Canyoneering, the sport made out of exploring wild and remote canyons, has a reputation for being dangerous. This is thanks to the need for difficult rappels, the risk of flash floods, and, of course, the cautionary tale of Aron Ralston ('127 Hours'). But in Southern Utah's San Rafael Swell, Little Wild Horse and Bell canyons provide an introduction to the sport that captures all the scenic glory without the difficulty or danger. You won't need more than a sturdy pair of shoes for this eight-mile desert loop hike, through the wavy red sandstone walls that slot down to as narrow as two feet at the bottom of 120-foot slot canyons. Leave the ropes, dry bags, wet suits, and helmets at home – if you can scramble, you can handle this hike.
The Little Wild Horse and Bell Canyon Trailhead is 5.7 miles west of Goblin Valley State Park in southeast Utah. From the trailhead, the two canyons form a loop connected by a jeep trail. Plan to take it counterclockwise, hiking the longer Little Wild Horse Canyon first. After a half-mile of flat walking, the canyon walls close in, forcing you to move in S-curves between sandstone waves. As the canyon widens and narrows at different points, you'll scramble up dryfalls and over a few chockstones wedged between the walls, some as big as a refrigerator, and encounter stretches of sandstone with 30-foot-tall honeycomb walls of solution pockets, from fist-sized to large enough to climb up and sit in.
At the end of Little Wild Horse Canyon, follow a jeep trail counterclockwise to the shorter Bell Canyon, where you'll climb down chockstones and falls. Both canyons are dry most of the year, but recent rains can leave water at the bottom of certain sections. Chimney (hands and feet on one wall, butt against the other wall) up and over the puddles if you're comfortable, or step into them if you're wearing expendable shoes – but be careful, because the murky water can be ankle-to-waist-deep. Flash floods are possible, too, so stay out of the canyon if there's a chance of rain in the area.
More Information: Visit canyoneeringusa.com for trail details.