If your fur baby is your adventure side-kick too, then you’ll most likely be scoping out dog-friendly hikes for your Southern Utah road trip. It isn’t common that you’ll come across a slot canyon suitable for dogs due to narrow passageways and crowds. But luckily for the both of you, the Big Horn Canyon is a perfect dog-friendly slot canyon.
If you don’t have a dog I’m positive you’ll still enjoy this hike if you’re looking for a new slot canyon to explore that is away from the crowds.
In this post I go over all the details you’ll need to know in order to find Big Horn Canyon plus tips on how to have the safest adventure.
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Big Horn Canyon Stats
Distance: 5-6 miles
Type: Out and Back
Elevation Gain: 133 feet
Location: Escalante, UT
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Trailhead: Big Horn Canyon Trailhead
Note: This canyon has 2 entrances and can technically be hiked one way if you have means of shuttling from trailheads. Most of us will hike this as an out and back. This post covers hiking from the Southern most entrance from Hole in the Rock Road. Keep reading for more details.
Where Is Big Horn Canyon?
Big Horn Canyon is part of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and is free to access! The access roads for this hike begin from the nearest city, Escalante, off the US Scenic Byway 12. You’ll most likely already be driving this scenic route if you’re visiting the Utah Mighty 5 since it connects Bryce and Capitol Reef National Parks.
The location of this hike makes it the perfect addition for your road trip if you’re looking for off-beaten hikes to do or need a place to crash. There are a ton of free camping spots in the area and other points of interest (more on that below).
Getting To Big Horn Canyon
There are essentially 2 ways to access Big Horn Canyon, and both are on separate long, dirt roads. I’ve pin pointed these on the map for you below. What seems to be the most popular approach is from the Southern most Trailhead which is accessed off Hole in the Rock Road.
VIA. HOLE IN THE ROCK ROAD (SOUTH)
If you’re leaving from Bryce Canyon National Park on US-12 then Hole in the Rock Road will the be first access point you’ll come across. This is a long, dirt road in decent enough shape for any car until about the last 7 miles which will require a high clearance 4×4.
Big Horn Canyon Trailhead is roughly 4.5 miles down this road, so no need to worry about having a 4×4. Do expect to drive on a wash board pretty much the entire way, though. Hole in the Rock Road is impassable during rain storms and snow so keep an eye on the weather!
For more attractions and camping along Hole in the Rock Road visit this post that covers it all!
The trailhead is very inconspicuous since it isn’t marked and there are two large blue containers sitting in the small dirt lot, which make you think it is private. If I hadn’t done my research ahead of time I never would have known there was a trailhead there!
VIA. OLD SHEFFIELD ROAD (NORTH)
Also known as Spencer Flat Road, this road will be the first access point you’ll come across if leaving from Capitol Reef National Park, headed towards Bryce. It is another gravel/dirt road that goes on for miles, and the trailhead is said to be 2.8 miles down, also not marked.
WHICH TRAILHEAD SHOULD YOU USE?
Since I didn’t take Old Sheffield Road it is hard for me to suggest one over the other. I will say, though, that after researching, it seemed like the South trailhead was the better option when hiking with a dog.
The reasoning for this is the North end is much more narrow and there is a drop of about 8 feet which makes this more difficult for most. This can be bypassed if you’re up for climbing up the cliffs on the side, but the South end of Big Horn Canyon is much more dog-friendly and easy to navigate for the average hiker.
WHEN TO VISIT BIG HORN CANYON
Late spring and fall are the best times to hike to Big Horn Canyon. The trail is sandy and exposed for the first 2 miles which would make this absolutely dreadful during the summer and unsafe for any dogs.
You’ll get the best lighting in the canyon once the sun has risen and the skies are clear. This will create the best shadows and highlights in the canyon while you’re exploring it. I still suggest arriving early in the morning if you want to have the place to yourself! It is a less popular slot canyon but still gets some traffic.
SAFETY TIP: Never enter a slot canyon with chance rain in the forecast. Always be aware of the danger of flash floods!
Preparation saves lives. Know where you are going ahead of time and always have a way to keep yourself on trail. One way to do this is with a GPS system or app.
You can download my Big Horn Canyon track and gain access to my library of all tracked hikes. Once downloaded, you can load it into your own trusty device for ease of mind!
Hiking Big Horn Canyon
My German Shepperd, Monty, and I set out early in the morning to hike Big Horn Canyon in late April. We were the first ones at the trailhead and had the Southern part of the canyon to ourselves for the majority of the time. We only came across one other group of three who also had a dog. The dog was well behaved and we had no issues with meeting head on!
The beginning of the hike is not impressive whatsoever. It honestly was uneventful for it is 100% exposed, sandy, and crosses a muddy (and dry in some areas) wash. There are free range cattle in this area so we saw a few of them along with cow pies.
The views do get better as you continue on, though, so don’t let the beginning deter you from making it to the slot canyon! Big Horn Canyon trail was difficult to follow in certain areas. I found it super easy to lose the trail. If you get off trail just stick to the wash and it will eventually lead you back to the trail where you can hop back on.
I found it much easier to utilize a GPS app such as Gaia. The trail is marked on the app and it helped me know exactly where to go since there are no cairns or signs showing you the way.
PRO TIP: Utilize a map or GPS app to help you find the canyon. It is very easy to lose the trail, or follow the trail in the wrong direction of where you need to go.
At one point the trail lead me across a dry wash and through two fence posts. I continued on for about a quarter of a mile and happened to have a hunch, so I looked at my GPS app and noticed I missed a turn. I had to backtrack and noticed the series of wooden structures (pictured above) where I was supposed to turn left and hike under.
After hiking under the structures, you’ll take another left turn towards Big Horn Canyon, and the trail continues to narrow as you hike into the slot canyon. At this point the sand is a slog but is to be expected when hiking in a wash.
PRO TIP: The entire trail is sandy. Never bring your dog along if it is too hot out or the sand itself is hot. Always have a pair of dog boots with you just incase!
Upon entering the slot canyon you’ll come across two obstacles that should not be anything to worry about. The first is a large rock in the middle that you and your dog will have to climb up and around. Monty handled this on his own with no problem, but if you have a smaller dog they may need an assist.
The second obstacle is a large piece of wood wedged between the narrow walls. Most dogs, like Monty, will be able to walk underneath with no issues! Us humans, however, will have to get on our fours and crawl under- it is all part of the fun!
At first the canyon walls are short but still taller than myself at 5’5″. As you continue to hike down Big Horn Canyon the walls grow taller and more narrow, creating some very interesting and fun parts to maneuver through.
One reason this is a great dog friendly canyon is because there are many larger spaces for you to step aside and let other hikers pass by, especially if you come across another dog. The canyon has random, large openings but the colors and patterns are stunning.
Monty and I only hiked in just under a mile for we were on a time constraint, but the part of Big Horn Canyon we did explore was still impressive. You can hike in as far as you’d like and turn around whenever you’ve had enough. Or you can hike all the way to the other end of the canyon, and hike back, or arrange a pick-up to shuttle between the trailheads!
Tips For Taking Your Dog In A Slot Canyon
I know, taking a dog in a slot canyon sounds like a bad idea. But I assure you this one is more dog-friendly than any others I’ve been into. There are a few things I’d like to make note of to help make your adventure one to remember!
- Leave the dog backpack behind. If your dog usually carries a pack, I’d leave it behind on this one for it can make it difficult for them to maneuver between the narrow walls.
- Use a hands free dog leash. This made all the difference for me as I was exploring the slot canyon. I liked having both hands free to stabilize myself against the canyon walls.
- Don’t forget your poop bags! It would be disgusting if we had to hike upon a pile of dog poo in such a tiny space. If you dog poops, pick it up and do not leave the bag in the slot canyon to pick up later. Instead, use this poop carrier so you don’t leave it on the trail.
- Bring along a collapsible water dish. They’ll need water too, and having a collapsible dish makes it easier for them to get hydrated while on the go.
- Remember the dog trail etiquette. Not everyone likes dogs, so remember to be respectful and step aside if you can to let others pass. You must have control of your dog at all times, especially when in this tight space.
Final Thoughts On Big Horn Canyon
Even though the hike to the slot canyon wasn’t the most eventful, the canyon itself was impressive enough to make it all worth it! Sure Big Horn Canyon isn’t the most photographic slot canyon in Utah, but it still was a blast to explore and a huge perk is being able to bring my dog along!
With this being a less popular trail, an easy to navigate slot canyon, and openings every so often to move over, I think Big Horn canyon is the perfect adventure for you and your pup’s Utah trip itinerary.
As always, please be considerate of the environment so we can keep enjoying it and remember to leave no trace.
You may also enjoy:
- How to pack your dog’s backpack (and what to put inside)
- Hiking with dogs- 10 essentials you should pack
- How to Take Travel Photos With Your Dog Like a Pro
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