Goblin Valley is one of our favorite places to go camping. It’s generally a quick weekend trip for us and the kids love it. It’s a great place to go in the early spring (think April) because it’s not blazing hot and it isn’t crowded. The weekend we decided to go it was a little bit chillier, but nothing that some long-sleeved shirts couldn’t handle.
We made it into the valley that afternoon and quickly set up camp at one of our favorite spots. It’s a little off the beaten path and gives us plenty of privacy, cool stuff to explore, and amazing views. There is a small creek that runs around the camp, a miniature forest that the kids love, and a small, hidden canyon to explore. It’s one of those gems of a campsite that you wouldn’t even know about unless you happened to run into it, which we did a few years back.
After setting up camp we decided to get in a quick hike before dinner. So we loaded up in the car and were on our way to Little Wildhorse. Little Wildhorse is only five miles from Goblin Valley. If you are heading to Goblin Valley, you will hit a fork in the road. If you turn left, you will end up at Goblin Valley within 5 minutes. If you turn right, you can find the parking areas for Little Wildhorse and some other cool canyons within 5-10 minutes. There are so many cool hikes in such a small area.
This day we turned right to go to Little Wildhorse, the most popular hike in the San Rafael Swell. Little Wildhorse has become one of the most popular hikes in this area because it is family friendly and unlike most slot canyons, it doesn’t require any climbing equipment or special canyoneering skills. But, because it is a slot canyon, there is always a chance of flash flooding. So check the weather and watch out for rain or flooding in the area.
The trail leading up to the slot canyon has plenty of fun diversions itself. There are giant rocks to climb and scamper around on. There are little rock climbing opportunities. There are giant slabs that just must be explored. And there was even a giant rock chair that our kids took a rest in. One of my favorite things about hiking is being able to let my kids go off and explore a little. They have so much fun together and they love to push their limits to see what challenging things they can do.
A little ways up the trail there is a fork in the road. One way leads to Bell Canyon and the other goes to Little Wildhorse. And you can actually take one trail up and loop around and come back down the other (which is about an 8 mile loop) but it was later in the day and we wanted to just do Little Wildhorse.
Little Wildhorse is a great place to introduce your kids to what I like to call, mini-canyoneering. Canyoneering is when you explore canyons no matter the obstacles. If there’s a drop, you rappel. If there’s a cliff, you rock climb. If there’s water, you swim through it. Mini-canyoneering lets kids get a little bit of experience with this but in a safe environment.
In this next picture, you can see our little five-year-old, Adventure Babe, get a chance to climb up with a rope. She gets used to how it feels to keep her feet planted and her weight back while holding a rope and scaling a rock face. But she isn’t very far off the ground and, right after I snapped this picture, I was right behind her in case she fell. It would probably be easier for me to just pick Adventure Babe up and hand her to Adventure Dad but we wanted to give her this experience and this early exposure to increase her comfort level with ropes and the environment and to increase her confidence in herself. I can tell you that Adventure Babe feels a whole lot different when she’s climbed a rope and used her little muscles to get up an obstacle rather than having me just lift her up over it.
Slot canyons are fun because you never know what you’re going to find just around the corner. Will it be a big open canyon floor with bushes and trees and giant boulders? Or will it be a narrow passageway that zigs and zags? You’re never quite sure and that’s half the fun.
As we made our way further into Little Wildhorse, we reached the parts of the canyon that get really, really narrow. There are certain parts where the canyon walls are barely shoulder-width apart, which can be really cool. It can also be a little problematic if you are hiking during the busy season and a group of hikers wants to go the other way. But even this problem can be turned into an opportunity, the opportunity to stem!
Stemming is when you stretch your body between two canyon walls and use those walls to move forward without touching the ground. It can allow you to go up high on the canyon walls while another group of hikers is free to pass below you. It can help you get across areas that are covered by water and still stay dry. And it’s just a ton of fun. We didn’t have any real reasons to stem on this hike, but we still did it a lot because, as you know, we really do like to have fun.
A couple of hours after starting our hike, we reached the end of the slot canyon. It’s pretty easy to know when you get out of the slot canyon section of the hike because it opens up into a large area with trees and bushes and a little hill in the middle. This was as far as we were going to go so we found a good area to sit and ate some snacks and got some water.
We had a friendly crow hang out with us. He kept flying overhead and landing nearby the entire time we ate. And I’m pretty sure he went to see if he could pick up any scraps after we left. And don’t worry Mr. Crow, I have children, so there are sure to be some crumbs.
After snacks we turned around and headed back the way we came. Now, you might think it’s a little boring to go back down the same path but this doesn’t happen in slot canyons. For some reason, the way back looks completely different from the way up. Sure, there are lots of parts where you remember being there but there are even more parts where you wonder if you must not have been paying attention on the way up because the place where you are looks completely new. I think this happens because of all the amazing rock formations. The way a rock looks like from one side is completely different from how it looks from the other side due to the bends, striations, etc. It’s a really cool experience.
I forgot to mention that there was a small amount of water in the canyon but this didn’t create too much of a problem. With a little nifty rock hopping we all got through the wet section with dry feet. All of us, except for Adventure Dog. Adventure Dog attempted to rock hop as she had seen us humans do but wasn’t quite able to manage it. But she really didn’t want to get her paws wet. Eventually we had to lead her through the water which led to frantic splashing from her and quite a lot of laughter from the kids. I should mention that the water wasn’t deep and probably would have barely covered our shoes but Adventure Dog is kind of a baby.
Hiking with a dog brings its own challenges. Besides the amusing water experience, Adventure Dog also made things a little more difficult in other areas. What is an easy climb up or down for a human can be quite another thing for a dog. And there were parts of the hike where we had to pick Adventure Dog up to either help her get up on something or to carefully lower her down. Picking Adventure Dog up isn’t the easiest thing, due to how heavy she is and the fact that she doesn’t appreciate it very much. But it had to be done, so we did it.
Near the end of our hike Adventure Babe was sad because she wasn’t really able to stem like the other kids. She has quite the little munchkin body so it’s hard to find anything that she can really stem on but Adventure Dad and I were determined to try. And eventually we found something. And boy she felt tough!
Shortly after Adventure Babe’s stemming we reached the end of the slot canyon and came out onto the trail. There was more exploring, scrambling on rocks, and getting eaten by trees. There was also a brief re-enactment of Lion King. While Adventure Boy and Girl channelled their inner Rafiki (Simba’s monkey friend), Adventure Babe decided that she would much prefer to be the lion. And yes, I know what you’re thinking, shouldn’t those kids be tired from all of that hiking? Not when there’s fun to be had.
We made it back to the car and back to camp in time for dinner. Vegetarian chili? Yes, please (and don’t judge, anything tastes good after a lot of hiking). While Adventure Girl and I made dinner, Adventure Dad taught Adventure Boy the finer arts of fire building and Adventure Babe chased Adventure Dog. And what would a campout be without s’mores? Nothing, that’s what.
I like to make s’mores with cookies and this time I bought a new kind called s’more cookies (pretty fitting I thought). They were really good and we had a ton of fun hanging out around the fire roasting marshmallows and eating delicious goodness. It was the perfect end to a great day.
Check out a video of our slot canyon journey.