Zebra slot canyon
Near Escalante, UT
This is one of the most interesting slot canyons in the grand staircase region of the southwest. The canyon is very narrow and fairly short but can produce surreal light and unique compositions with its striped canyon walls (thus the name Zebra canyon).
Under the right conditions, the reflective light on both sides of the canyon varies between orange, magenta and purple with bizarre Zebra like strips adorning the walls. This is a great portfolio opportunity for photographers visiting the Escalante area in southern Utah.
Trail Difficulty (3 out of 5)
I would rate the difficulty of this trail as a 3 on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being most difficult). The trail to Zebra canyon is a modest 2.6 mile hike each way with a nominal 300ft elevation gain through the desert near Escalante, UT. The trail is well traveled and easily identified (for the first 2 miles) until you get to the Harris wash, then you have to search for the right trail for much of the rest of the way.
The main difficulty of this trail lies in the confusion of the last half mile, the narrowness of the canyon (a foot or so wide in some places) and the propensity to have water in the canyon. Depending on the time of year and amount of recent rainfall, you may have to wade through knee to chest deep water and might have to carry your equipment over your head. If you are claustrophobic, this may not be the place for you.
To avoid disappointment, you may want to stop by or call the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center - Bureau of Land Management before the hike to find out the conditions of the canyon (435) 826-5499.
GPS Coordinates & Elevation
5,183 Ft. Elevation
Decimal degree (DD) format: 37.661444, -111.417333
Google Earth Birds-Eye-View
Click on image to enlarge
CLICK HERE to get driving directions to Zebra slot canyon trailhead.
Directions from Escalante - drive 5 miles east on UT12 and look for the “Hole in the Rock Rd” turnoff. Take a right on the Hole in the Rock Rd (a fairly well maintained dirt road) and drive 7.9 miles until you cross over the 3rd cattle guard. There is a small unmarked parking area on the right. The Zebra slot trail head is directly across the road from the parking area (the trailhead is unmarked).
Hike on this well traveled trail for approximately 2.0 miles until you see a fairly wide sandy wash (Harris wash). This is where it can be confusing as there are MANY false trail that can lead you in the wrong direction.
As you approach the Harris Wash - veer left to follow along the bank of the wash. Stay with the trail along the left side of the wash for as long as possible (about 100 yds). You will then cross the Harris and you see a second smaller wash next to it on the right. Continue up this smaller wash for about 700 yds and it will lead you to the entrance to the Zebra slot canyon.
I would highly suggest viewing the crossing of the Harris wash and the path to Zebra canyon on Google maps or Google Earth before starting out - as you can easily get confused or lost. Getting lost in the desert is not good.
Depending on the time of the year and recent rain, the entrance of the Zebra canyon may or may not be filled with deep muddy pools. The canyon is very short (maybe 100 yds total) and the primary photography opportunities are in the second half where you see the striped canyon walls.
Best Time of Day to Shoot
I have found the best time to shoot is in late morning, 2-3 hours after sunrise. Once the sun gets too high, the shot is washed out.
Best Time of Year to Shoot
You can shoot the Zebra slot canyons year around. However, during monsoon season the opening to the canyon can be completely filled with water due to rains.
What Lens(es) Do You Need
Most of your shots will be with a wide-angle 16-35mm lens.
There are no permits required in the area - but you may want to check with the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center - Bureau of Land Management before the hike to see if the canyon is accessible or not (high water) - (435) 826-5499.
Direction of the Shot
The whole time you are in the canyon you will out of the sun, but you will mainly be shooting north to south at 180°
Special Nuances of Shot
As mentioned, Zebra canyon is very narrow in places and can be challenging to set up your tripod - unless you use the walls of the canyon for support. The striped canyon walls (where it gets its name) are toward the back of the short canyon. Also, toward the back of the canyon you can climb up the walls a bit to get a different perspective, composition and lighting.
Lighting, positioning, timing and perspective is everything to getting a great shot.
Special Equipment Needed
The hike to Zebra canyon is about 5.2 miles through the Utah desert. Depending on the time of year, temperatures can be extreme. It is VERY important to make sure you bring plenty of snacks, liquids, sunscreen and a good hat.
From a photography standpoint, you will need a good tripod, polarizer and depending on the time of year – a wet bag for your camera/lens if you have to wade/swim through the water at the entrance to the canyon.
Number of Other Photographers to Expect
Zebra canyon is pretty well known and might have plenty of visitors during the day. I have found that most visitors are hiker/tourists and arrive after the shooting time. That being said, the canyon is very narrow and any visitors will make it a challenge to compose and shoot at the stunning location. Patience is needed.
Zebra canyon is in the Grand Staircase region of the southwest - where temperatures can vary up to 40° in a day. Spring and fall are nice, but summer can get into the 100°’s. The monsoon season (in late summer) brings violent but brief thunderstorms, which often cause flash floods.
I have Verizon and the cell coverage at Zebra Canyon is hit or miss. The cell coverage for Verizon is solid in Escalante.
The closest towns to the Zebra slot canyon are Escalante and Bolder (28 miles apart). Escalante has a population of around 1,000 and Bolder has around 250 inhabitants.
There are no real campsites on the Hole in the Rock Rd, but there are several BLM pullouts which allow camping. There are however, a couple of nice campsites on the way and around Bolder, UT.
Camping - click on the campground below for directions
Lodging - click on the lodging below for a TripAdvisor review
Entrada Escalante Lodge
480 W Main St, Escalante
Canyon Country Lodge
760 E Utah State Hwy 12, Escalante, UT 84726-7738
As mentioned, the closest towns to the Zebra slot canyon are Escalante and Bolder. Both are small towns, but there are several very good to great places to eat in both communities.
Bolder, UT is a small community (don’t even think they have a stoplight) but there are several very good places to dine. The Burr Trail and Hell’s Backbone Grill are both worth going out of your way for. I have not eaten at the Sweetwater Kitchen at the Bolder Mountain Ranch (as it is seasonal), but several people said it was great.
In Escalante I have enjoyed a VERY good dinner at the Devil’s Garden Grill, a GREAT pizza at Escalante Outfitters (don’t be fooled by the name) and a PERFECT burger at Nemo’s Drive Thru. After a long day of hiking and photographing around Escalante you have some very good choices for dining.
Nearby Restaurants - click on the restaurant below for yelp review
Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm
20 N Hwy 12 Boulder, UT
Burr Trail Grill
10 N State Hwy 12 Boulder, UT
Devil’s Garden Grill
530 W Main St, Escalante
310 W Main St, Escalante
As far as I know the only laundry mat is at Escalante Cabins and RV Park.
Other Photography Opportunities Around
The closest airports are Salt Lake City (243 miles) and McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas (335 miles). Both are major airports servicing most of the major airlines in the US.
Area Guides and Workshops
If you were looking for a GREAT photography guide for American Southwest - I can highly recommend Mark Metternich. I have taken workshops with Mark in the past and he has been hosting workshops in the American Southwest for many years.
Mark knows all the VERY best places to take you and just the right time to be there - to help you get the shot. He is a great photographer, an expert at photoshop, an excellent guide/instructor and a super nice guy.
The Photographer's Ephemeris is a very valuable tool for landscape photographers to determine the direction of the sunrise/sunset & moonrise and moonset from any place on earth on any day (past and future). Click here to take you to The Photographer's Ephemeris for this location.