America’s Best Desert Dayhikes: Little Wild Horse and Bell Canyons Loop Trail, San Rafael Swell, Utah

Slot canyons can be intimidating, what with the rappels, potholes, swimming through brackish water and the threat of flash floods.

The loop of Little Wild Horse Canyon and Bell Canyon is anything but intimidating: an eight-mile round-trip hike with no special equipment required, but plenty of unbelievable scenery. The sandstone walls rising as high as 120 feet slot down to as narrow as two feet wide, as the path through the middle winds around wavy corners and past smooth curves. The loop is non-technical, meaning if you’re comfortable scrambling, you can handle it. Flash floods are still an issue, so if rain is forecast north of the area, don’t enter the canyons—enough water has rushed down through them during a flash flood to flip cars in the parking lot. Be cautious of the weather, wear sturdy shoes, and take a daypack with normal hiking supplies and food—and have a blast.

Bell Canyon

The two canyons form a loop connected by a jeep trail, and the loop can be done in either order, but hiking Little Wild Horse first and Bell second means you’ll do the longer canyon first, and your walk connecting the two will be mostly downhill. Wind your way around, past chest-freezer-size chockstones and along walls with 30-foot-high honeycomb solution pockets (some big enough to squeeze your entire body into). Soon enough, you’ll realize the canyons are a veritable playground: You’ll scramble up and down ledges and chockstones, and in spots where water has filled small sections at the bottom of the canyon, you can either carefully wade through, or stem (feet pushing outward on opposite walls) or bridge (hands on one side, feet on the other) across the wet sections.

Bell Canyon

Little Wild Horse opens up at its north end, and the loop follows cairns counterclockwise out onto a jeep road that heads down to the mouth of Bell Canyon. Here you’ll descend, climbing down a few dry falls and drops through an equally stunning setting, before emptying out and rejoining the trail for the last half-mile back to the parking lot.

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