I highly recommend doing this hike during cooler months as it is exposed and almost 9 miles long. We did this in February while visiting Moab and we experienced both dry and snow conditions. Be sure to pack plenty of water for you and your pup.
This hike begins from the Little Wild Horse Canyon and Bell Canyon trailhead off Wild Horse Road in Green River, UT. The trailhead is 6 miles west from Goblin Valley State Park and 105 miles west from Moab.
I picked Sunday to do this hoping for the less crowd. Although it was off-season, it is supposedly the most popular hike in the San Rafael Swell and I just wanted to be sure. My wish was granted.
Little Wild Horse Canyon is part of the Crack Canyon Wilderness Study Area (WSA). There is a dirt parking lot right at the trailhead. No permit needed. Easy enough. Crack Canyon is known for its majestic slot canyon etched through the San Rafael Reef. If you love slot canyons, you will love this hike!
The hike began on an easy dirt trail. In the shaded areas, there was even leftover snow. It sure was going to be interesting!
Obstacles or challenges?
Challenges, of course!
After 0.6 miles, we came to the start of the loop. We did the loop clockwise, meaning we hiked through the Bell Cayon first and completed the loop via Little Wild Horse Canyon but everyone we ran into that day did the loop counterclockwise. I can sort of see why in hindsight but it’s fine either way.
You will hike through slot canyon twice. Once in Bell Canyon and the other time in Little Wild Horse Canyon.
If you see a paw rock, you must take a photo of it.
Better yet, take a photo of yourself in it. Ha!
Trying to find a way to the trail on the side. We ended up going around the rock from the left side. All part of the fun of exploring.
In the first 2 miles, you will gain elevation gradually. There are some sections you will need to climb the rocks but overall, it’s pretty easy. Eventually, we were out of Bell Canyon and once again had an open view. Gorgeous scenery, don’t you think!
At mile 2.7, you will notice that you are starting to work for the elevation gain. In the next mile, you will gain about 400 feet which is not that bad but I think this is why others did the loop counterclockwise. I think it’s a personal preference. I’d rather climb up then going down a hill. It’s easy on my knees.
Little Wild Horse Canyon
It’s pretty much all downhill from here as they say. But wait, you will need to trek through another slot canyon. The slot canyon through Little Wild Horse Canyon is narrower and deeper in comparison and some sections are very narrow as you will see in my photos. You don’t need climbing equipment nor expert canyoneering skills but be ready to descend on all four at times.
As you can see, there was more snow on this side of the loop and there was a slight yet noticeable change in the temperature.
Soon we were hiking on icy snow and it was definitely chillier.
Planning to hike with your dog? Here are some helpful tips for you, dog-lovers!
Tip #1: I highly recommend an active harness with a handle to assist with climbing for this hike. We ran into a great dane. A beautiful boy! He also needed help from his humans with climbing in the steep sections.
Tip #2: I learned it too late and Xena was injured. Unlike the rocks we are used to at home, the sandstone you hike on in this region files down dog’s nails and calluses. Paw protection is a must if you plan to hike more than just one day.
Xena’s back left paw’s nail was filed down to the quick during the 2nd half of the hike in the Little Wild Horse Canyon. So much blood from one nail!
She was bandaged up well and the tall human carried her out of the canyon next (almost) 5 miles. I carried all of our gear and two cameras. The narrow sections and steep sections were definitely more challenging with her in the backpack so we had to do it as a team by passing the backpack to each other but it was manageable between two people. And my girl stayed calm the whole time and didn’t even whine once. She was a trooper! And the tall human was my hero needless to say.
Never again, I will go hiking without a styptic powder in the first aid kit. Also, a new climbing rope and a figure 8 descender were added to my backpack after this hike.
Thank goodness she fit into the 40L backpack. For the first 5 minutes, she was standing up in the bag then she settled down. I even saw her dozing off at some point later. I think she thought she found an easier way to hike. After seeing her not in distress, I was able to relax and resumed enjoying the hike.
Good to Know:
- Hike Date: 2.16.20
- Distance: 9 miles RT, Loop
- Elevation Gain: 1,148 ft
- Maximum Altitude: 5,655 ft
- Difficulty Rating: Challenging
- Trailhead/Parking: 38.582926, -110.802930 (copy/paste to your GPS)
- Fee/Permit: None
- Vault toilet at the trailhead
- Notable: Exposed, moderately trafficked, climbing, kid-friendly, slot canyon