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Filling the slots: Hiking Little Wild Horse in Goblin Valley

By Ashley Franscell for The Daily Herald - | Jul 13, 2014
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Alaina Zanin scrambles through a narrow slot canyon during a hike through Little Wild Horse Canyon outside of Goblin Valley in this file photo from 2010. The 8-mile hike loops through two slot canyons, Little Wild Horse and Bell Canyon for one of the most scenic hikes in southwest Utah. 

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Karla Hoggard and Alaina Zanin hike through Little Wild Horse Canyon outside of Goblin Valley in this file photo from 2010. The 8-mile hike loops through two slot canyons, Little Wild Horse and Bell Canyon for one of the most scenic hikes in southwest Utah. 

‘You’ve got a long way to go,” said the little boy who passed us 10 feet from the Little Wild Horse trailhead.

He was right. We had about 8 miles left. But the scenery and the ease of the hike made it seem so much shorter.

I made the trip to Goblin Valley with two friends for a Girl’s Weekend Camping Getaway. We found a secluded campsite off a dirt road past the Goblin Valley State Park land and set up camp before heading to the trailhead. The hike was not the purpose for the trip, but it turned out to be the highlight.

It was a simple-enough hike that we passed dozens of children, from infants to teenagers. Many of them were barefoot, having taken off their wet socks and shoes and given them to their parents to carry. The hike goes through two slot canyons, Little Wild Horse being the longer and more dramatic of the two. If you don’t have the four to six hours to complete the full loop, then definitely hike Little Wild Horse.

The canyon starts about a half-mile from the trailhead. It starts as a wide, scenic canyon with high walls littered with rock formations and crevices. As the hike goes on, it meanders along the creek bed, where there can be 2 to 3 feet of standing water, depending on the time of year. But it was never higher than our ankles.

Conveniently, rocks stuck out of the first puddle that we could use as stepping stones to cross, but not the second. We ended up just walking through the water, which wasn’t too bad. For the most part, our shoes and socks dried out quickly between water spots. Some of the water cavities can be avoided by straddling the walls alongside.

(Just be sure to check the forecast before doing the hike, rain can cause flash flooding in the slot canyons and have been known to drown people.)

The pattern that erosion has created in the rock is amazing to watch change along the way. The layers of different colors wave you through to the next awe-inspiring scene around every corner. The light, the rock and the color constantly changes.

The hike moves in and out of open space and several spots are only 2 or 3 feet wide. At times the trails become just the rock, which we had to scramble over. It never was anything too difficult or technical. Nothing that three uncoordinated runners couldn’t handle.

We were a little surprised at the amount of children we met along the way. Many of them were scampering up the rocks easier than their parents, but there are some spots when they would need an extra hand or push.

It’s a little shocking to come out of the canyon onto an old Jeep trail, which you follow for a little over a mile before taking a turn and heading southwest to Bell Canyon. It is a nice, slight downhill path until you get to the mouth of the canyon. It has less narrows but isn’t any less beautiful.

Bell Canyon is only about half the distance of Little Wild Horse Canyon and before you know it, you are back at the trailhead. I can now understand why so many people suggested the hike. It was the perfect ending to a weekend of camping.

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