Grand Staircase Escalante
Things to Do
A vast expanse of rugged labyrinthian canyons and vermilion cliffs, America's newest national monument is a place so forbidding that only the hardiest hikers will be able to enjoy its many splendors. This is not the park for RV vacationers or anyone looking for a casual picnic. There are a few easily accesible places for a day tour and picnic in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. They include:
- Devils Garden Natural Area
12 miles down Hole in the Rock Road from Utah 12. Unusual rock formations, day use area.
- The Paria Movie Set
Originally constructed in the 1960s, the "frontier town" played host to movie legends like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Gregory Peck. The set is located on a dirt road, 5 miles northeast of Highway 89, between Kanab and Big Water City. This road is impassable when wet.
- Grosvenor Arch
Can be accessed on a dirt road approximately 9 miles southeast of Kodachrome Basin State Park, off Highway 12. Grosvenor Arch is not one, but a cluster of delicate white and gold arches towering high above the ground.
- The Coxcombs
A series of sandstone cliffs in the northeast portion of the Monument 3 miles south of Grosvenor Arch.
The rugged nature of the of the Escalante Basin is a major obstacle to most vehicles. There is only one paved road in the northern portion of the Monument. Utah Highway 12 is the only road that crosses the Escalante River. It considered one of the most scenic drives in America, winding through the buff-colored, petrified dunes and orange sandstone canyons cut by the Escalante River and its tributaries draining into the Colorado River, which serves as the Monument's eastern border.
U.S. Route 89 traverses the southern portion of the Monument between Kanab, Utah at the western edge and Page, Arizona, southern, passing through Church Wells and Bigwater, Utah. This route offers spectacular vistas of the Vermilion Cliffs layer of the Grand Staircase geologic features.
Major Monument Roads
There are several good fair-weather dirt and gravel roads in the area that can be driven with any good-clearance 2-wheel-drive vehicle. All the roads in the area offer many rugged recreational opportunities and have great scenery.
- Pahreah Townsite Road: This five-mile long graded/dirt surface road is passable in dry weather only and extremely slippery when wet. It is a short excursion to the Paria River Valley, set among a technicolor badlands landscape. It provides access to the Pahreah townsite and Paria movie set location.
- Johnson Canyon/Skutumpah Road: Running for 46 miles between Johnson Canyon and Kodachrome Basin, this paved and graded/dirt surface road traverses some remarkable territory cut by streams and canyons. The upper 22 mile section can become impassable when wet. The route provides access to Bull Valley Gorge and some steps and terraces of the Grand Staircase.
- Cottonwood Canyon Road: Much of this graded dirt and gravel road is passable in dry weather only. The 46-mile long route follows The Cockscomb, a major flexure in the earth’s crust that divides the Grand Staircase and Kaiparowits Plateau regions. The route provides access to Round Valley, The Cockscomb, Cottonwood Narrows, Grosvenor Arch, and Kodachrome Basin State Park.
- Smoky Mountain Road: Several sections of this 78-mile graded dirt and gravel road require a high clearance vehicle. Drivers must navigate with care, particularly at intersections, to stay on the road. It traverses part of the remote Kaiparowits Plateau. Visitors should come prepared, have good maps and vehicles in good working condition, and carry plenty of water and emergency supplies. The route provides access to Kaiparowits Plateau backcountry and vistas of Lake Powell.
- Hole-in-the-Rock Road: Hole-in-the-Rock Road is a graded dirt and gravel Scenic Backway which dead ends after 57 miles at a Lake Powell overlook in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Passenger cars with good clearance are normally adequate but the last six miles are rough and require high clearance 4WD. The road follows the historic route taken by Mormon settlers in 1879-80 on their journey across the Colorado River. It provides access to Devil's Garden, Escalante Canyon trailheads, Dance Hall Rock, and vistas of Lake Powell from Hole-in-the-Rock overlook.
- Burr Trail: Burr Trail turns south from Boulder, Utah and is hard-surfaced for 31 miles between Boulder and Capitol Reef National Park. The rest is dirt and gravel surface with some rocky and sandy stretches. High-clearance vehicles recommended if you explore off the Burr trail. Along the route are slickrock canyons and expansive vistas. The road provides access to Deer Creek, The Gulch, Long Canyon, Wolverine Petrified Wood Area, and the Circle Cliffs Region.
Hiking & Backpacking
There are very few developed or maintained hiking trails along the Escalante River and its side canyons; however, a number of intermittent pathways have become established in some areas from continued use over the years. Most hikes involve personal route selection, which generally follows along the course of the main river canyon or side canyon and usually includes wading in the streambed, walking along pathways across the river benches, and making frequent water crossings. Some side canyons may require deep wading, boulder hopping, and an occasional swim. Other side canyons are dry, and carrying additional water may be a necessity.
Failure to pack in water is one of the biggest hazards for hikers. And when it does rain, dirt roads are quickly transformed into ribbons of slick, grease-like muck. Entire sections routinely are washed out and flash floods can be a danger. This area should not be explored without detailed USGS maps, available at the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center.
Hikers can wend their way on foot through the maze of the Escalante Canyons -- some of them 100 feet deep and just 10 inches wide -- that can open into smooth-walled amphitheaters. Some of the most challenging and well-known canyon hikes in the state are in the Escalante Canyons such as Death Hollow, the Gulch, Harris Wash, Egypt and Twentymile Wash are within the new monument. These areas are full of arches, huge expanses of sandstone slopes and benches, narrow slot canyons and cottonwood-lined washes.
There are miles of these maze-like, winding, and intersecting canyons which lead to the Escalante River. The canyons take on many different characters--from narrow and deep slot canyons that slice through sandstone like large cracks, to narrow drainages that follow the serpentine erosion trail of years of past floods, to wide open canyons with sandy bottoms and cottonwood trees. Most hiking is along stream beds, many dry many with year-round pools of water (pot holes), which can be shallow or deep enough to require a swim to get across. Other canyons are wide with water that flows more regularly.
- Lower Calf Creek Falls
Between the towns of Escalante and Boulder on Highway 12. Visitors hike along a 5.5mile (round trip) developed interpretive trail to reach the shady pool at the base of the 126-foot falls. The hike is considered moderately difficult and serves as a good introduction to the Escalante Canyons.
Most of the Escalante River is slow and shallow, with depths ranging from ankle- to knee-deep. Some deeper water occurs at the lower end, especially in the narrows above Coyote Gulch. Water depth may be considerably higher during spring runoff or after heavy rainstorms. Do not attempt to make water crossings during severe flooding. The river must be crossed many times, so appropriate footwear is recommended.
Some of the side canyons (Death Hollow, Sand Creek, Boulder Creek, and The Gulch) have sections of narrows that may require deep wading or swimming. Normally, there is not enough water to float the Escalante River. However, depending on spring runoff, it may be possible for a short period of time. Spring runoff can occur any time from April to late May.
There are several trailheads which are used for access into the Escalante River and its side canyons. Some of these trailheads have a visitor register at the site.
- Escalante River from the Town of Escalante
- The Escalante River from the Highway 12 Escalante River bridge, 14 miles east of Escalante
- Calf Creek Campground
- Deep Creek at Deer Creek Recreation site along the Burr Trail Road
- The Gulch, at the Burr Trail Road crossing
- Wolverine Canyon Petrified Wood area
- Silver Falls Canyon
- Moody Canyon
- Trailheads along Hole-in-the-Rock Road (Peek-a-boo Gulch - Spooky Gulch)
- Harris Wash at Corral Spring
- Twenty-Five-Mile Wash at Egypt Bench road crossing
- Cat Pasture
- Early Weed Bench
- Red Well
- Hurricane Wash
- Fortymile Ridge.
When parking vehicles, be careful not to block any road, corral or cabin access. To prevent thefts and vandalism, do not leave valuables in vehicles.
Hikers can obtain a free backcountry hiking permit at the Interagency Visitor Center. Permits can also be filled out at various trailhead register boxes at the beginning of a hike.
The information from this permit will be used to determine visitor use and will aid in search and rescue efforts in the event of an emergency. Always let someone know your itinerary before hiking the backcountry. It is advisable to hike with at least one other person.
Special Use Permits. Commercial trips and organized groups (scout troops, schools, clubs, etc.) must obtain a special use permit prior to the proposed trip or event in this area. Contact the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center for further permit information.
Group Size: It is recommended that group sizes be limited to 12 individuals when hiking in the Monument. There is a group size limit of 12 when hiking within the Glen Canyon NRA.
Things you need to know
Caution Recreationists and Pet Owners - There have been several incidents involving traps in the Monument. Traps are not readily visible. Watch your step and supervise children and pets. Trapping is permitted in the Monument and is regulated by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Please report incidents to any Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center. For more information, call
(435) 644-4680 or (435) 826-5499.
Creepy crawlies and other hazards - Be alert for scorpions, rattlesnakes, cactus, and poison ivy. Gnats and deerflies can be troublesome in May and June.
Flash Floods - When riding or hiking in canyons be aware of flash flood dangers. Avoid traveling in narrow canyons if a storm is approaching. Keep in mind that storms can occur far away resulting in flash floods where you are. Make all camps away from the stream bed and on high ground. If you find yourself in a flood situation, climb to the highest possible point. Usually flood conditions will subside in 8 to 12 hours, but if a prolonged storm is in the area, you could be stranded for several days.
Lightning is always a danger during thunderstorms. Avoid high points and do not take refuge under trees.
That Sinking Feeling - If you step in quicksand, don't panic. Few quicksand pockets are more than waist deep, most are not more than knee deep.
Rough Landings - Watch your footing along steep slickrock slopes or ledges. Slickrock may become slippery when wet and is often crumbly when dry. Never enter or climb into an area unless you are certain you can climb out.
Lost In the Monument - Hiking routes in the Grand Staircase-Escalate National Monument are rough and remote. Search and rescue capabilities are very limited. Plan on taking food and water to leave in your vehicle in case of washouts due to flooding. Cellular phones are unreliable in canyon country and should not be counted on for emergency calls.
...And You Can Fry An Egg - Temperatures can exceed 100º in the summer. For hot weather travel, carry adequate water for each person to consume a minimum of 1 gallon per day. Make it a point to drink more water than normal, even if you do not feel thirsty. Purify any water obtained from creeks, seeps and springs. Try hiking, biking, or riding only during the coolest times of the day. Rest often and don't overexert yourself. Wear a lightweight hat and lightweight, light-colored clothing. Watch others in your group for signs of heat exhaustion.
In addition to the National Monument, many recreational routes can be found in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and in the higher, cooler elevations of the Dixie National Forest in Utah and the Kaibab National Forest in Arizona.
Be a Ghost - The best way to protect these areas is to leave as little evidence of your passing as possible. Microbiotic crusts are very fragile and can be destroyed by just walking on them. Hike in washes, on slickrock, or along existing trails. Camp where others have camped, ride on existing roads, and pack out what you pack in. Bury human wastes at least 200 feet from any water source. Keep pets on leash.
Be a good neighbor - There are private lands scattered throughout the Monument. Plan ahead and ask permission from other land owners before crossing or using their lands. Leave gates open or closed as you find them.
Historical and Archeological Artifacts and structures are very fragile. Enjoy them and take photos, but please leave them where you find them. Many local residents and contemporary American Indians maintain strong ties to the traditions of their ancestors, which these remains represent. Touching rock art can damage the image and destroy any chance of obtaining an accurate date.
And Just How Many of You Are There?-It is recommended that group sizes not exceed 12 individuals or 12 riders and 12 pack animals, in the backcountry. The group size limit alongThere is a group size limit of 12 when hiking within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
And Everyone Else -Because the Monument plays host to numerous activities, visitors should be prepared to encounter livestock, motorized vehicles, horseback riders, hikers, and mountain bike riders.
Collection of Objects - Collection of objects such as rocks, petrified wood, fossils, artifacts, and plants is prohibited. The collection of small amounts of fruits, nuts, and berries for personal non-commercial use is allowed. The State of Utah is responsible for the management of fish and wildlife on Federal lands within the Monument, including the regulation of hunting and fishing, and the collection of antlers or horns.
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