What is a Slot Canyon?

A slot canyon is a narrow canyon that was formed by the wearing of rushing water through the layers of sandstone, conditions that occur naturally in the desert of the American Southwest, specifically, near the Colorado River and Lake Powell areas. The state of Utah has the largest concentration of slot canyons in the world.


What makes a Slot Canyon?

The deep sedimentary layers of the earth in this area have been carved over the centuries by high mountain snow-melt and flashing rain storms. Water, unable to be absorbed by the dry desert ground, races through the deep crevasses at levels reaching over 60 feet high in the “slots.”  The relatively soft canyon walls made of red Navajo sandstone have been etched and shaped into winding corridors by the sudden torrents of rushing water filled with rocks and debris. Over time, this phenomenon has smoothed these corridors in such a way that the canyon walls have flowing shapes and characteristics. The results are breathtaking and dramatic!

In most slot canyons, the water and wind of 100–200 million years of windstorms and floods have cut the sandstone in such a way that its striations can appear almost incandescent. From inside one can observe a wide array of colors as the light from above bounces back and forth across the walls. In spots, the only light entering the canyon is from a very narrow opening in the top, only a foot or two wide,  but the canyon floor can be 100 feet deep or more!

Striations in Rock

True Slot Canyons

The only true slot canyons can be found where rivers have run deep and powerfully across the earth. This is evidenced especially in the Southwest region by the Grand Canyon and Lake Powell, and abundantly in Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park. The most massive of all slot canyons is The Narrows in Zion National Park. The walls rise nearly 2000 feet from the canyon floor, and they are only 30 feet apart at the widest points!


Many slot canyons are well hidden and found in remote desert areas, and can be difficult to reach. For some, this only adds to the intrigue and challenge. In recent years, many slot canyons have been mapped out and their conditions documented, and for this reason, their popularity has increased as camping and hiking destinations. However, there are thousands of slot canyons throughout the Southwest desert waiting to be explored!




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