Utah is possibly the most vertically challenging area in the US. Many of us may picture scenic cliff bands of granite or red sandstone desert towers rising above a desolate desert landscape. Others, and likely the crazier minority, see an inverted picture of this scene. The deserts of Utah hold beautiful and often daunting secrets below the scorching, sand covered surface. As the water of seldom rains sheet across the desert floor it repeats the course of least resistance over and over again for millennia creating some of the most beautiful and least visited places on the planet now widely known as slot canyons.

canyoneering southern utah

Paragon Adventures Guide Leo Boren canyoneering in southern Utah.

With areas that cover hundreds of miles, (Moab, Canyon Lands, Escalante, Zion, Dixie National Forest, San Rafael Swell, North Wash…) the adventurous soul is hard pressed to walk in any direction without falling into one of these things! Unlike any other area in the United States, southern Utah boasts challenging technical and non-technical descents through these desert jewels in numbers reaching into the hundreds. No matter what skill level a visitor may possess, rest assured, there is a canyon for you. Just take a look at St. George; a person could get off the couch and travel no further than the Dixie Rock area, better known as Pioneer Park, and experience a very short sample of a slot. Go just a little further yet and enter Dixie National Forest, after passing through Leeds and Silver Reef (both historical towns with underrated stories) and you will find Yankee Doodle, Boltergiest and Hidden Star canyons; all of which lend themselves well to the budding technical Canyoneer.

Englestead canyon pothole

Paragon owner and guide, Todd Goss attempts to keep his shirt and backpack dry while crossing a pothole in Orderville Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah.

For those looking for more we can look just another thirty minutes southeast to Zion and you’ll find your fill. It holds the highest concentration of classics in the Southwest. At a glance we find The Narrows, Imlay, Heaps, and Behunin canyon, each vastly different in character and accessibility. Take the Narrows for example; essentially the top end of the Zion canyon proper, it carries the title of 5th best adventure on National Geographic’s 100 best adventures in America, and it’s easily hiked by the average Joe on a day’s visit. In contrast, Heaps canyon contains 25 rappels, pot holes in numbers that would drive anyone crazy, and a travel time of around 20 hours to complete. Given these two extremes, it is worth mentioning that Zion boasts many canyons of an intermediate nature and the surrounding areas surely meet the mark as destinations that could accommodate almost anyone.

Englestead/Orderville canyon

Englestead/Orderville canyon

For years now an intrepid few have descended and described the slot canyons of the Southwest in guide books, unlocking the potential for everyone to sneak a peek. These adventures take the prepared few through a variety of experiences, including climbing (of sorts), wading and or swimming, rappelling, and hiking through a three-dimensional wonderland of steep walls reaching hundreds, if not thousands of feet tall. As the rock closes in around you and the sky above you shrinks into slivers of light it’s undeniable that Canyoneering will leave a lasting impression. And like rock climbing, these places are not a far drive from our home base here in St. George at Paragon Adventures.

At the end of each canyon name you will run into what appears to be an alien language, but don’t be intimidated. This combination of letters and numbers is a succinct way to explain what you can expect (in relative terms) the difficulty, length and quality of the canyon to be.

A short translation is this; Mr. Smith Canyon 4BV R ***:  4(Technicality),B(Water),V(Time),R(Additional Risk), ***(Quality)

Snow Canyon State park

Arch Canyon

Island in the sky


Dixie National Forest

Boltergeist Canyon 3AI

Yankee Doodle Hollow 3BI**

Hidden Star Canyon 3-4BI*

Zion National Park

Behunin Canyon 3BIII***

Birch Hollow 3AIII***

Fat Man’s Misery 3BIII**

Keyhole Canyon 3BI***

Middle Echo Canyon 3BII***

Mystery Canyon 3BIII***

Orderville Canyon 3BIII***

Pine Creek 3BII***

Spry Canyon 3BIII***

The Subway 3BIII***

The Narrows

Englestead Hollow 4BIII-IV***

Heaps Canyon 4BVIR***

Imlay Canyon 4BIVR***

Popular Utah Canyons

Neon Canyon 3BIII*** – Escalante

Blue John Canyon – Canyon Lands NP

Buckskin Gulch – Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness

Coyote Gulch – Escalante

Peekaboo Gulch – Escalante

Spooky Gulch – Escalante

Written by: Bryan Teaters, Paragon Guide