Upper Calf Creek Falls

Lower Calf Creek Falls   |  Michael Kunde
  • Weather: Slight Chance Rain Showers, 69F

Overview: Few hikes in the Escalante region offer the rewards of this fine short trip with such a minimal investment of time and effort — but be cautious as this trail is steep and requires good stamina and some rock scrambling. Vast expanses of Navajo Sandstone slickrock, far-ranging vistas, plus an 87-foot-high waterfall, pools of cool water, and shady riparian oases await hikers following this well-worn trail.

This is the less traveled sister hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls — a beautiful, adventurous and short hike with some steep terrain. A swath has been cleared through the rocky veneer at the start of this trail, and cairns show the way down the swath via a moderately steep slickrock friction pitch. The route is somewhat easier than it first appears, and hikers should be confident that the slickrock affords good purchase — but proceed with caution.

Vistas from the start are dramatic and far-reaching, stretching to the Pink Cliffs of the Table Cliff Plateau on the western horizon, and far southwest to the Straight Cliffs bounding the Kaiparowits Plateau. Below you the drainage of Calf Creek unfolds, exposing miles of sweeping, cross-bedded white Navajo slickrock.

Once you reach a wide, well-worn sandy path, 300 feet below the rim, you begin a gradual descent over the sandy, gently sloping bench. Seasonal wildflowers splash their colors across the trailside slopes.

Eventually the trail splits: The lower trail to the left descends over slickrock to the foot of the falls, and the upper trail to the right continues upcanyon to the head of the falls, leading to a small pool at the top of the falls, where Calf Creek’s banks are fringed with a ribbon of willow, water birch, and silver buffaloberry.

If you take the lower trail, beware of the abundant poison ivy, which grows 3 to 4 feet tall and is recognizable by its woody stem and large shiny green leaves that grow in sets of three. Here the music of the falls is enjoyed to its best advantage, and the large pool below is an added bonus on a hot day. After a rest, ascend the slickrock trail to the trailhead via the same route.

Start: Upper Calf Creek Falls Trailhead

Distance: 2 miles, round-trip

Approximate hiking time: 1 to 1.5 hours, round-trip

Difficulty: Moderate, Class 2 friction pitches just below the rim

Trail surface: Cairned slickrock route and boot-worn trails

Trailhead access: 2WD

Best seasons: Apr through early June; Sept through Oct

Canine compatibility: Leashed dogs permitted (not recommended due to steep terrain near the falls)

Water availability: Available at Calf Creek; treat before drinking or bring your own

Hazards: Flash-flood danger in Calf Creek canyon

Permits: Not required for day hikes

Topo maps: Calf Creek USGS quad; Trails Illustrated Canyons of the Escalante

Finding the trailhead: This unmarked spur road is located approximately 20.5 miles north of Escalante on UT 12 and approximately 7.4 miles southwest of Boulder. The dirt road to the trailhead can be found on the north (left) side of the road between mile markers 80 and 81. The very rough and rocky road leads 0.1 mile to the trailhead parking area on the rim of Calf Creek canyon. There are pullouts in which to park just off the highway if you are driving a low-clearance vehicle.

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