The allure of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is phenomenal. Nearly 3,000 square miles of sun-drenched Utah backcountry spread out well beyond the visible horizon from the All-American Highway, Scenic Byway 12, or historic Highway 89. That's more than 1.8 million acres of diverse outdoor adventure, star-filled night skies, and untold scientific possibility. Even more astonishing is the setting for this grand monument. Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks are the bookends of Grand Staircase-Escalante, while Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Lake Powell cradle it to the south and east, and vast stretches of Dixie National Forest, the largest national forest in Utah, provide a woody cap of juniper, pinyon and spruce to its west.
Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument occupies a transitional "step" zone between Bryce Canyon and the high Paunsaugunt Plateau through a sequence of brightly colored cliffs, Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon. The spectacular monument itself is so vast it is divided into three regions: Canyons of the Escalante, Grand Staircase, and the Kaiparowits Plateau. Each region is rich in geologic wonder to fill your line of sight during hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding or however you wish to fulfill your desert wanderlust.
Some Grand Staircase-Escalante experiences lie just off the road, including family-friendly hikes like the waterfall oasis of the Calf Creek Recreation Area below the stunning Hogsback stretch of Highway 12 or a visit to the Big Water Visitor Center. In the Canyons of the Escalante, Calf Creek is a popular 6-mile hike, round-trip, with sandy sections and lots of sun. Start early and carry lots of water then cool off in the misting waters of the lower falls. A less traveled trail to the Upper Falls is more strenuous thanks to some steep scrambling, but skilled hikers will revel in the refreshing payoff.
The Big Water Visitor Center has a geology and paleontology theme, tapping Grand Staircase-Escalante's growing reputation as the Science Monument. Recent fossil digs have unearthed exciting new species and knowledge from the age of dinosaurs, the latest of which are also on display at the Natural History Museum of Utah in Salt Lake City, and featured in National Geographic. All told, geologists, paleontologists, archeologists, historians and biologists flock to the monument for fascinating research. Amateur scientists too will find plenty to discover. On the Highway 12 side, find visitor centers in Escalante and Cannonville. There is also a center in Kanab.
To find solitude and adventure in Grand Staircase-Escalante, hundreds of miles of dirt roads cross the monument. Kane and Garfield counties work with the Bureau of Land Management to maintain the roads, but rugged conditions and flash floods wreak havoc on certain stretches, occasionally making roads difficult or impossible to pass. Desert solace and solitude virtually unparalleled in America reward your patience.
Start with the 47-mile Cottonwood Canyon Road in the Grand Staircase section, either north from U.S. 89, west of Big Water, or south from Scenic Byway 12 and Kodachrome Basin State Park. Explore strangely eroded rock formations including the popular Grosvenor Arch, a soaring pastel buttress located about ten miles east of the Kodachrome Basin turn-off. In Cottonwood Canyon, the sandstone colors are particularly striking. The Paria River and Cockscomb formation are also prominent features of this journey.
The unpaved Hole in the Rock Road takes you to trailheads for short hikes to Spooky or Peak-a-boo gulch and the gnarled Sunset Arch, or strenuous backcountry hikes to wild places like Coyote Gulch. Explorers will find additional adventures via high-clearance 4WD vehicle or GPS, using strong backcountry knowledge or a guide. Permits are required for overnight car camping or backpacking.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is vast and rugged, yet easily accessible. Whether sticking to panoramas from Scenic Byway 12 or adjacent hikes, or gearing up for the backcountry, the untouched plateaus, canyons and formations of the monument are an important part of the wild American West.
When to Visit
Grand Staircase-Escalante shares climate characteristics with its neighboring national parks, though the size of the monument creates some variability based on elevation. Frequently, the high-desert plateau of Southern Utah reaches 100 F in the peak of summer with as much as 30 degrees difference between daytime and nighttime highs. In winter, daytime highs are in the 40s and it will drop below freezing at night. Spring and fall are ideal times to visit, but an early start, water and electrolytes will always make for a safer, more enjoyable adventure on the monument.
Eight miles south of Big Water, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument’s panoramic landscapes fill the windows from one of Utah’s most luxurious resorts: Amangiri. The resort sits on 600 acres in Southern Utah, which means plenty of backyard hiking and exploration or a short road trip to Lake Powell. In addition to outfitting you for adventure, the resort offers a 25,000 square-foot spa with a Navajo-influenced spa menu for holistic healing.
Boulder, Utah, is a quiet mountain town with a welcoming population that is dedicated to community and local agriculture. Visit the Boulder Farmers Market at the Burr Trail Outpost in the summer and the Zagat-rated cuisine of Hells Backbone Grill. Boulder's Anasazi State Park Museum marks the site of an Anasazi village that predates AD 1200. The rugged Burr Trail sets out from Boulder, ranging for several miles into the public lands of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument before connecting with the Notom Road Scenic Backway in the Waterpocket Fold backcountry of Capitol Reef National Park.
Lake Powell and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Sun-drenched boating and an expansive lake ringed with towering cliffs and a labyrinth of side canyons, visiting Glen Canyon usually involves water skiing, jet skiing or relaxing in a houseboat on Lake Powell, soaking in the otherworldly scenery.
Water and wind over millions of years of freezes and thaws have carved into the plateau endless fields of the park's distinctive red rock pillars, called hoodoos, into the park’s series of natural amphitheaters. Seek out the canyon floor on foot or stick to the overlooks by car. Bryce Canyon invites discovery.
The town is like a Hollywood portrayal of the classic American West -- towering Navajo sandstone cliffs and vistas of sagebrush. This scenery has lured filmmakers to Kanab for nearly 80 years. Kanab is a prime basecamp or stop along major driving routes heading off in four directions accessing Bryce Canyon, Zion and Grand Canyon national parks, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, Coral Pink Sand Dunes and other Utah state parks, and a number of historic sites. The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is one of the nation’s largest animal rescue organizations.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument | Visit Utah
669 South Highway 89A
Kanab, Utah 84741