Overview: A popular backcountry route that offers one of the finest slickrock rambles on the Colorado Plateau. This fine out-and-back day hike follows part of the Boulder Mail Trail into Death Hollow, the most dramatic of all the upper Escalante Canyons.
Start: Boulder Mail Trail Trailhead
Distance: 10.8 miles, round-trip
Approximate hiking time: 8 hours, round-trip
Difficulty: Moderately strenuous
Trail surface: Boot-worn trails and cairned route over slickrock
Trailhead access: 2WD
Best seasons: Apr through early June; Sept through Oct
Canine compatibility: Leashed dogs permitted
Water availability: Perennial flows in Sand Creek, 2.4 miles, and Death Hollow, 5.4 miles
Hazards: Exposure to steep drop-offs and steep slickrock friction pitches while descending into Death Hollow; flash-flood danger in Sand Creek and Death Hollow; abundant poison ivy in Death Hollow
Permits: Required for overnight trips; obtain at trailhead register
Topo maps: Boulder Town, Calf Creek, and Escalante USGS quads; Trails Illustrated Canyons of the Escalante
Finding the trailhead: Follow UT 12 to the prominently signed east end of Hell’s Backbone Road at milepost 84, 3.2 miles southwest of the UT 12/Burr Trail Road junction in Boulder, or 22.7 miles northeast of Escalante. Drive northwest on Hells Backbone Road for 0.1 mile, then turn left onto a narrow, rocky dirt road (McGath Point Road) at an unsigned, easy-to-miss junction.
The road is quite rocky in places: Drive your low-clearance vehicle carefully. After 0.5 mile, the road crosses the Boulder Airstrip, then gradually rises over its rocky bed for another 0.2 mile to the signed trailhead parking area. The many undeveloped camping areas along the dirt road beyond the trailhead have been closed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to protect the resources along the boundaries of a wilderness study area (WSA); respect those closures and avoid the sites.
The Boulder Mail Trail, like several other trails in the Escalante region, has a colorful history. Established in 1902, the trail was a mail route traversed by packhorses, linking isolated Boulder Town with Escalante. By 1910, a patchwork telephone line, strung from tree to tree, provided Boulder with communication to the outside world, namely a switchboard in Escalante. When UT 12 was completed in 1940, the Boulder Mail Trail fell into disuse.
Alongside the perennial stream coursing between the sheer Navajo cliffs of Death Hollow, you will find several fine campsites to use as a base for explorations of that intriguing gorge. Several waterfalls, deep pools, and interesting alcoves await discovery in Death Hollow, but beware the abundant poison ivy there.
As you drop below Slickrock Saddle Bench at 5 miles, an unforgettable view unfolds, reaching into the rugged gorge of Death Hollow, bordered by soaring cliffs and domes of white Navajo slickrock. This is one of the more dramatic landscapes in Utah’s canyon country, a land noted for its unparalleled scenery.