Located off Skutumpah Road in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Willis Creek Narrows offers a wonderful short hike with great visual rewards and minimal effort. I have hiked Willis Creek several times, and each time was a different experience and equally enjoyable. It is a great beginning hike to go on if you’ve never hiked in a slot canyons/narrows and want to see if it’s something you’d like. I promise, you’ll love this one, and it will be the first of many slot canyons/narrows that you will hike. I’m not saying that a slot canyons/narrows veteran will be bored with Willis Creek either, because the gorgeous rock formations and orange water make for a memorable hike!
Willis Creek Hike Details
Distance – 4.8 miles round trip, or shorter. You may turn around after you finish the narrows part, and it will only be about 2.6 miles round trip.
Approximate hiking time – 1.5 to 2.5 hours
Elevation at trailhead – 6000 feet
Elevation at confluence of Sheep Creek (turnaround point) – 5700 feet
Elevation gain – 300 feet
Difficulty – Easy
Kid Friendly Hike? – Yes (5+)
Trail – wash route, including water during parts of the year, no deeper than 6-8 inches
Amount of water recommended- 1 to 2 liters
Bathrooms – None
Seasons to hike – April to mid June, Sept to the end of October
Prone to flash floods? – Yes. Avoid during the flash flood months of July and August.
Permits – None needed
Map: Grand Staircase Paunsaugunt Plateau
How to get there:
Since Willis Creek is very remote, you’ll be doing a lot of driving on dirt roads, which are passable by passenger vehicles when dry. When wet however, even 4 wheel drive vehicles have major problems due to all the clay which becomes slick like ice when wet. Avoid when rain is in the forecast.
Take Utah Hwy 12 east from Hwy 89 for 25 miles to Cannonville, UT. You’ll pass the turnoff for Bryce Canyon National Park, and go through the small town of Tropic, UT, on your way to Cannonville. If coming from Escalante, UT, take Hwy 12 west for 36 miles to Cannonville. Upon reaching Cannonville, turn south on Main Street. (Grand Staircase Inn is on the corner of Main Street and Hwy 12. Turn here.) Go south on Main Street, which will turn into Kodachrome Way. Stay on this paved road for 2.9 miles, where you will then turn right onto Skutumpah Road, which will have a sign that reads, Bull Valley 9 miles and Kanab 61 miles. The road is now dirt, but is in fine shape for passenger cars. After 3 miles in your car on Skutumpah Road, you’ll cross a simple spillway of a dam, ascend a rise, then drop down into Averett Canyon and a dry wash after about 4.7 miles. After 5.5 miles, avoid a graded road that goes to the right near the crest of a small ridge. Stay to the left there, and descend to Willis Creek wash, which is 6.3 miles from where you turned onto Skutumpah Road. A parking area is found on the right side of the road and there should be a sign that says Willis Creek Trailhead. (See my Google Map for this hike at the end of this post)
Hitting the Trail!
Just across the road from the parking area is the Willis Creek Narrows trailhead, and after about 200 feet, it will lead to the start of the wash. Another option you have is to just follow the wash that crosses Skutumpah Road a hundred feet from the parking area. Follow the stream to the left. (The opposite side of the road from the parking lot.)
Willis Creek Narrows is one of the few slot canyons that you don’t have to climb up into, or climb down into. You just walk right in, which makes it a great hike for all ages. I would though, highly recommend water shoes. You will get a little wet. Most likely you’ll be walking through and in the little stream for a good portion of the hike. The stream is only 4 to 6 inches deep at most, and only five or six feet wide, so it’s nothing too severe. It all depends on the time of year, and the amount of recent rainfall or snow melt. There have been several summers when hikers have had no water along the entire hike, which hasn’t happened to me yet, but I’m glad that it hasn’t. I find that the water running through the canyon makes for a pleasant hike, and is great for pictures.
Now remember, with any slot canyon, there is always a danger of a flash flood, so if the weather looks threatening, avoid going in a slot canyon. Even though it may be sunny overhead, it could be raining 50 miles away, and the runoff will channel right to the slot canyons, which is how most slot canyons were carved out in the first place.
After you hike into the beginning of Willis Creek it still has the look of a wash. The banks on either side are far apart and only 10 to 12 feet high. This is a picture of the start of the hike. As you can see on the left side of the photo, this is where Willis Creek slots up and the real fun begins.
Once in the narrows, the walls and width will vary, and at a little over 0.6 miles from the trailhead, you may first hear, then see a runoff of about 10 feet. This is easily avoided and passed on the right side of the trail. There are two sections of narrows that are separated by a brief opening in the canyon, that together go for 1.3 miles. The canyon rapidly tightens up as the creek twists and turns in the slot. The walls above reach 200-300 feet high in some places along the narrow sections, and you’ll find yourself in the shade while hiking through these parts. The high walls make for good contrasts along with the orange waters when taking pictures along the way, and during certain times of day the sandstone glows with a soft yellow hue.
Once you’ve hiked 1.3 miles from the trailhead, you’ll be coming out of the last part of the narrows. It’s another 1.1 miles to the confluence of Sheep Canyon and Willis Creek, and the canyon walls drop down and the wash widens to 40 feet in places. The first time I hiked Willis Creek Narrows, I went all the way to the confluence of Sheep Canyon, and found that it was nice, but that it wasn’t nearly as interesting as the narrows. On later trips there, I’ve hiked the 1.3 miles to the end of the slot canyon, and then retraced my steps back to the trailhead.
What to Bring
Here’s a free hike packing list you can download.
For this hike, I recommend wearing lightweight shoes with good water drainage. Here are some I recommend:
(Click on an item for more info)
Since Willis Creek is in a remote location, I would recommend hitting up some other slot canyons nearby. Bull Valley Gorge is a deep, dark slot canyon hundreds of feet deep in the earth, and Lick Wash, which is geared to a more conservative hiking individual. Both are great slots that can be done in conjunction with Willis Creek.
Enjoy the hike!
To see more amazing hiking trails, click here.