Heading deep into a narrow canyon gets you inside nature in a whole new way. You'll plunge into secluded chasms that twist in a maze of twinkling grottos and hanging gardens, sometimes with only a sliver of sky above.
Big Tujunga Narrows, CA
Discover L.A.'s hidden canyons
Anyone who thinks Los Angeles is nothing but smog-choked sprawl should check out the gorges of the San Gabriel Mountains and hike the Big Tujunga Narrows to idyllic coves and scoured-bedrock canyons. From the parking area half a mile south of the Big Tujunga Narrows Bridge, cross the highway and descend a steep trail to the canyon bottom. About an hour downstream, you'll reach a 20-foot waterfall plunging into a pool. Check the depth, then jump or slide in. If it's too shallow, take the moderate shelf route leading around the cleft to the right. This bypass scramble will eventually lead back upstream into the gorge, where you'll swim between polished vertical walls. The last section allows for drying time as you exit at the concrete bridge and hike 2 miles along the Fall Creek fire road to your car.
Grab a deep-dish pie with extra cheese and mushrooms at Leo's in Tujunga. Locals say it's a slice of heaven. (818) 352-2222
From La Cañada, take CA 2 N to the Angeles Forest Hwy. The trailhead is half a mile before the highway crosses the bridge.
Buckskin Gulch, UT
Hike the world's longest slot
From above, Buckskin is a narrow, jagged black fissure snaking across southern Utah's sunbaked dunes and slickrock, almost like a map's contour line. But trek inside it, and you'll see sculpted sandstone walls weaving through a dizzying dark hallway of rock, water, and mud. An out-and-back into the upper canyon is a perfect introduction to slot canyoneering—and to one of the sport's classics—without getting you in over your head. From the Wire Pass trailhead, follow a sandy wash for half an hour until sepia-toned sandstone walls rise on either side. At 3.5 miles, you'll reach a petroglyph panel of bighorn sheep and the beginning of the Narrows, where the slot pinches to less than 20 feet wide for the next 12 miles. Pick a turnaround time and stick to it, because the labyrinthine path will tempt you to linger.
Chill with a tall iced tea and a Southwestern Cobb salad at the Dam Bar & Grille on Navajo Drive in Page, AZ. (928) 645-2161
From Page, take US 89 N for 34 miles to House Rock Valley Road, between mileposts 25 and 26.
Wet Beaver Creek, AZ
Outsmart the Mogollon Rim crowds
Lower Wet Beaver Creek can look like northern Arizona's version of the Jersey shore—sun, water, and people. But just upstream, the scene changes entirely. Deep, clear, and partier-free pools ensconced in rippled redrock are shaded by arching sycamores and 1,000-foot-sandstone walls. The canyon can be done as a point-to-point hike in one ambitious day if you've arranged a shuttle car. Start at Waldroup Tank, where a steep descent down Waldroup Canyon leads to Wet Beaver's ironically dry creekbed. Springs surface within a mile, and the next 9 miles is a blur of bushwhacking, boulder-hopping, and swimming down the gut of this Mogollon Rim canyon. When you hear cannonball splashes and thumping boomboxes ahead, you'll know you've reached Bell Crossing, the popular swimming hole. Stop for a jackknife, then hike a sandy, flat 4 miles out to the Bell trailhead.
Head 15 miles up AZ 179 to Sedona's Oak Creek Brewing Company. Its nut brown is an area favorite.
From I-17 exit 298, go east to the Bell trailhead. The upper end of the canyon is exit 306, then FR 229 and 620.