Little Wild Horse Canyon

Yesterday Tom and I decided to take a longer, more adventurous hike in Little Wild Horse Canyon.  There are so many interesting canyons in southern Utah and they all deserve exploring, but some of them require canyoneering skills, which I do not possess.  The Little Wild Horse Canyon loop has sections that are challenging but require scrambling instead of canyoneering.

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Map of the Little Wild Horse Canyon Loop

The Little Wild Horse Canyon loop is advertised as the most popular hike in the San Rafael Swell and we could see the truth of this as we turned into the packed parking lot.  There were more people on this trail than any other trail we have seen for months.  We slathered on sunscreen, loaded up our backpacks and headed out for the eight mile loop.  When we first started there were lots of people, but we soon spread out due to different hiking and scrambling speeds.

The first part of the trail is in Little Wild Horse Canyon which has some spectacular narrows and slots.  It is certainly a beginners’ canyon, especially in the first half, because just about everyone could fit through without many contortions.  The sandstone rocks were spectacular with the walls high, steep, and smooth.  We loved looking at the patterns made by the rain and periodic flooding of the canyon.

Little Wild Horse and Bell Canyons divide
Tom adds a stone to the cairn created by all the people who have hiked the canyon
The water makes fascinating carvings in the rock
More wild designs
Sculpted by the water
The narrowest slot
The beauty of the narrows
Tom going up a steep place
A couple of holes in this rock

The canyon widens after a couple of miles and we thought we were coming to the end.  Most of the other hikers turned around after maneuvering through the narrows so we only saw a handful of people during the rest of our hike.  We walked through a broad part of Little Wild Horse Canyon and admired the rock formations all around us.  Then the canyon narrowed again and the scrambles got much steeper.  A couple of them required some pushing from Tom to get me up.  His legs and arms are stronger than mine so he didn’t have much trouble.

Finally we got to the OHV road at the top of the loop which marks the end of Little Wild Horse Canyon.  We found a shady spot and ate our lunch and took a break before heading out on the steep, shadeless road.  Most of the roads in the San Rafael Swell are dirt roads, but in pretty good shape for regular cars.  This road was definitely for off-road, high clearance vehicles only.  The views from the top of the road were breathtaking – and so was the hike up!

The top of Little Wild Horse Canyon
A field of wildflowers
The back of San Rafael Reef
Time out to look at pretty flowers
A quartz spiderweb on the rock
This rock looks diseased

We finally started back down toward Bell Canyon, although it took a while to get to the canyon mouth.  We could see it a long time before we got to it.  Bell Canyon is wider with less shade and fewer narrows.  But it did have some challenging slots.  There were lots of places I sat down and scooted down the rocks on my bottom.

One of the slots had a pool of brown, muddy water at the bottom with some gunky looking stuff floating in it.  I put my feet up again one wall and my back against the other wall and was doing really well moving above the water until the one wall got too low to use for leverage.  At this point I stood up on it and then tried hopping on some rocks to get across the last little bit of water.  Unfortunately the rock was slippery and I’m not much of a hopper.  Fortunately my forward momentum meant that only one of my feet ended up in the water.  Unfortunately the forward momentum ended with a close encounter with the sandstone wall.  Tom took this picture of me as I regained my composure and dignity.  You can see the water off to the right.wildhorse 062

We continued down the hot, steep, sunny canyon for another mile and reached the place where the canyons come together and the trail heads back to the parking lot.  I was pretty glad to reach the car.

Little Wild Horse Canyon Loop was the best hike we have been on in a while.  It had spectacular views, fun narrows, and interesting slots.  It was also very sunny and hot and about a mile longer than I would have preferred.  Today we are taking it easy and giving me a chance to recover from the workout.