Slot Canyons and Canyoneering Books

Below is a selection of 13 recommended books about Southwest canyons - not a comprehensive list, but these are the books I use myself.

Click on the image for more details, or to purchase the book (via amazon.com).

Non-Technical Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau Non-Technical Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau
Michael Kelsey, 2011, 6th edition

This is the 6th edition of Michael Kelsey's general canyon hiking guide, covering all regions of the Colorado Plateau. For this and the 5th edition all photographs are in full color - over 380 of them now, and this remains by far the most comprehensive and necessary book for hiking the Southwest's narrow canyons. Each of the 150+ hikes has a hand drawn map and detailed description. Some people complain about the use of metric units, the occasionally inaccurate routes or the shorter than normal suggested hiking times but these are all irrelevant compared to the vast amount of detailed information and the interesting background material - historical and geological. New locations for the latest edition include the White Pockets, Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde

Technical Slot Canyon Guide to the Colorado Plateau

Technical Slot Canyon Guide to the Colorado Plateau
Michael Kelsey, 2008, 2nd edition

Released July 2008, and now in full color, the second edition of Kelsey's technical slot canyon guide is the definitive reference to canyons that need ropes and rappelling techniques to descend, either in full or in part. The main chapters cover San Rafael Swell, Robbers Roost/Spur Country, North Wash, east Lake Powell, Escalante River, Zion and west Lake Powell (Page), plus some hikes around Dinosaur National Monument, Capitol Reef, Paria River and the Grand Canyon. The descriptions are necessarily more detailed than for non-technical hikes, with information about rappel points, obstacles and any special problems that may be encountered. The book also contains a lengthy introduction to technical canyoneering, its equipment and techniques. Several hundred canyons are featured, grouped into 75 locations, and the 336 pages of the new edition include many new routes, mostly in the Robbers Roost and Escalante River areas - this latter section including some of the most extreme canyons anywhere.

Hiking and Exploring the Paria River

Hiking and Exploring the Paria River
Michael Kelsey, 2010, 5th edition

Covering much more than just the Paria River, this 384 page volume has 47 sections ranging from Bryce Canyon in the north to Vermilion Cliffs in the south. There are not quite so many slot canyons in this area than some others; around 15 are described, including great detail on Buckskin Gulch and the Paria River. Other hikes are to recently-popularized photographic sites such as Coyote Buttes (The Wave), Paria Rimrocks, White Pocket and the Wahweap Hoodoos. Also covered is the story of John D. Lee and the Mountain Meadows Massacre, plus articles on local geology, mining history, cattle ranches and ghost towns. The 2010 edition introduces color photography for all hike descriptions.

Hiking and Exploring Utah's San Rafael Swell

Hiking and Exploring Utah's San Rafael Swell
Michael Kelsey, 2014, 4th edition

The San Rafael Swell volume in the series was updated in 2014, 15 years after the 3rd edition. It still has slightly fewer hikes than most others, with around 40 listed, but also includes lengthy chapters on the history of the Swell, including articles on local geology, pioneer ranchers, native Americans and mining sites. All the slot canyons in the central and eastern regions are listed, plus a selection of those in the more remote western section, around Muddy Creek. The majority of hikes described are along narrow canyons, with other excursions to the reef itself, mountain peaks and rock art sites.

Hiking, Biking and Exploring Canyonlands National Park and Vicinity

Hiking, Biking and Exploring Canyonlands National Park and Vicinity
Michael Kelsey, 1992, 1st edition

There are only a few slots in the Canyonlands region (such as Rock and Moonshine Canyons) but countless other red rock ravines, most with no official trail. One of two Kelsey books on the park (the other is aimed at exploration from the rivers), this describes 32 hiking areas, as usual filled with much historical detail regarding archaeology, cowboy activities, ranching & trail building, together with the author's distinctive hand drawn maps. With no update since 1992, some sections are a little dated and the book appears to be out of print, however a new 2012 edition of the companion 'River Guide to Canyonlands National Park and Vicinity' is now available.

Hiking and Exploring Utah's Henry Mountains and Robbers Roost

Hiking and Exploring Utah's Henry Mountains and Robbers Roost
Michael Kelsey, 2009, 3rd edition

One of the lesser known Kelsey books, this covers the Henry Mountains, Caineville, Trachyte Creek and adjacent lands around the Dirty Devil River, though many of the canyons in this region are now described more fully in the technical slot canyon guide. The usual extra chapters about archaeology, cowboys, ranching, geology and mining are supplemented by a long article about Butch Cassidy, who hid in this area for several years. The 2009 edition has 280 pages and full color photographs.

Boater's Guide to Lake Powell

Boater's Guide to Lake Powell
Michael Kelsey, 2008, 5th edition

Although advertised as a boater's guide, most of the information is about narrow canyon hiking, and a fair proportion of the canyons described can be accessed overland; indeed for some, with the low lake levels in recent years, reaching them by boat may be more difficult. The 288 pages have details on over 120 canyons plus hikes to viewpoints, peaks and arches, all accompanied by chapters on camping, photography, geology, history and archaeology. Includes full color photographs.

Canyoneering Arizona

Canyoneering Arizona
Tyler Williams, 2005, revised edition

One of the few books specifically about Arizona canyons, the revised edition of this guide describes 62 hikes along slot canyons, deep gorges and mountain ravines, divided by region into the Colorado Plateau, the Mogollon Rim and the Ranges, ie the Sonoran Desert. Each has a description, sometimes brief, and a basic hand drawn map, with black and white photographs for most and beautiful color pictures for a few. The introduction covers canyoneering techniques, types of terrain, backcountry ethics, climate and the ancient civilizations of Arizona.

Canyoneering (The San Rafael Swell)

Canyoneering (The San Rafael Swell)
Steve Allen, 1992, 1st edition

The first of three books by Steve Allen, usually regarded as the main alternative to Michael Kelsey for slot canyon publications, covers 63 hikes in all areas of the San Rafael Swell. The routes are described in more detail than Kelsey's books and the style is more polished though in general there is less information overall, no trail maps and fewer photographs. This volume contains additional chapters about geology, man's use of the Swell, and how to protect the environment.

Canyoneering 2 (Technical Loop Hikes in Southern Utah)

Canyoneering 2 (Technical Loop Hikes in Southern Utah)
Steve Allen, 1995, 1st edition

Next in the series is a guide to seven multi day hikes across south Utah (Muddy Creek, Dirty Devil River north and south, Dark Canyon, White Canyon, Escalante River east and south). For those not backpacking, various segments are suitable for day hikes, and there are many short side trips described. The style remains the same as in volume 1, but now a few trail maps are included, based on the USGS topographic maps. Some parts of each route require rappelling.

Canyoneering 3 (Loop Hikes in Utah's Escalante)

Canyoneering 3 (Loop Hikes in Utah's Escalante)
Steve Allen, 1997, 1st edition

The third book has the most pages (328), and includes details of 37 main hikes, plus related information on access routes, man's influence on the Escalante, hiking equipment, geology, technical canyoneering and of course protecting the environment. This is the most accessible of the 3 books owing to the popularity of the region, and the relatively easy approach to many of the canyons. As with book 2, topographic maps are given for some of the hikes, plus the usual in depth route descriptions, historical notes and suggestions for side trips.

Hiking the Southwest's Canyon Country

Hiking the Southwest's Canyon Country
Sandra Hinchman, 2004, revised edition

This is a general Southwest hiking book that covers a selection of the most easily accessed slot canyons in south Utah and north Arizona in addition to many other Colorado Plateau hikes - mostly around the Grand Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Arches and Bryce Canyon national parks but including other explorations of less well known regions. The revised edition has 35 new hikes, 288 pages and a selection of full color photographs.

Hiking the Escalante

Hiking the Escalante
Rudi Lambrechtse, 1985, 1st edition

Listing 43 hikes around the Escalante river drainage, with detailed road descriptions but no maps, this volume is a well written summary of all the major non technical, easily accessed canyons in the area, all with informative comments about local geology, wildlife and plants. Hikes are listed by area - Hell's Backbone Road, Highway 12, Burr Trail, Hole-in-the-Rock Road and some high elevation routes. As there has been no update since 1985, some aspects may have changed, and there is no mention of recently-publicized places such as Neon Canyon.

Back to Top

All Contents © Copyright John Crossley | Comments and Questions | Site Map

Arizona California Colorado Idaho Nevada New Mexico Oregon Texas Utah Wyoming Slot Canyons Travelogue