The geology of the area can be summed up in one word: slickrock. Particularly in the upper Escalante Canyons, just below Boulder Mountain, the slickrock gorges emerge so suddenly and with such profound dimensions, that it is a scene of visual inspiration rivaled in few places on the Colorado Plateau.
Typical of the canyon country of southern Utah, there are few established trails in the Escalante Canyons. Most hikes follow the corridors of washes or cross open expanses of slickrock. The exception is the trail to Lower Calf Creek Falls, one of the few constructed and maintained trails in the Glen Canyon region.
There are few easy hikes in the Escalante region, but the ones included here are some of the best, providing some of the finest backcountry hiking in southern Utah. Active waterfalls, arches, narrow canyons, riparian oases, and sculpted slickrock are among the attractions of the Escalante’s backcountry.
The best times to hike here are in the spring, from mid-March through May, and again during autumn, from September through October. Cooler weather brought on by monsoon activity in summer, and warm, dry weather during winter can also be enjoyed.
As always when hiking in the desert, it’s important to bring enough water—assume there won’t be any place to fill up along the way. And as always, it’s a good idea to stop in at a visitor center and discuss your hiking plans with the folks working there. You are sure to get some good tips and assistance finding a hike that suits your abilities.
1. Escalante Natural Bridge: 3.2 miles. The upper Escalante River canyon is not only one of the most beautiful parts of the 85-mile long canyon, it is also the easiest to reach, with friendly terrain unencumbered by dense brush thickets and boulder fields.
2. Lower Calf Creek Falls: 6.2 miles. A spectacular cliff-bound canyon, a perennial stream featuring beaver ponds and abundant trout, and a memorable veil of whitewater—one of very few active waterfalls in the southern Utah desert, plunging into a cold, deep pool—combine to make this trip a must for any hiker visiting the region.
3. Devils Garden: up to 0.7 mile. The Devils Garden Outstanding Natural Area is a miniature wonderland of Navajo Sandstone hoodoos, domes, narrow passages, and small arches, hidden from the view of drivers along Hole-in-the-Rock Road.
4. Forty Mile Ridge to Sunset Arch: 3 miles. Sunset Arch is a delicate, graceful span on the south slopes of Fortymile Ridge. Vistas along the way to the arch are far-ranging, and the walking is easy, with no obstacles, although it is not on an established trail.
5. Willow Gulch Trailhead to Broken Bow Arch: 4 miles. Willow Gulch offers one of the best short day hikes, also suitable as an overnight trip, in the lower Escalante Canyons. Interesting narrow passages, a ribbon of riparian foliage, beaver ponds in the small stream, and large Broken Bow Arch are major attractions.