9 routes · Hiking
An epic backcountry adventure into one of Utah's most beautiful non-technical slot canyons!
- 7.7 km
- 164 m
- 164 m
- 1-2 hrs
- Low Point
- 1.3 km
- High Point
- 1.4 km
The unassuming name "Moonshine Wash" belies the true grandeur of this incredible slot canyon hidden deep in the Utah desert. Many accomplished slot canyon explorers name Moonshine Wash as one of the most beautiful non-technical slot canyons they've ever seen!
But if you want to experience Moonshine Wash for yourself, don't expect it to be easy. This slot canyon is a rugged, remote adventure from start to finish.
Drive to the Trailhead
The adventure begins long before you even reach the trailhead. The drive from Green River to the trailhead covers about 30 miles one-way, and the drive from the south near Hanksville is over 60 miles one-way. And almost all of these miles are on gravel, dirt, and sand roads running deep through the desert.
The road to reach the trailhead can be fairly sketchy, depending on your vehicle. Expect long stretches of deep, drifting sand; washboards for miles; ruts; rocks; drainages to cross (some of which may have water in the bottom); rough roads; and no cell service for many miles. Getting stuck and stranded on the way to the trailhead is a real possibility. Road conditions can change dramatically throughout the year and sometimes can be impossible to predict. Do not attempt this drive this road if it has rained recently, as the hardpacked road can turn to deep wheel-sucking clay and muck in the blink of an eye.
A high clearance 4x4 vehicle will easily make the drive, as will most all-wheel-drive crossovers or SUVs. At least, the AWD vehicles will make it to beginning of the spur road to the trailhead.
The final mile or so from the two-wheel-drive gravel road to the actual trailhead gets dramatically rougher and more technical, requiring a true high clearance 4x4 vehicle. A Subaru is unlikely to make it all the way to the trailhead. However, you can easily park at any number of turn-offs along the spur road and simply add another mile or so of approach hiking without too much difficulty.
You've only just reached the trailhead, and already the adventure has been monumental! Miles and miles of wide-open desert, stunning vistas, arduous driving... and the adventure will only get more difficult from here!
The Hike Begins
The hike begins next to a carsonite post on the left side of the turn-around loop. You'll begin by descending a sandy wash that winds its way downhill, slowly approaching the main Moonshine Wash. You'll know you've reached the main event when confronted with a dramatic change of pace: a dramatic downclimb around a massive dryfall. Consider this a filter feature: if you are intimidated by this downclimb, turn around now because if you can't negotiate the obstacles coming up next, you could easily find yourself stranded in the bottom of a canyon in the wilderness with no cell service and no source of help.
After dropping into Moonshine Wash, take a right turn downstream, and then drop into the main event! While the entrance seems unassuming, the slot canyon develops quickly, and you'll drop deep into a gorgeous, narrow slot that runs for over a mile. You'll wind your way through towering walls of Navajo sandstone painted in different hues—red, tan, orange, and gray. The narrows are impressive and extensive, which sets this adventure head and shoulders above many of the other slot canyons in Utah.
Moonshine Wash is considered a non-technical canyon as it does not require the use of ropes and rappelling gear to descend it. However, that doesn't mean this is an average everyday hike—Moonshine Wash is still considered a canyoneering adventure. In the heart of the canyon, you'll have to negotiate numerous downclimbs and drops of up to 10 feet in height. Some of those drops land in pools of water, and depending on the season and when the last rain storm was, the pools can be quite deep. Expect deeper pools of water in the spring and during monsoon season.
You'll have to use technical scrambling and canyoneering skills to negotiate the drops, including stemming, sliding, downclimbing, and what I affectionately call the "scoot yer ass" technique.
While most of the obstacles consist of drops, and dryfalls, there are also a few chokestones blocking the way that will require some clambering and climbing to overcome.
Enjoy the technical challenge and incredible beauty through the narrows—this is a truly otherworldly experience!
Finally, the narrows open up into a large box canyon, and the hiking gets non-technical again as you walk down a flat, gravel wash. The views are still stunning, with the vertical canyon walls soaring high above you.
Optional Bonus Miles
Be sure to download this map for offline navigation, as the scramble route up and out of the canyon is unmarked. But first, if you haven't had enough hiking in the canyon yet, consider adding some bonus miles out-and-back down the canyon. About 0.3 miles down the canyon, you'll come to a junction with a second canyon joining from the left. Just up the left canyon is a natural spring that flows year-round, and you can enjoy a beautiful babbling creek flowing through the canyon bottom. If you continue a few more tenths of a mile down the primary Moonshine Wash canyon, you can reach a towering cottonwood tree growing out of the gravel canyon bottom, fed by the spring water. If you do decide to tack on bonus miles, it's recommended to backtrack to the marked scramble route to exit the canyon.
Exit from the Canyon
To get out of the canyon, you'll be faced with a steep scramble up a series of steep sandstone slabs and ledges. While the climb does ascend straight up the canyon wall, this is the first non-vertical exit from the canyon. (If you hiked further downstream, you'll note that it's also one of the ONLY possible exits from the canyon.) Even so, this is a full commitment scramble route with some moves that might rank as low-end class 5. Even if you're confident in your climbing skills in the bottom of a slot canyon, this scramble requires that you be confident in your climbing skills on an exposed rock slab hundreds of feet above the canyon floor. It's a different climbing experience altogether, and it requires much more commitment than your typical day out hiking. Even so, this is the easiest exit from Moonshine Wash—returning back up the slot canyon would prove to be even more technical.
Once on top of the canyon rim, breathe a sigh of relief—and if you haven't stopped for lunch yet, this is a great spot. The return leg of the hike is largely non-technical, but it makes up for the lack of technicality with challenging navigation.
The entirety of this adventure in Moonshine Wash is way off the beaten path, which means that essentially none of the turns are marked along the way. In the slot canyon that's not a big deal, but the return hike proves to be more challenging to navigate. The return trip requires about 1.6-1.75 miles of off-trail hiking to reach the access wash that you first hiked down. It's difficult to get truly lost on the return, as you'll essentially keep the canyon on your lefthand side as you return back upstream. However, it can be tough to find the correct path, especially in the first mile.
The first mile of the return negotiates a series of small washes and desert terrain, including long stretches of soft sand, scrubby plants, and cryptobiotic soil. Please refrain from busting the crust and damaging the fragile crypto soil, but also be aware that there is no designated trail through this stretch of desert. The route mapped here tries to follow sandy washes and hard surfaces wherever possible to minimize damage to the cryptobiotic soil.
The first section of the return hike has to stay further away from the canyon edge to avoid getting cliffed out, but the second half of the return follows close to the canyon rim, providing stunning views down into Moonshine Wash and of the mountains in the distance. Here, you can also travel on durable rock surfaces with no negative environmental impact. That said, there are still a few spots where you can get cliffed out if you're not careful. Follow this GPS route closely, and also look for a few (tiny) cairns to guide your way.
Eventually, you have to drop back down into the canyon. There are a couple of descent options, and one of the best is shown here. It's a steep descent, but it isn't as technical as the climb out of the canyon.
Once back in Moonshine Wash, turn right and head slightly upstream. Look to your left for the first dryfall that you negotiated, climb back up it, and retrace your steps back to your car.
Moonshine Wash is an epic backcountry adventure of the first degree! From lengthy gravel road driving to reach the trailhead to technical climbing challenges, stunning slot canyon beauty, and tricky off-trail navigation, this is an epic adventure that you'll remember for years to come!
Note: Before you hike into the canyon, be sure to check the weather to see if there's any indication that there might be any rain in the area. One of the most severe dangers in a slot canyon is the very real possibility of flash floods, with no way to escape. VisitUtah.com recommends that you "always check the weather before visiting any slot canyon. Even light, distant rainfall can render slot canyons extremely dangerous" due to flash floods. Always treat this wilderness landscape with the utmost respect.
Scrambling up mountains and along technical trails with moderate fall exposure. Handholds are necessary to navigate the trail in its entirety, although they are not necessary at all times. Some obstacles can be very large and difficult to navigate, and the grades can often be near-vertical. The challenge of the trail and the steepness of the grade results in very strenuous hiking. Hikes of this difficulty blur the lines between "hiking" and "climbing".
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