for about 24 miles to the turn off for Goblin Valley State Park. Continue on the paved road towards Goblin Valley until you are about a quarter mile from the visitor center. Turn right onto the well oiled dirt road, that is marked by a sign indicating Little Wild Horse Canyon, and drive the remaining 5.3 miles to the trailhead.


We decorated our GPS map to mimic somewhat the map at the trailhead kiosk. The distance from the trailhead to the lower junction of Bell Canyon and Little Wild Horse Canyon is a half mile. From there it is 3.6 miles through Little Wild Horse Canyon and 1.8 miles through Bell Canyon. There is a connector trail that is 1.6 miles that follows a wash and an old 4-wheel drive road. Most of the change in altitude is along the connector trail. The straight lines on the map are the narrowest sections of the canyons where our GPS was unable to track enough satellites to register our location.


From the parking area the trail begins by following the seasonal stream bed toward the mouth of the canyons.


The canyon begins to narrow after about 3 tenths of a mile. You can begin testing your mountaineering skills at this point or better yet leave the wash at the cairn on the left and hike up the slick rock and then descend back into the wash a little further up stream.


After descending back into the wash you are at the junction of the two canyons one half mile from the trailhead. The trail marker is all the way across the wash and is easily missed. We spoke with another hiker that had intended to go up Little Wild Horse Canyon and down Bell Canyon but had missed the turn.


After taking the right fork and heading up Little Wild Horse Canyon the first narrow sections begin. These are still wide enough that you can't touch both walls while the trail itself is smooth and easy to walk.


Occasionally the canyon will open up to a view of the sky but for the most part it meanders around sharp corners with only short distances viewable at any one time.


There was a good bit of bighorn sheep scat that made us wonder what it would be like to meet up with one in such a narrow place and which one of us would turn around first.


The canyon opens up for a short distance and then comes to a spot that at first looks impassable for someone of any size especially if carrying a pack. After venturing in it turns out that it is a little wider than it first appears. While the floor is barely wide enough for one foot the shoulders never touch the sides.


Our camera doesn't even begin to capture the beauty of this place with its winding corridors of swirling sandstone painted by the occasional beams of light that penetrate the narrow confines of the canyon.


The trail eventually leaves the canyon and its slots behind and opens up into a large wash.


We had been hiking, bouldering, and playing for about 2 hours and 15 minutes when we reached the connector trail about 4.3 miles from the trailhead. It's hard to make out but there is an arrow engraved into the bottom of the sign pointing to the left toward Bell Canyon. The connector trail follows the wash for almost a half mile and then a cairn points out a side trail that takes you over to the 4-wheel drive road which leads around to the mouth of Bell Canyon.


It is almost 6 miles into the hike when you arrive at the top of Bell Canyon. This trail marker shows that horses are allowed but unless they are good at jumping off high ledges they aren't going to make it very far.


Much like the upper section of its sister canyon Bell Canyon is very open and enjoys the full force of the warm summer sun making drinking water an important commodity to have plenty of on hand.


Just like going down a funnel the further you hike down Bell Canyon the narrow it becomes.


There are 4 or 5 places that require some minor scrambling. Most of them you can just sit on your butt and slide down or short enough to hop off while a couple of others you can hike around on the slickrock.


Bell Canyon has very little shade unlike Little Wild Horse Canyon where much of the time is spent in the shadows.


Eventually Bell Canyon  comes to an end all too soon as it pours out into the wash that leads back to the trailhead very near the mouth of Little Wild Horse Canyon.


It should be noted that these canyons should be avoided whenever there are chances of thunderstorms anywhere in the area. It is common for the narrow sections of the canyon to fill with water all the way to the canyon rim. Little Wild Horse and Bell Canyons require far fewer canyoneering skills than the neighboring Ding Dang canyons. They are also easier than parts of Crack Canyon but not Wild Horse Canyon which pretty much requires only basic hiking skills. What nature has created with both Little Wild Horse and Bell canyons is unique and incredibly beautiful. If you would like to see them for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.