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  • Writer's pictureAbeni Czajkowski

Hiking Little Wild Horse and Bell Canyon

This last weekend, my friend Nikki and I went down to the San Rafael Swell on a last minute trip to explore the slots and visit Goblin Valley. About 1.5 hrs outside of Moab, Utah, The Swell is an entire playground of diverse and colorful sandstone; formed into strange shapes and slots throughout the years. After a late start and fun mishap with a semi truck tire valve getting lodged into our car tire, we got into The Swell around one in the morning, set up camp, and went to bed... oh, and we took this rad photo (see below!)

Nikki and I started our Saturday at around 7 in the morning. I love waking up in the desert. It's so quiet and remote. We ate a quick breakfast and hopped right over to the trailhead at around 8am. We had our minds set on the Little Wild Horse / Bell Canyon loop which is located only 5 miles away from Goblin Valley. The majority of The Swell is BLM so it makes camping super easy and convenient! The Swell is also dog-friendly (extra plus).

It took about .5 miles to get to the canyon's entrance from the trailhead and from then on, every turn presented us with a new and unique sight. We planned to do the entire loop; entering through Little Wild Horse Canyon, wrapping around the butte and coming back through Bell Canyon. The trail is moderate and just under 8 miles. This was our route on a map - with a not-so-helpful size reference feat. my thumb...

The beginning of the canyon, there is what is called a "keeper pothole" which is essentially just a hole in the earth that, if fallen into it... likes to keep you and... yeah, you get the rest. The hole was around 6 ft deep (so definitely not painting a tragic end for experienced hikers or really tall people) but to make the travel easier with our dogs, we decided to go up and around so we could drop in from above. There is an easy 3 ft drop for those not wishing to go through the pothole. Just follow up the left side of the rock and wrap around the edge until you get to the drop off. You'll easily be able to see where the trail ends and drops down.

After that, it is a straight shot into the entrance of the canyons with Little Wild Horse on the right and Bell Canyon on the left. It is best to start as early as possible to avoid the sun in the canyon. The walk to the canyon entrances are all exposed to sun but once you are in the canyon, the walls will shade you - for a little bit at least. The morning temps were perfect inside the slots and (if you are doing the loop) I definitely recommend starting with Little Wild Horse.

The entirety of Little Wild Horse Canyon took my breath away. The canyon slowly sucks you in and you find yourself wandering in silence and in awe. I had my camera out pretty much the whole time, smacking it on the rock a couple times from the narrowness of the canyon. We took a lot of time through Little Wild Horse - looking at every crack and hole in the wall, feeling the smoothed out rock face, and following the waves with our fingers.

There was a family of 6 traveling right behind us so we decided to let them pass to try and avoid hearing their echoing voices the entire hike. Within a minute of letting them pass, their voices were lost around the walls and the canyon fell silent. It was sort of an unreal feeling how sound carries through the slots. Take your time through these beautiful slot canyons and really take in what Mother Nature has made - it's pretty incredible to say the least.

There were so many unique features and patterns in the rocks that it seemed like every time we turned a corner, it wasn't the same canyon. One stretch would be made of entirely smoothed out rock face, the next would be decorated with various sized holes and pockets.

Little Wild Horse is about a 3 mile trek before you exit the canyon and begin looping back around towards Bell Canyon (don't take that too seriously. I'm terrible with mileage...). Unique from the canyon itself, the loop back around is just as beautiful with huge rock faces on either side.

The day got hotter and we started to slow down. Luckily we had a TON of water for us and the dogs. Be very wary of the temperature if you plan to do this in the summer months - the sandstone and sand / dirt can get too hot for your pup's paws.

We ended up carrying our pooches across certain sections after Little Wild Horse to avoid burning their paws on the hot sand. We were stopping every so often in shaded spots for water breaks as well. Pack PLENTY OF WATER and be prepared for heat. After Little Wild Horse, you are pretty much exposed to the sun for the rest of the hike!

This hike got me thinking that tiny booties would be a good investment for my little monster. Overall, I would definitely advise any pet-owners who want to bring their fuzzy friends to be wary of the weather and not take the summer heat lightly.

We finished the loop in about 3-3.5 hrs. Overall, the trail is easy and exciting. It is flat the entire way and there were only a couple of places where you needed to maneuver up or around some rocks. Not going to lie though, with the sun beating down on us through Bell Canyon, the final stretch of the loop was tiring. For a brief moment, I started to understand why people just go crazy in the desert heat. When we got back to the trailhead, we loaded the car, drenched the dogs in water, rehydrated ourselves, and then headed out. Next stop was Goblin Valley which is about a 20 minute drive from where we were. (More on that soon).

This was my first time to The Swell and although our trip was short, I loved being able to explore a new part of my home state. I am so grateful to live in such a beautiful place with so many diverse landscapes. If you have a free weekend and live in Utah, i definitely recommend going down to check out The Swell. I will absolutely be making my way back there to explore more. Utah is the ultimate adventurer's playground and I hope we all do our part to protect it.


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