Start: Escalante River Trailhead parking area
Distance: 3.2 miles, round-trip
Approximate hiking time: 2 hours, round-trip
Difficulty: Moderately easy
Trail surface: Well-defined boot-worn trails, with numerous river fords necessary
Trailhead access: 2WD (paved access)
Best seasons: Mid-Apr through early June; Sept through Oct
Canine compatibility: Leashed dogs permitted
Water availability: Escalante River, but since silty river water must be settled and treated before drinking, bring your own
Hazards: Fording the Escalante River can be hazardous during high-water flows.
Topo maps: Calf Creek USGS quad; Trails Illustrated Canyons of the Escalante
Finding the trailhead: The prominently signed Escalante River Trailhead is located west of UT 12 immediately north of the Escalante River bridge, 14.6 miles south of the UT 12/Burr Trail Road junction in Boulder, and 13.3 miles east of Escalante.
The hike traverses the most open part of the river canyon, where broad benches flank the river and bold cliffs and domes define the canyon. Four refreshing fords of the shin-deep river are the only barriers to travel along the well-worn sandy trail. During normal water flows, the fords are shallow and trouble free. An interesting skyline arch, 0.5 mile and two fords above the natural bridge, offers incentive to extend the hike.
From the Escalante River Trailhead off UT 12, find the trail next to the trailhead register and information signboard and follow the dusty path for several yards down to a signed junction. Turn right where the sign says Escalante 15 miles. Follow the trail along the fence, skirting private property, pass through a hiker’s maze, then reach the banks of the river. Rangers sometimes place poles here to aid crossing at the swift, rocky ford. If poles are absent, ford the shin-deep waters just upstream from the trail. A walking staff proves quite useful not only to maintain balance while fording the river, but also for hiking the sandy trail ahead.
A well-defined trail greets you on the south bank of the river, and you follow the sandy tread upcanyon. This beautiful unconfined canyon is embraced by terraces alternately studded with head-high sagebrush and rabbitbrush and open grasslands rich with the colorful desert blooms of Eastwood paintbrush, scarlet gilia, tansy-aster, penstemon, and globemallow. A ribbon of native cottonwoods and willows hug the riverbanks, joined by exotic tamarisk and Russian olive trees. Navajo Sandstone cliffs, dimpled with alcoves, rise to a parade of slickrock domes capping the skyline.