Slot canyons are one of nature’s colorful idiosyncrasies. Unlike the Grand Canyon, which is both wide and deep, slot canyons are deep but narrow canyons. Some are so narrow, visitors must squeeze through the passageways, getting up close and personal with colorful rock formations. Most slot canyons are formed by water erosion over the ages. Many are suitable only for advanced hikers but some involve gentle walks that even a couch potato can do.
A series of four waterfalls make up scenic Oneonta Gorge, east of Portland, Oregon, at Bridal Veil, in the scenic Columbia River Gorge. The 1.9-km (1.2-mile) roundtrip walk is considered moderate but does involve wading in cool creek waters that can sometimes be chest-deep as the creek bed is the trail in some sections. Visitors can see canyon walls made up of 25-million-year-old basalt rock formations as well as a variety of vegetation unique to the area. Previous visitors recommend doing this hike on weekdays because weekends are busy. The walk is Fido-friendly as long as Fido is on a leash.
Coloured Canyon on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has been described as a geologic wonderland with canyon walls reaching 20 stories into the sky. Visitors can see rock formations made out of sandstone, limestone, basalt and granite. The canyon gets its name because of the colorful rock formations. The half-mile hike through this slot canyon is considered easy for the most part, though there are a couple of spots where walkers must slide down through narrow spaces or climb over boulders. There is some climbing at the end of the walk.
Located about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) from Annecy in France, the Gorges du Fier is one of the easier slot canyons to walk through. That’s because visitors go through the canyon on a railed walkway that is about 30 meters (100 feet) above a river rushing below. The walk also has signage explaining how the canyon was formed and how high water has reached in the past. Previous visitors say people who are afraid of heights may want to avoid this. They also say to use caution on the walkway when it’s wet. The canyon is so narrow in spots, visitors can touch both sides.
Travelers who are claustrophobic may want to avoid hiking Spooky Gulch. After all, there’s a reason for that name. Passageways are so narrow in some places, hikers have to squeeze through sideways, causing some people to panic. It also can be quite dark on the canyon bottom. The canyon is wide at the entrance but only a few hundred feet into the walk, getting through the narrow passageways becomes difficult even for average-sized adults. This canyon walk is 5 km (3.2 miles) roundtrip. Spooky Gulch is located south of Escalante, Utah. Those who don’t want to go back the way they came can climb the canyon walls or continue on through Peek-a-boo Gulch, another beautiful slot canyon.
Weano Gorge in Western Australia’s Karijini National Park starts out as an easy walk through fabulous scenery as it winds through steep cliffs that translate into narrow walkways. It becomes challenging, however, for visitors who want to go to Handrail Pool, as it involves climbing up and down canyon walls. Those who make the walk down will be rewarded with colorful rock formations ending with an icy cold pool at the bottom. Weano Gorge is considered to be the most accessible and colorful gorge in the park.
Buckskin Gulch in southern Utah is one of the world’s longest and deepest slot canyons, and as such receives a lot of visitors. Hiking it however is definitely not for the timid or inexperienced. The hike through the canyon is 34 km (21 miles) long. Buckskin Gulch is rarely more than 3 meters (10 feet) wide, with walls extending upwards to 150 meters (500 feet). Though the hike can be done in one day, those who’ve done it recommend taking two days. They also recommend not doing this in the summer because of the danger from flash floods. In any season, hikers should be prepared to wade or swim. Seeing the rock formations make it all worthwhile.
Echidna Chasm in Western Australia’s is a moderate 2 kilometer (1.2 miles) hike through a narrow canyon that is 200 meters (or 654 feet) deep. Echidna Chasm, considered one of the highlights of Pumululu National Park, does have some boulders to tackle and a challenging climb at the end. The walls of this slot canyon are quite colorful, with highlights that change depending on the angle of sunshine. The canyon is located in the Bungle Bungle Mountains that are considered one of Australia’s best hiking destinations.
Subway Canyon in Utah’s Zion National Park offers spectacular colorful rock formations for those who are experienced enough to tackle the challenging terrain. The canyon begins at the Left Fork of North Creek. Navigating it means rappelling down boulders, swimming in chilly waters and wading long distances; because of this, adventurers may want to wear wetsuits for the seven- to nine-hour trek. There is no trail, but GPS does work in the canyon. The Subway is actually a very short section of the canyon where both walls come together very close and a larger tubular oval has been cut out by the flowing water. A permit is required for the trip; only 50 a day are issued. The canyon contains some of the best scenery in Zion.
Walking through the Siq slot canyon in southern Jordan is like walking to history, as it was the main entrance to the ancient city of Petra. At the end of a 1.2 kilometer (3/4-mile) hike lies Petra’s most famous ruin, the Al Khazneh or the Treasury. Unlike most slot canyons that are formed by rushing water, al-Siq was formed by tectonic forces, though water later washed its sides smooth. Al-Siq is less than 3 meters (10 feet) wide in some places, with canyon walls that range from 90 to 180 meters (300 to 600 feet) high.
Antelope Slot Canyon in northern Arizona is actually two slot canyons: upper, referred to as the “crack” and lower, known as the “corkscrew.” Both are located on land owned by the Navajo tribe and are accessible only through tribal-approved tour companies. The orangish-red sandstone formations can only be described as awesome and are a photographer’s delight. The upper canyon is popular because it requires no climbing as all walking is at ground level. The lower canyon used to require climbing up the canyon walls, but now is accessible via stairs. Although the canyons are beautiful, they can sometimes be dangerous. In 1997 a flash flood swept into Lower Antelope and killed 11 tourists.