A Deep Cut
Southern Utah is a pretty remarkable place. And there is a lot here to discover. We at the Lodge talk about the most popular places all the time – Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches – and we mention some of the more secluded spots a lot too – like Cathedral Valley and the Waterpocket Fold – but every once in a while we like to write about locations that are really off the beaten track. A Southern Utah deep cut if you will. And this time we’re looking at the Irish Canyons.
The Best Narrows
About 33-miles south of Hanksville, Utah (a small town between Capitol Reef and Lake Powell, which you can see mapped here) is a collection slot canyons, collectively known as the Irish Canyons. There are three in total – Shillelagh, Blarney, and Leprechaun. (And now you know why they’re called the “Irish Canyons.”) If you are drawn to the excitement and challenge of navigating through narrow sandstone fissures, are eager to get some amazing pictures, and you don’t mind traveling into the wilderness, then there isn’t a better option in Southern Utah – these are the best narrows.
Each canyon varies in length and difficulty, so let’s talk a little bit about them.
This is the widest and shortest of the Irish Canyons. It’s probably the best canyon to start with – we’re assuming that you’re going to explore all three, since you have hypothetically driven all the way out to the Irish Canyons. There are twisting sections, and usually shallow pools to wade through. You will need technical gear to navigate it fully. If you are unsure which type of gear you need, then you probably need to hire a guide. This canyon isn’t usually on the radar for tour guide companies, but you can try Capitol Reef Adventure Company. They might make it work for you.
This is a more challenging canyon, the Blarney Canyon loop is about four-and-a-half miles round trip. Mid-way, the canyon forks into two narrows, one of which is extremely challenging (again, you’ll need technical gear and know-how). There will be points when it will be necessary to scale the canyon sides. Of all the Irish Canyons, Blarney is the most prone to flooding. Check the weather, and don’t enter the canyon if flash floods seem possible.
This is probably our favorite of the canyons. Parts of Leprechaun are suitable for beginners, provided that they stop when things get too challenging. The rest of the canyon routes are very tricky. Leprechaun is also the longest canyon, so expect to spend upwards of eight hours if you plan to complete the route. In order to navigate the full-length of the canyon, you will need to scramble through extremely tight passages, often full of standing water. Technical gear is again required (are you sensing a theme?) to make it through. But the way the light plays on the canyon walls makes it all worth it. Also, did we mention that there are fossilized Allosaurus footprints in there? Part of the canyon is called the Dinosaur Trackway. Pretty amazing stuff.
There is actually a fourth canyon nearby, Sandthrax Canyon. The name might suggest this, but it is extremely hazardous. We strongly advise you not to enter. We know that just makes it seem more exciting, but Sandthrax is very dark and extremely difficult to navigate. You will, in all likelihood, get stuck.
Location and Other Details
The Irish Canyons can be found just off of Highway 95, near where it meets SR 276. There is a very primitive camping area called the Sandthrax Campsite where you can set up basecamp for your explorations. See it here on Google Maps. Please remember that although these canyons are beautiful and great fun to explore, there is a possibility of danger. Know what you are doing, let other people know where you are, and don’t enter if there is any chance of a flash flood. And stay out of Sandthrax!