Red Breaks Slot – Big West Fork


The Big West Fork of Red Breaks, located off of Harris Wash, can be accessed from Hole in the Rock Road, east of Escalante, Utah, in Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument. While this area is known for dozens of slot canyons, this one in particular, with all the long sections of narrows, numerous chockstones that require basic climbing skills, and overall length, rates as one of my favorite slot canyons I’ve ever done.

Red Breaks – Big West Fork Hike Details

Distance –  15 miles roundtrip, completed as a loop hike
Approximate hiking time – 8 to 10 hours, depending on how far in the slot you go
Elevation at Harris Wash Trailhead – 4970 feet
Elevation at mouth of Red Breaks Big West Fork – 5302 feet
Highest point of elevation on hike – 5906 feet at Panorama Point
Elevation Gain – approximately 1500 feet due to climbing in and out of deep washes
Difficulty – Moderate. Basic “chimney” climbing skills recommended
Trail – Sandstone, sand, wash route. No shade on cross-country hike to Big West Fork nor to Cosmic Ashtray
Amount of water recommended – 3 liters
Bathrooms – None
Season to hike – March to November
Prone to flash floods? – Yes, prone to flash floods. However, the slot is narrow enough in several spots to chimney up and out of slot if necessary. With that being said, watch and respect the weather report.
Permits – N/A
What to bring? – packing checklist

How to get there:

From Escalante, Utah, take the main road, Highway 12, east through Escalante. The road will head in a southeastern direction. Follow Hwy 12 for five miles, and as the highway makes a left curve, the unpaved Hole in the Rock Road will be on the right side of the road. If you were to go straight instead of take the curve that would turn into Hole in the Rock Road. Take Hole in the Rock Road southeast for 11 miles until you see the Harris Wash trailhead sign on the left. Follow this side road for six miles to its end near Harris Wash. This side road is usually passable by passenger car. I made it the trailhead in Dodge Charger, I just made sure to drive a little slower. (See the Google Map for this hike at the end of this post)

Red Breaks

One of my favorite pictures

What to Bring

(Click on an item for more information)

+A GPS is a must-have on this hike.
I would highly recommend getting the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map – Canyons of the Escalante before going. It’s a great reference and also covers all the area along Hole in the Rock Road. It is waterproof and tear-resistent. I never go anywhere down there without it.

For this hike, you should wear close-toed shoes with good traction. Here are a few recommendations:

Hitting the Trail!

Since there is no official parking area at the trailhead, just pull into an open area amongst the willow trees before getting to the wash. As you were driving along Hole in the Rock Road,  you may have noticed that your destination of Red Breaks takes you to an elevated plateau, wherein lies Red Breaks slot canyon. Compared to the landscape everywhere else along the road, one can spot this elevated area of Red Breaks from several miles away.

Besides hiking this alone, which one should never do, there are two other mistakes that some hikers make within the first ten minutes of the hike. First of all, you need to cross Harris Wash, and not follow Harris Wash. Secondly, shortly after heading north and crossing Harris Wash, which is normally dry, you’ll see where the road that you took to reach the trailhead continues on the other side of the wash. You can follow this road for about 250 meters, and then you’ll see a wide sandy wash coming in from the left. Leave the road and take this wash north. This is Red Breaks wash. Several people miss this and follow the road (which heads northeast) for a mile or so before they realize they’ve missed the wash. The good news is, that this road will be the road that can take you back to trailhead after hiking through Red Breaks and possibly visiting a place called the Cosmic Ashtray, a formation which I’ll explain about later.

Red Breaks slot

In Red Breaks wash. We started early, and the only footprints we saw were that of a wandering cow.

This is a chockstone. While this is a small one, others in the slot are larger and will require you to climb up over it to continue up the slot canyon

This is a chockstone. While this is a small one, others in the slot are larger and will require you to climb up over it to continue up the slot canyon

As you leave the sandy road and take Red Breaks wash, it’s amazing how unassuming it looks now, and how in just about two miles, you’ll find yourself in slot canyon heaven. There is no marked trail, so just follow the wash, and you won’t get lost. Follow this wash for about 1.75 miles. Along the way, the walls will rise 10-15 feet, and near this point, you’ll come across a dry fall, that you will can bypass by backtracking and going up the left (west) side of the narrowing wash, and then drop back into the wash. At this point, the walls begin to narrow, and the start of an easy and photographic section of slot canyon starts. In this part of the slot you’ll have only one or two chockstones to clear. Deeper in Red Breaks however, you’ll come across several chockstones which can be navigated more safely and efficiently with two people, but can be cleared by a solo hiker. A chockstone is a large rock that has gotten wedged into the slot canyon, blocking (or choking) off one’s progress in the slot. Since you are hiking up the Red Breaks slot, all of the chockstones you encounter will requiring scrambling up and over them, which I find more exciting and difficult than down climbing a chockstone. You will need to navigate around at least ten chockstones in the Red Breaks slot. I found that I could clear each chockstone by myself, but I remember two or three of the chockstones requiring a 12 to 15 foot climb. The best strategy to clear the obstacles is to use the “chimney” technique.

Red Breaks slot

This is a good way to clear many of the chockstones in Red Breaks

The chimney climbing technique is used when you have rock walls with vertical sides mostly parallel, large enough to fit the climber’s body. (Usually between 3-5 feet wide.) To climb over a chockstone, the climber often uses his head, back and feet to apply opposite pressure on the vertical walls. The picture to the left is an example of how to chimney. This is an easy way for anyone, from beginner to expert, to climb over and clear obstacles. I have found that by the end of the hike, we had become very proficient chimneying, and we could clear all obstacles pretty quickly. I would recommend not rushing the first couple of chockstones. This would not be a great place to rush things, fall, and sprain an ankle. We found that clearing the chockstones were some of the most fun and gratifying parts of the hike.

After hiking through the initial set of narrows in the Red Breaks main slot it opens up. We found this to be a good time to drink some water and take a short break. Here is a picture of this opening as it proves to be an important reference point.

Red Breaks slot

Here is where the main fork opens up at an important trail junction. Climb out of the slot here on the left side, and walk the rim for the next quarter of a mile

When you reach this part of the hike, you should easily recognize it from this picture, mainly because this is the first open part of the slot since the first narrow section of Red Breaks main fork. Head up the left side of the rock here and follow the wash from the rim that you see in the background. If you continue down in the wash, it will take you up the main fork of Red Breaks, which is cool, just not as impressive as Red Breaks Big West Fork slot. The beginning of the Big West Fork can only be reached by exiting the wash as described, so you can clear a 100 foot dry fall.

Red Breaks slot

This is taken from the rim after exiting the slot. In the center is the continuation of Red Breaks Main Fork. Below me is a 100 foot dry fall that is impassable. To reach the Big West Fork, one must take this route I’m on.

Once you’ve reached the left side of the rim from the opening in the Main Fork wash, follow the rim in a westerly direction for a couple hundred meters. We were about 100+ feet above the wash in this picture, and we could see where someone had tried to find the Big West Fork, because there was one set of footprints that had to backtrack after reaching the bottom of the impressive 100 foot dry fall. I’m sure that it makes for a spectacular waterfall during a flash flood.

After walking past the top of the dry fall, you’ll be in the Red Breaks Big West Fork wash, and after five minutes of hiking it quickly tightens up, and the real adventure begins.

This was the first of at least 10 chockstones that we had to navigate over. It was so much fun! Once again, take your time, and plan your route and your strategy first, then proceed up and over. After the first guy gets up and over the obstacle, toss any backpacks up to the first and progress that way.

Red Breaks slot

This chockstone is the first obstacle in the Big West Fork of Red Breaks

For this reason, I recommend hiking with at least one other person, so that clearing these obstacles will be easier. The Big West Fork has some of the best color I’ve ever seen. The walls absolutely glow when the sun is overhead. These narrows will continue for over a mile and it is so much fun, as the lighting and glow makes you want to snap pictures every ten steps. After we had cleared all the obstacles, we found the last section of Red Breaks to be the most challenging. It was extremely tight for about 200 meters. Not even 12 inches wide. We had to remove our backpacks and chimney about a foot off the canyon floor because we were getting wedged in. It was so exciting, but so exhausting to squeeze and chimney in a one foot wide slot canyon. I’m 6’1″ and 175 lbs, and I was squished in there.

Red Breaks

The colors in Red Breaks made for great pictures all day long

Red Breaks slot

Red Breaks offers new looks at every turn

Red Breaks slot

The colors and textures were always changing in the slot

Red Breaks slot

Got claustrophobia? This gives you a good idea as to how tight some parts of the slot can be.

Red Breaks

This picture shows the magic of Red Breaks

After this incredibly tight part of Red Breaks Big West Fork, it opens up a little and the walls become more shallow, and you have a couple of choices. You can take a break and return back down Red Breaks Big West Fork back to the Main Fork, and then retrace your steps back to the trailhead, or you could attempt a cross-country desert trek to try to find a geological phenomenon affectionately known as the Cosmic Ashtray, and then follow a dirt road back to the trailhead.

If you want specific directions, I’d be happy to discuss it via email, mainly because this place is such a geologic wonder, it almost feels wrong to share this, for fear that people will spoil it.I found it without the use of GPS coordinates, or from a map in my hand. It was purely from studying topographical maps and especially Google Earth before I left. I feel that anyone who wants to visit place, kinda needs to put forth their own effort, and if they have questions, I’ll be happy to answer them. That’s how special I feel about this place. While we were leaving the Cosmic Ashtray, we came upon two lost hikers who had been wandering in the desert for hours trying to locate it. Not only were they ill-prepared, but they had done no real research to find the place. They were over two miles from it. Don’t be like these jokers. They had no idea how to get back to their vehicle, and I’m certain that not only would they have never found the Cosmic Ashtray, but they would have spent a freezing night in the desert with no water.

Red Breaks slot

Along the cross-country trek to the Cosmic Ashtray, checkerboard rock like this is a common sight

To complete the loop hike, follow these steps. Once you scramble out of the Big West Fork, you will head in a general eastward direction and cross over one major drainage. I used my compass to maintain my eastward course. This drainage is the Upper West Fork of Red Breaks. Climb out and continue east and enter a second major drainage which is called the Northeast Fork of Red Breaks. Follow this fork upstream and round a high point to the right. We climbed this high point, and near the eastern most edge of this point, which I personally call Panorama Point, I took this picture.

Red Breaks slot

This is the view looking in direction one needs to follow to reach the Cosmic Ashtray

Red Breaks slot

The rock in the middle is about 80 feet tall. The Cosmic Ashtray is larger than a football field, and feels like a stadium. It’s huge. That is orange sand surround the middle rock. It’s a 100 foot drop from the ledge in the foreground.

Red Breaks slot

Another view of the Cosmic Ashtray from a different angle

 From the picture it almost looks like you could just walk right down into the bottom. You can’t. It’s at least a 100+ foot sheer drop from all sides. After visiting the Cosmic Ashtray, I returned home and talked to the Dean of Geology at Brigham Young University, and even though he’d stayed at the same hotel as us, and on an expedition nearby, he’d never even heard of the Cosmic Ashtray, let alone seen pictures of it. He was fascinated and couldn’t explain how it was formed. Theories abound, but none of them seem to be able to fully explain this geological wonder. Oddly enough, after not having cell phone reception the on the whole hike, I had reception at the Cosmic Ashtray, in the middle of the desert. I called my folks, had them look up the Cosmic Ashtray online, and tell them I was standing right in front of the picture they were looking at. It was surreal.

From the Cosmic Ashtray, you can see a sandy dirt road about a mile or so south of the Cosmic Ashtray. This is the same road that crossed Harris Wash at the beginning of the hike. Scramble down the sandstone to the road and just follow the road to the right (southwest) for about 4.5 miles back to Harris Wash and once you cross it, you’ll be back to your car. The entire hike was around 15 miles in length, but it didn’t seem that long. The last 4.5 miles of along the road is flat, and you can make it back to the trailhead in less than 90 minutes. We were able to do this hike in about 9 hours, and we spent nearly two hours at the Cosmic Ashtray. Even without seeing the Cosmic Ashtray, the hike through Red Breaks slot was one of the best slot canyon hikes I’d ever been on.

Before you leave forget to pack these hiking essentials:

hiking list

Enjoy the hike!

(P.S. We’d love to meet you. Connect with us on our YOUR HIKE GUIDE on Instagram or Facebook.)

For more great hiking trails, click here.


About Author

Adam is an experienced hiker and canyoneer, who has visited some of the most breathtaking and remote places in the United States. As an instructor for Desert and Wilderness Survival, and for Leave No Trace camping practices, he shares his passion and respect for the outdoors to all. Adam is currently a Scoutmaster in the Boy Scout of America, and is an Eagle Scout. As the founder of, his goal is to educate others on the joys of hiking.


  1. Cosmic Ashtray is REALLY cool, have visited it 3 times and looks even better when thre is snow in the bowl. How long is the hike if you don’t do the Cosmic Ashtray portion?

    • Tom,
      The Red Breaks Big West slot hike is about 6.5 miles roundtrip. It does depend on how far down the slot one goes down before turning back. Take note that at last count were nine chockstones that require climbing over when in the slot. They may be a little more tricky to downclimb on the way back. And yes, the Cosmic Ashtray is amazing. I showed some pictures to the Geology chair at a local university, and he didn’t even have an explanation for the formation. Hope this helps! Message me if you have more questions.

  2. greg petliski on

    Hey Adam, love this trip report. I’m currently on a 5-month trip throughout the western National Parks, but we’re taking some time to explore Grand Staircase. I would love to add the ashtray to our hike of Red Breaks. I would appreciate some first hand knowledge of how to get there from the Big West Fork since I’m not an expert cross country traveler. I cant figure out this internet thing, so I dont know how to message you, but if you could email me at, my girlfriend and I would be super grateful!!

  3. Hello Adam,

    I am planning to do a guided hike to the Cosmic Ashtray however I have a severe fear of heights and cannot walk on ledges. The guide I’m planning to hire tells me there are a lot of exposed & steep sections on the hike and they had people refuse to do certain sections due to exposion. Can you provide some details on how exposed the hike is ? Do you have any pics that would give me the idea of the steep and/or narrow sections? Appreciate your help. My best, Aneta

  4. Hi Adam,

    My husband and I are in the area for an unexpected business trip. We are unfamiliar with hiking/canyoneering risks in this region but would really love to spend the weekend hiking red breaks. I would like your honest advice, do you think it would be a bad idea to attempt this hike following your guide? Do you suggest we hire someone to come with us? I did not find your email to contact you directly but I would be super grateful if you could send me your advise to

    Thanks a lot and thanks for posting this amazing blog!



  5. My husband and I are planning on doing this exact hike in about 2 weeks. Would love to get your specific directions to the ashtray and any other helpful tips. Thanks so much! Loved the post

    • I just sent you an response to your email account. I’m so glad that you found the post useful! Red Breaks and the Cosmic Ashtray are amazing locations. You and your husband will have a blast! Let me know if you have additional questions! Happy trails!

      • We would like to hike Red Breaks and the cosmic ashtray in two different hikes. Can you give information for running the loop backwards and hiking straight to the cosmic ashtray? We would hike there and back and plan to do Red Breaks on a different day. Thanks, Mary

  6. I love your hiking guides, such good info. Do you have specific directions for getting to the Cosmic Ashtray? We’re going to be in the area this summer and want to do a hike while passing through, so probably only have time for one stop and the Ashtray is what we’re dying to see. Any guidance/tips/tricks you can give would be awesome!

    • Kaley, I’ll be happy to help you out with getting more specific directions to the Cosmic Ashtray. I’ll send the details to your gmail address.

      • I would also love directions directly to the cosmic ashtray!! It looks absolutely incredible!

  7. Hi Adam! I’ve been trying to find this place for a while and always come up short, hahaha. Would love to know if you happen to have GPS coordinates you’d be willing to share! Cheers!

    • Jen, I’ll be happy to help you out with getting more specific directions to the Cosmic Ashtray. I’ll send the details to your gmail address.

  8. Hi Adam,
    We have been looking at hiking out to Red Breaks, is this slot canyon easy to find or would you suggest a guide?

    • Hi Lyn,

      Thank you for stopping by. I replied to you by email. Let me know if you didn’t get it.

  9. Hi Adam
    I love your site, thank you for all the great information. We have a permit for South Coyote Buttes in April and we will add White Pocket while we are there. We will also travel up to Boulder and would love to do the Red Breaks/Cosmic Ashtray loop. Would you be willing to share your directions with us? We did the Boulder Mail Trail last year and our Shuttle driver said the Ashtray is a must see.
    Thank you for any information you are willing to share.

    • Adam
      Thank you for all the information that you shared about the Cosmic Ashtray. Your directions were right on and we had an amazing day exploring. I love your website!
      We are headed to the Wave on March 4th. Do you have any suggestions on hikes in the area? We have already explored South Coyote, White Pocket and the entire Buckskin Gulch.
      Thank you again for sharing all of your hikes!

      • Annie,

        I’m so glad that you had such a great experience in and around the Cosmic Ashtray. I love that place! I’m happy that I could help! Check your inbox for a reply with suggestions near The Wave to explore!

  10. Hi Adam,
    Your guide has made me very interested in doing this hike to the Cosmic Ashtray. I think I may head that way this weekend, could you please share the specific directions for the hike?

    Thank, Keith.

  11. Hey Adam, thanks for the post. I’ve spent a lot of time hiking the areas down Hole-In-The-Rock Road, but I’ve never been over to Cosmic Ashtray. Was thinking about accessing it from Spencer Flat Road. Can you give me any tips/GPS coordinates? Thanks!

    • Ryan,

      Thanks for visiting the site. I’ve sent you an email regarding your question. Hopefully that helps you out! Have a great day!

  12. Hi Adam, your website is a true goldmine!
    I am planning on doing this very trail early September. I have plotted each way point one by one on my GPS, following your google map trail map.
    I have two questions if you don’t mind.
    First, is the GPS coverage good?
    My girlfriend and I are not great map readers so we will rely on an iPhone with ViewRanger installed and the high definition satellite map downloaded before hand + a small Garmin device with just the trail information as back up.
    Second question, you say it takes up to 10 hours, and this if you include spending at least 2 hours around the cosmic ashtray.
    I am a photographer and get easily carried away when I am taking pictures. If I give myself 12 and half hours, would it be enough? Considering we will probably not walk at a brisk pace and that I might spend minutes at the time setting my stuff in several locations?
    Thank you so much for you help, you will help make this trip unforgettable I am sure.
    All the best,


    • Thank you for your message, Felix! I’ve sent you an email with answers to your questions and tips for your hike!

  13. Pingback: National Park Adventures for Scouts: Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument | Voice of Scouting

  14. Hey Adam,
    This post is so helpful. I’m curious though, how far is the hike if I go right toward the Cosmic Ashtray instead of going left through Red Breaks. I’m SUUUUUPER claustrophobic and don’t think I’ll make it through there. I do plan on going up it a little bit to take some pics, but can’t stay too long in there. I was wondering more about going the other way around to the Cosmic Ashtray… if I can stay on the slick rock more than the dirt road or if it’s faster to go along the dirt road? If you could send any information that would be awesome! Thanks! Tennille.

    • The hike from the trailhead following the road to the Cosmic Ashtray instead of going through Red Breaks is 9.0 miles roundtrip. It’s much easier and perfect if you’re claustrophobic. A slick rock route will probably add another mile or so, so I’d say 10.0-10.5 miles roundtrip if you go via the slick rock. I would recommend following the dirt road over the slickrock.

  15. Hey there! Could you send me directions to the cosmic ashtray? I would love to add this to my trip with my sister. I will keep the directions confidential! Thanks! Also, if could let me know if there’s any way to get there without the red breaks? I was considering alternatives due to how claustrophobic it looks in there, but if the only way to get there was to go through them, I think we can handle it. I really appreciate it! My email is

  16. Hi Adam, thanks for such an informative post! My friend and I are planning on doing this hike next week and I was wondering if you could provide additional information on how to find the cosmic ashtray? Thank you!