Two days before I hiked into Zebra Canyon, heavy rains turned much of southern Utah into mud. As I hiked into the slot, my hiking partner and I quickly encountered unstable mud that gave way and sank us almost waist-deep. Considering that danger and the likelihood of deep water further upcanyon, we did not go further, and I unfortunately do not have shots of the inner canyon walls as a result. However, I felt it was better to put up what I do have and pass this information on to fellow SP members than keep the canyon unheralded just because of a lack of really good pictures. So I hope visitors will forgive the photos that are not too great, and I hope they will instead appreciate the information on this canyon and go out and explore it.
For a location that does not appear on USGS or Trails Illustrated topo maps and has no established trails leading to it and no marked trailheads, it is surprisingly famous. Zebra Slot is named for its fabulous striations that resemble-- surprise-- a zebra's stripes. It is short but so narrow that hikers will likely find anything larger than a fanny pack or very small day pack a hindrance. Hikers should also enter knowing that they may encounter chest-deep, or deeper, water.
The slot is not marked on USGS quads or any other topo map I have seen, and the coordinates listed here are approximations based on my memory and my studying topo maps. However, it is almost impossible to get lost if you follow my Getting There and Route instructions.
Find your way to highly scenic Route 12 linking Torrey, Utah with the Panguitch area. About 1 mile east of Escalante, look for the well-marked Hole-in-the-Rock Road into Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Drive 6.9 miles to a wash crossing and park on the side of the road. Hike east-northeast down the wash. This wash soon joins larger Cottonwood Wash (on most topo maps), which drains into even-larger Harris Wash, into which drains the wash coming from Zebra Canyon.
There are other and shorter ways to approach Zebra. A little down the road from the spot I recommend parking at is Cottonwood Wash, but the road beyond my parking place had become a muddy pond, and I was not trying it in my rental car. Further down the road from Cottonwood Wash is Halfway Hollow, a wash that drains into Harris Wash almost directly across from Zebra's wash (the Halfway Hollow route is the shortest way), but since the road was impassable beyond my starting point, I could not find out how much more driving was needed to reach Cottonwood Wash or Halfway Hollow. I recommend following my route unless you know the area well; the washes are not marked along the road, and finding another correct starting point could be confusing or difficult.
Hike down the first wash for about half a mile, where slickrock starts appearing and you join Cottonwood Wash. In about a mile, shortly after passing under an old cattle gate spanning the wash, you reach larger, more-open Harris Wash, which is in the midst of a colorful slickrock wonderland. Turn right. In about fifteen minutes, after the wash bends left and then right again, you will see another canyon (Halfway Hollow) coming in up to the right. Just before you reach Halfway Hollow, a wide, sandy wash enters from the left. Go up it. This wash, by the way, is the first on your left after Cottonwood joins Harris and you turn right. It takes about ten minutes to walk up the wash to the mouth of Zebra Slot, which is obvious and narrows quickly.
In drier conditions, it might take only 30 minutes to head up the slot until you reach high, sheer walls that will require rope to climb and which take you to a couple of potholes that mark the upper end of the canyon, anyway. The slot is narrow enough to require sideways travel and, to avoid some pools of water, chimneying or stemming. You will probably be unable to avoid wading, though.
If the water looks too high or the weather is too cold, you can easily climb the slickrock rims on either side of the slot and enjoy the canyon from above. It's not the same as being in the slot itself, but it's what we had to settle for considering the mud and water conditions when we went.
In all, it's about 6 miles RT, and there is little elevation change. In summer, go very early to beat the heat and storms. In other seasons, try to hit the slot midday so you can enjoy the light on the walls. That's what I tried to do, but since conditions thwarted my intentions to enter, I had to accept outside photos I normally would not take at that time of day. But I wanted to show the area, so have mercy!
Many side roads and some of the land adjacent to the road are on private property. Avoid places that you do not know are open to the public.
Because of private property concerns, camping off the road along this stretch of it is not advised. Further on, there is plenty of BLM land open to camping. Try to avoid camping or walking or driving on the cryptobiotic crust, the dark, lumpy-looking soil that covers much of the area. The crust (with water, of course) is the basis for the living ecosystem out here, and trampled crust can take decades to recover.
You can also camp out in the canyons. Look for level sandy spots that are not in the washes.