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Escalante Slot Loop

Very Difficult
 4.0 (1) RECOMMENDED ROUTE

A stunning loop through canyons and slots in Escalante National Monument.


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Map Key

16.5

Miles

26.6

KM

Loop

6,206' 1,891 m

High

5,398' 1,645 m

Low

2,422' 738 m

Up

2,415' 736 m

Down

6%

Avg Grade (3°)

100%

Max Grade (45°)

Dogs Off-leash

Features Geological Significance · Views · Waterfall

Overview

What really makes this loop special is the Bull Valley Gorge Route. This is a spectacular slot canyon that makes this loop what it is. The rest of the loop goes through lovely, but unspectacular wash along the Sheep Creek and then up Willis Creek Narrows Trail, for some more lovely narrows and slots.

Need to Know

Bull Valley Gorge can be daunting and is not without risk. Once beyond this stretch it is an easy trail but the first half to three-quarters of a mile will require some skill, strength, and patience. A rope is not require but would decrease risk, as would running with a partner.

Description

This loop starts by parking at the Willis Creek Narrows Trail. This is a surprisingly busy TH given the easy accessibility of the Willis Creek Narrows Trail. From this TH hike 1.8 miles down to Bull Valley Gorge. It is marked by a sign and you'll know it when the bridge is reached. Before crossing the bridge, on the right, is a trail that follows the gorge upstream to allow access down into the slot.

Once on the creekbed, the trail/wash quickly drops below the rim. Navigating and climbing is required, though most are manageable, with trees frequently acting as convenient ladders.

This is an ominous and awe-inspiring stretch. The walls are worn smooth and the sky is a tiny sliver above your head, often filled with boulders (near the bridge, make sure you look up to see the car that is stuck up there. That was someone's really bad day).

The turn-around for most people who do this as an out-and-back is a large boulder, backfilled with sand and stone, and a 8ish foot drop on the downstream side with no real easy way to descend. There is a tree on the left side but it is down a ways and worn smooth. This can be navigated by descending slowly backward, using your spiderman/spiderwoman skills, and getting your foot on the top of that tree/branch. From there you can get down and there are no additional major obstacles.

Below that point the canyon moves from "slot" to "Narrows" and remains spectacular but looses much of its pucker factor. It eventually begins to open up into a canyon with steep walls. The type you expect in Escalante. The footing can be frustrating as it is simply loose sand most of the time. The canyon closes tight one more time and when it opens up again it merges with Sheep Creek.

When this wash reaches Sheep Creek and Sheep Creek Trail, take a left and head upstream. At the time I went through there was a large blue "Willis Creek" painted on a boulder to help guide the way.

The footing gets better in Sheep Creek. This is the standard wash in Escalante with high walls, but not the closeness you get in the narrows. It is a beautiful stretch and the terrain is impressive. After a little over 4 miles, you'll reach the mouth of Willis Creek. Take a left to head up Willis Creek Narrows Trail.

It is quite possible that up until this trail junction, you've seen nobody. That's likely to change quickly. Willis Creek Narrows Trail is a popular and easy (popular because it's easy) trail and you'll likely start hitting people quickly. The footing here is even better and it is easy to make good time. The canyon walls do close to narrows and provide quite a stunning final stretch.

There is a "waterfall", that is pretty minimal unless water is strongly flowing. If it is, check it out.

After the waterfall (there is a way around it both to the right and the left but the way on the left is easier) it is a quick return to your vehicle at the parking area.

Contacts

Shared By:

Jason Doedderlein

Trail Ratings

  4.0 from 1 vote

#3993

Overall
  4.0 from 1 vote
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Recommended Route Rankings

#181

in Utah

#3,993

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112 Since Apr 26, 2021
Very Difficult

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Photos

Many colors
Mar 30, 2020 near Panguitch, UT
Shot of one of the narrow passages on the Willis Creek Trail. Be absolutely sure there have been no rains in the local area before doing this trail.
Oct 20, 2019 near Panguitch, UT
One of many slot canyons on the Bull Valley Gorge trail
Jan 5, 2021 near Panguitch, UT
Photo of a tree lodged by the force of a flash flood that came roaring through this canyon.
Jan 5, 2021 near Panguitch, UT
A view of the canyon.
Jun 16, 2016 near Panguitch, UT
Willis Creek Canyon. with permission from walkaboutwest *No Commercial Use
Jun 22, 2016 near Panguitch, UT

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