One of the most spectacular slot canyon hikes in the entire world is in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This is actually two separate slots combined into one hike. The first is called Peek-a-Boo and the second is called Spooky. The trailhead for these slot canyons is found 26 bumpy miles out Hole-in-the-Rock Road.
First, let me give a bit of a warning. Everything we read online said that this was easy and very doable for families. Even the ranger at the Visitor’s Center said, “Oh, easy. No problem even for the three year-old.” We disagree. If you have children under 8, it is our recommendation to avoid Peek-a-Boo and Spooky. This distance on this hike might not seem daunting (a little under 4 miles), but the hike is strenuous, and it is easy to get lost and run out of water.
All the roads in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are nasty. High-clearance vehicles won’t help with the washboards, but they will keep you from dragging the oil pan through the rocks. This is a bit of a concern on Hole-in-the-Rock Road, but it becomes a huge concern as you near the trailhead. At 26 miles there is a turnoff to the left for the trailhead (the right goes to Batty Caves). The road goes for just under a mile and arrives at a small parking lot. If you have any doubts about the clearance of your vehicle or your driving ability on rough roads, park here. A very rough, uneven road with a 6 inch rocky lip lies between you and the trailhead. This road runs nearly a mile and is billed as 4WD only. We made it in our van, but Mom was too frightened and holding on too tightly to take any pictures. After a half mile, you’ll see a second parking lot, this one full of trucks.
The trail leads down to the bottom of the canyon, and it is quite steep, and there is a bit of scrambling, but it is accessible to most active people. When you reach the canyon floor, you’ll follow the wash for about a quarter mile to the entrance to Peek-a-Boo slot canyon. You will see a slot canyon just before Peek-a-Boo. This slot canyon is called Dry Fork, and it isn’t very narrow so most people skip it. After passing Dry Fork, you will walk just a few minutes to the Peek-a-Boo slot. You can’t miss it because there is a 10 foot climb into the canyon and someone has carved steps in the sandstone.
This is the first bit of scaling that you have to do, and it isn’t difficult, though if you’ve brought the under eight years old crowd, it will be a minor challenge. After the climb, there is a beautiful view up the narrow slot, and you can see arches spanning the corkscrewing canyon.
I won’t attempt to describe every obstacle that you encounter, but there are many as you climb Peek-a-Boo canyon. One of them is a small shallow pool of water (only about 6 inches). Because of the lay of the rock, it is nearly impossible to stay dry. We did find a way, but it required Dad straddling the pool and lifting all of our family up into a small notch and then pulling himself up. Even though you’re going to get your feet wet, you want solid shoes with comfortable socks. Later in the summer, this water is probably dried up.
Peek-a-Boo canyon is very narrow, slimming down to about 16 inches at its narrowest point, which forces you to turn sideways as you pass through. The real fun of this canyon is the obstacles that you’ll have to conquer to get to the top. It’s only about a half mile through the canyon, but it’s not comparable to a half mile on the racetrack. It’s strenuous to climb, pull, duck, and scramble upward. After much climbing, you’ll finally summit and find yourself on top of the butte.
When you reach the top of Peek-a-Boo, turn to the right and follow the few cairns strewn along the trail. This is more difficult than it might seems as trails run all around and there are not many stone markers to follow. A friend of ours got lost and wandered for several hours in this area. Toward the end, we stopped by one cairn and couldn’t see the next. It was further to the left than where we had been walking so be careful and go slowly. Finally, you’ll find yourself at the top of Spooky slot canyon.
Spooky is much narrower and darker than Peek-a-Boo. You’ll also encounter the obstacles going down, and they aren’t quite as technical. Still, there are several extremely tight spaces that close down to fewer than twelve inches! There is no way you’re shimmying through with a backpack, and you’ll wish you’d taken that dime out of your back pocket before you get through the narrowest part.
The major obstacle in Spooky is a drop of about 10 feet. There are several holes that lead down, but the one you want is on the far left side of the canyon as you face downward (see the video). If you’re an adult, you should easily be able to put your hands on the sides and lower yourself to a shelf at the halfway point, and then drop down the last few feet from there. If you’ve got kids, you’ll need to shuttle them with another adult, handing them down through the hole, then climbing down and handing them again. It isn’t easy, and it isn’t particularly safe, either. Spooky travels for about the same half mile as Peek-a-Boo, and it is breathtaking. We’ve been in other slot canyons, but nothing as narrow and amazing as this one. At one point we passed someone coming up the canyon. The only way this was possible is that they straddled up the walls and we passed below them.
When you come out of Spooky, it is easy to get lost as trails lead in several directions. We turned right, and that is a mistake. You need to turn left and head back to the wash. Once you reach the wash, head right. You will follow this wash for a while, and then come to a cairn that marks the trail that leads you back to Peek-A-Boo. This trail winds back around past the beginning of Peek-a-Boo and eventually to the parking lot.
The roundtrip distance for this hike is a little under 4 miles. The miles are strenuous, but they are amazing. We don’t want to discourage you from hiking this amazing trail, but we do want you to know what you’re in for if you try it with kids.
Tips for Families:
- If you have younger kids, try hiking just Peek-A-Boo. We have heard of people hiking this canyon up and back down again. It’s a much shorter hike, and you won’t have to cut across the open, sunny slick rock to get to Spooky. You would still need to assist them in climbing up and down obstacles in Peek-A-Boo.
- Hike in the morning or evening. We were there in the heat of the day which made it harder to enjoy since we were hot and thirsty.
- Take LOTS of water. It is hot in this area in the summer, so come prepared with plenty of water.
- Pick up a map at the Visitor Center. A nice man helped us find our way back when we got a little lost, because he had a map. We assume he picked it up at the Visitor Center. It would have helped us avoid the wrong turn.
- Wear small backpacks. We had to carry ours through Spooky. Definitely don’t plan on bringing a huge child carrier through here. It won’t make it!
- The climb out is steep and will take awhile, so plan accordingly on your itinerary.
- Take your time and enjoy. Our boys are still talking about this hike and not even because we almost got lost and died in the dessert. They loved the skinny slot canyon. It is very memorable, and we can’t wait to try it again in 5 years when they can climb through on their own.
Our video does not show the entire hike, but a few bits and pieces of the adventure. Hopefully it will show you all the fun we had, and some of the challenges!