Updated: Jun 8, 2021
You may have never heard of the Willis Creek Narrows before, and while they aren't as famous or majestic as the Zion Narrows, they are much more accessible and a great family friendly hike. Getting to this hike is a bit off the beaten path, but it is well worth it for its beauty and its relative solitude compared to the crowds that seasonly overwhelm Utah's Mighty 5 National Parks.
Willis Creek is a small canyon nearest to the town of Cannonville in the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument. The trailhead is located about 9 miles from Cannonville on the Skutumpah Road (BLM 500) Road. You can actually Google Map to the trail head, however make sure that you Google 'Willis Creek Slot Canyon Trailhead' and not just 'Willis Creek' as it will take you to the wrong side of the canyon.
If you don't have Google Maps, head south on Kodachrome Road in Cannonville and then in about 2.8 miles turn right onto Skutumpah Road (also labeled BLM 500) This is a dirt road and you'll follow it for 6.1 miles until you reach the parking lot and trailhead on the left side of the road. There are a few forks in the road along the way, but stay on the main road (well marked as BLM 500).
In good conditions the road is passable by most vehicles, however it would be a nicer drive with a higher clearance vehicle and AWD or 4 wheel drive. There are a few steep sand covered hills so shift to a lower gear to not lose traction. I drove my Tacoma without incident to the trailhead. Among the trucks in the parking lot I also saw a Subaru Impreza and a Toyota Camry, so in good conditions a 2WD sedan can make it.
In bad weather the road can become impassable even for 4 wheel drive vehicles, so be aware of incoming weather. Road conditions are posted online here, but sometimes are outdated. The best source for road conditions is stopping at the visitor center in Cannonville where conditions are posted daily on the boards outside, accessible even when the visitor center is closed.
Definitely the hardest part of this hike is the drive to the trailhead and parking. The parking lot is not huge and sometimes can be full at peak times. However there is also another parking lot just down the road where trucks and trailers carrying live stock usually park that can be used as overflow parking.
With the hard part behind you, you can start this beautiful and relaxing hike complete with a cool stream and several sets of small narrows along the trail. The hike from the trail head to where the canyon meets Sheep Creek is about 2.5 miles (5 miles round trip), however all of the narrows can be found in the first 1.5 miles of the trail, so for those with small kids or not wanting to hike too far, you can turn around at the last set of narrows at the 1.5 mile mark.
I made the 2.5 mile hike to where Willis Creek meets Sheep Creek and even turned South down Sheep Creek to see what I could see. It is a pretty hike through this gulch with really pretty yellow, red and blue colored rocks in the dry stream bed, but nothing passed the Narrows I'd say was a must see. From Sheep Creek the canyon gets progressively wider and sandier, making it a little harder to hike.
From the parking the trailhead officially starts across the road and parallels the creek for 200 yards before dropping into the creek. From the overflow parking lot down the road you can just walk directly into the creek and enter the gulch sooner. It is a little more fun to take this way out of Willis Creek than the official trailhead.
In May when I hiked it, the water in Willis Creek was rather Sparse and you could pretty much do the whole hike without getting your feet wet if you wanted. However, this may not be the case at different times of the year. The majority of the trail is flat with just a few sections where the trail noticeably descends. About a half mile into the hike, the creek narrows to a small 6 ft waterfall. I recommend following the trail to the right to descend past this drop to rejoin the creek.
I counted 5 sets of Narrows along the trail and it seemed that each Narrow became higher and more interesting than the last. My favorite narrow was the 4th slot that had a huge boulder that looked like a face just in front of the narrow. The last and tallest narrow seemed that it was just over 100 feet. It's worth stopping at each of these narrows to enjoy the shade and admire the beautiful slots that mother nature carved over the last several thousand years.
Willis Creek is a great hike for people of all abilities. I saw several families with small children, people on horseback and solo adventurers enjoying the canyon. Keep in mind that Willis Creek is susceptible to flash flooding so it shouldn't be hiked if the weather is bad.
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