March 28, 2014
Known collectively as the Irish Slot Canyons, Shillelagh, Blarney and Leprechaun canyons are accessible about 33 miles south of Hanksville in the North Wash, which runs parallel to Highway 95. Sandthrax is a fourth Irish Slot Canyon that is lesser known and much more difficult to explore. The North Wash starts out as a sandy creek bed near the Henry Mountains and runs south all the way to Lake Powell where it ends as a 1,200-feet deep gorge. The canyon walls are carved from Navajo sandstone.
The entrance to all four canyons is just a short walk from Highway 95, close to where it forks with State Road 276. Shillelagh, Blarney, Leprechaun and Sandthrax vary in nature, beauty and level of difficulty. Hikers of most skill levels should be able to explore the beginnings of the Irish Slot Canyons, but as you go deeper inside, experience and climbing gear will come in handy.
Shillelagh: This is the shallowest of the Irish Slot Canyons, fun to explore and technically challenging. There are several branches of deep, tight, twisting narrows mixed with wider areas that are easier to navigate, and some shallow wading pools one to two feet deep. Shillelagh slot canyon requires full technical gear, and there are several natural anchors. You can hike Shillelagh most of the year except during wet conditions. Shillelagh is the most camera-friendly Irish Slot Canyon, with plenty of natural light.
Blarney Slot Canyon: The 4.5-mile round trip Blarney trail is a technically challenging hiking and canyoneering adventure. Blarney slot canyon forks into two narrows, one of which is extremely challenging and requires technical gear—at some points you will even be scaling the walls. As you negotiate the very tight narrows, take in the dramatic red rock beauty but watch for obstacles like standing pools of water. Be cautious in your navigation and careful before dropping into drainages. Turn around and head back when Blarney slot canyon gets too challenging. Lower Blarney canyon is an easy hike with long stretches of narrows and great photo opps. This slot canyon is rated 3A and known for flash flood danger so always check local weather before heading into Blarney.
Leprechaun: With several different routes, Leprechaun slot canyon is a good trail for both beginner and experienced hikers. The routes range from moderate to difficult, with the physically demanding full-length hike taking 6 to 8 hours and requiring complete hiking and technical climbing gear. Leprechaun is the longest of the Irish Slot Canyons and one of the most difficult to explore depending on the route you choose. But it is absolutely spectacular when the sunlight breaks through and glows like fire on the narrow, twisting red rock walls. This dramatic slot canyon is better suited to pairs of hikers or small groups as you squeeze through incredibly tight and twisted narrows, with waist-deep washes to negotiate. This is not a slot canyon for large-built explorers. There are several Allosaurus footprints in the dinosaur trackway. The most challenging route is the V-shaped Mae West Slot, with spaces so narrow it’s impossible to pass through, and requiring moderate to advanced scrambling and rappelling skills. There are no bolted anchors. This canyon is rated 3A II or III R depending on the route. Be aware of wet conditions and flash floods.
Sandthrax: This slot canyon is short, but very dark and extremely difficult to explore. Parts of this slot are just a few inches wide and this canyon is regularly flooded.
Fall is a great time of year to explore the Irish Slot Canyons, to avoid temperature extremes and minimize risk of flash floods. Photo opps are best when the sun is high overhead during mid-day. In all of the Irish Slot Canyons, make sure that you are descending into the right tributary as they all look similar from above but may not have an escape. Keep in mind that forces of nature carved these intriguing, narrow slot canyons and they are prone to flash flooding. Never enter a slot canyon during rainy weather. And always go prepared with supplies and a climbing buddy.
To reach the Irish Slot Canyons from Bryce Canyon Country, head east on Scenic Byway 12 until Boulder, then head north on Highway 24. Keep traveling east on Highway 24 until you reach Hanksville, then head south for 33 miles on Highway 95 until you reach the junction with SR-276. The trail-head for the Irish Slot Canyons is on the north side of the Highway 95.
The closest lodging to these slot canyon is found in Ticaboo, Utah