Little Wild Horse Canyon and Bell Canyon are an excellent pair of slot canyons close to the infamous Goblin Valley State Park in Utah. They're typically hiked as a loop.
I probably would have missed these canyons had I not spoken to the rangers at Goblin Valley State Park. Like so much of Utah, the area is rife with canyons of all shapes, sizes and depths. Little Wild Horse Canyon and Bell Canyon are well traveled by Utah standards but certainly worth the visit if in the area.
Goblin Valley State Park was my day's destination after a sporting scramble in the Henry Mountains the previous day. I spent the early morning wandering among the hoodoos but the midday heat prevented further travel. Not wanting to end my day early, these deep, shaded canyons allowed my adventures to continue.
Getting to Little Wild Horse Canyon Trailhead
From the park entrance to Goblin Valley, the parking area is 6.1 miles away. Its a 15 minute drive on mostly good quality road. Start from the entrance and head North on Goblin Valley Road for about 0.7 miles. Turn left on Wild Horse Road, also known as "1013" on some maps. Drive West on this road for 5.4 miles to the large parking area. Even on a busy weekend with groups of 70+ people, I found plenty of parking.
Here's a hiking map I made:
Little Wild Horse Canyon
From the well marked trailhead, I headed North across the desert and intersected with the canyon's wash. It was about 0.5 mile from the trailhead to the fork between Little Wild Horse Canyon and Bell Canyon. Little Wild Horse Canyon goes to the right and Bell Canyon goes to the left.
For a shorter hike with about the same experience as the full loop, I noticed people walked up into the slots of Little Wild Horse Canyon (on the right if hiking from the trailhead). It the superior canyon of the two and the first section is far more deep and slot-like than the other sections of the full loop. People with young children or those less inclined for the 8 mile loop hiked about a mile up Little Wild Horse Canyon and returned the way they came.
Of course, I went for the whole enchilada!
For the first mile after the junction between the two canyons, Little Wild Horse Canyon becomes narrow and very deep. Its not narrow enough to induce claustrophobia but it felt like a slither for some sections. The canyon gradually opened up to a wider, flat bottomed section for the latter 2/3rds of it. I knew I was gaining altitude by hiking further up the canyon but the steepness wasn't noticeable.
Finding Behind the Reef Road
Its 3.6 miles according to the map from the entrance to the exit of the canyon or where it intersects with Behind the Reef Road, a 4x4/ATV road. The trail gets ambiguous towards the canyon entrance or about 3.5 miles fro the trailhead. From the map, there's an obvious and massive rock formation that creates a fork in the canyon. Going right or left takes you to the road but I went left according to the map and found my way to the road.
The road was hardly distinguishable from the rest of the landscape and I was thankful I had a GPS
Behind the Reef Road to Entrance of Bell Canyon
This section is 1.6 miles long and involves a steep climb to a saddle, then descending to the obvious entrance of Bell Canyon. Its open and sun-exposed, hence I recommend completing this section early in the day.
For those on foot, the road is fairly easy to follow but I can't imagine how difficult it is to get a vehicle up this shaky road.
Bell Canyon Back to the Trailhead
Though shorter and less majestic than Little Wild Horse Canyon, Bell Canyon made up for it in solitude. Maybe it was just the time of day but I only a half dozen other hikers on this section. I crossed paths with more than 100 hikers in Little Wild Horse. The reprieve from crowds made this canyon special.
There's all sorts of bizarre slickrock formations along both canyons, creating an almost haunted look. My paced slowed to a stroll on the descent as I tried appreciating every nook and cranny that erosion created over the millennia.
I linked back up with the original fork between the two canyons and made my way back to the car. My total time including stops was 3.5 hours. It was absolutely worth the short detour from Goblin Valley and a nice afternoon hike with plenty of shade, all things considered.