The Little Wild Horse Canyon – Bell Canyon loop hike is a popular day hike in the San Rafael Swell region. The loop hike is 8 miles and takes 3-4 hours. With no technical skills required, this is a great slot canyon to explore for just about everyone.
Dan and I really enjoyed this hike. It features several sections of sinuous sandstone slots (5 s words woven together hooray) alternating with colorful, towering cathedral walls.
ALSO it is free to hike the loop and camp at one of the sites along Little Horse Road.
The nearby Goblin Valley State Park is $13 to enter and $25 to camp. So, free wins!
Here is a map courtesy of the information station at the start of the hike:
- Round Trip: 8 mile loop
- Start elevation: 4,950 feet
- Max elevation: 5,670 feet
- Elevation gain: 720 feet
- Trail head: Little Wild Horse Canyon trail head
Getting to the trail head: before you reach the entrance station of Goblin Valley State Park turn right (west) and follow a road for five miles to the trail head. There is good signage for “Little Wild Horse Canyon” after turning off of route 24.
All canyons are prone to flash floods, so check the weather forecast! Also, if it has rained within a few days of your visit there may be standing water in the narrower sections. Contact the ranger station before you go.
We hiked half a mile from the trail head to the junction of Bell Canyon and Little Wild Horse Canyon. Several websites recommend starting with Bell Canyon so that you end with [the much prettier] Little Wild Horse. We were happy to follow this recommendation as Bell Canyon paled in comparison. You could just do an out and back through Little Wild Horse too.
The hike through Bell Canyon is 1.8 miles. There were some sections of scrambling, a few of which had a side route that bypassed the scramble. Here is what one scramble looked like:
After exiting Bell Canyon, we walked 1.6 miles along the connector trail. It is mostly a 4-wheel drive road called Beyond-the-Reef-Road.
Then it was time for the best part! Little Wild Horse Canyon. Picturesque narrows, sweeping sandstone layers, and honeycombed walls.
In one section we encountered calf-deep standing water. Dan stemmed across the whole thing. I stemmed across two sections of it but the last part was too wide so I waded through. The goal was to not roll an ankle on the rocks hidden in the brown opaque water.
I can see why this is the “most popular hike in the San Rafael Swell”. It can get very crowded during peak season and on the weekends. I read that it can resemble a parade channeled through the narrows. We went on a Thursday in early November and encountered 4 other groups along the loop. Hooray.
Aside from waning daylight, November seems to be a great time to visit the desert. We experienced dry and sunny weather with temperatures in the 50-60s the whole week we were there. Now to move to Durango so we can be closer!