Popular Day Hikes in the Escalante Canyons

The amount of day hikes that are available in the Escalante Canyons is essentially infinite in that the terrain is completely open for exploration by the day hiker.  The primary challenges are knowing how to navigate the landscape and knowing how to understand the weather patterns.  For the experienced navigator, the adventures are endless.  It is a common thought that to explore just the Escalante Canyons well would take more than a lifetime. After 20 years hiking predominately these canyons, I still have numerous places within these canyons and surrounding desert that I want to explore.

On this page you will find information about some of the more common hikes in the Escalante Canyons.  I indicate a day hike level and a navigation level to help you gauge if the hike is appropriate for you.  If you are not sure, please feel free to contact me, see below.

Regardless of the difficulty level of a hike, it is advisable to always pay attention to one’s footing, brush, trees and other plants as well as wildlife when hiking any trail or route.

Please read about Desert Hiking Safety

                                                                                              

Lower Calf Creek Falls

                                                                                              

Lower Calf Creek Falls
Hiking to Calf Creek Falls

This wonderful hike is one of the few maintained trails in the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument.  The six mile round trip follows a rich riparian spring fed stream and leads you straight to the plunge pool of a dramatic waterfall.  This is a “must do” on the checklist of family hikes in the area.  The BLM provides an interpretive brochure that gives a thumbnail sketch of this amazing ecosystem.

Hiking Level – Moderately strenuous

6 miles, out and back hike. The terrain is mild with a few hills to climb and descend.   This hike is often completed in four hours or less.

Navigation Skill Level – Minimal

The trail is quite obvious and straight forward, though occasional social trails may tend to create confusion. The trail is hiked frequently enough that there is a high probability of having other hikers on the trail at the same time.

Best Times

Spring and fall are excellent times for this hike. The temperatures in mid summer are higher so an early start is recommended.  The trail does not cross any creeks yet a hikers often cool off at the plunge pool at the falls.

Popularity

Due to the accessibility and relative ease of this hike it has become quite popular. The parking area is small relative to the amount of visitation the trail receives. Overflow parking frequently spills out onto the pullouts along Highway 12.

Doing a Self-guided Hike? Please read about Desert Hiking Safety.

Prefer to have a guide? Please contact us to reserve a guided tour.

                                                                                              

Upper Calf Creek Falls

                                                                                              

This is a wonderful short hike that can be enjoyed with just a few hours of time. The slickrock scenery is expansive. During the rainy season the trailhead is a wonderful location to watch the waterfalls on the slick rock that is located on the opposite side of the valley.

Hiking Level – Moderately strenuous

2.5 miles, out and back hike. The terrain is half on a slickrock slope and the other half along a fairly level sandy trail. I rate this as moderately strenuous due to the slick rock slope which is the most difficult part of the hike and which presents a bit of a challenge with footing going downhill and a bit of exertion when hiking uphill at the end.   This hike is often completed in two hours or less.

Navigation Skill Level – Minimal

The trail is quite obvious and straight forward, though occasional social trails may tend to create confusion. The trail is hiked frequently enough that there is a high probability of having other hikers on the trail at the same time.

Best Times

Spring and fall are excellent times for this hike. The temperatures in mid summer are higher so an early start is recommended.  The trail ends at some pools at the top of the falls in which it is possible to cool off if the temperatures are too warm.

Popularity

Due to the accessibility and relative ease of this hike it has become quite popular. The parking area is small relative to the amount of visitation the trail receives. Overflow parking frequently spills out along the access road and on rare occasions even extends out to Highway 12.

Doing a Self-guided Hike? Please read about Desert Hiking Safety.

Prefer to have a guide? Please contact us to reserve a guided tour.

                                                                                              

Escalante River

Natural Arch and Bridge

                                                                                              

Escalante Natural Arch

Hikers frequently stop short of this natural arch marvel.  And, when you know what to look for you will also find pre-historic cultural wonders.  This short hike is a “must do” on the list of cultural hikes for families, that has archeological sites (including a granary and cliff structures), the Escalante Natural Bridge, the Escalante Natural Arch and a spectacular hidden hanging garden.

Hiking Level – Moderately strenuous.

The terrain is mild with at least six river crossings.  

Navigation Skill Level – Minimal

The trail is quite obvious and straight forward, though occasional social trails may tend to create confusion. The trail is hiked frequently enough that there is a high probability of having other hikers on the trail at the same time.

Best Time to Visit 

Spring and fall are excellent times for this hike.  The temperatures in mid summer are higher so an early start is recommended, however a plunge in the river is always refreshing when the temperatures are high. Flash flood danger is highest in late Summer. Snow melt runoff tends to swell the Escalante River in the late spring and early summer. Check with the Interagency Ranger Station in Escalante regarding flow levels and flood risks.

Popularity

The Escalante River is a fairly popular destination, and the hike to the Natural Bridge and the Escalante Natural Arch are the most visited sites along the river. The parking area is rather small and overflow parking extends to a pull out and other available areas along Highway 12.

Doing a Self-guided Hike? Please read about Desert Hiking Safety.

Prefer to have a guide? Please contact us to reserve a guided tour.

                                                                                              

Zebra and Tunnel

Slot Canyons

                                                                                              

The Zebra slot is a popular photography hike.  This is a “must do” on the list of sites to photograph.  The unique lighting creates exciting challenges for seasoned photographers.  Many prefer to carry a tripod to this location.  And do not rush the photo session, since the images change as the sun passes and plays with the light, shadows and colors.   After enjoying the beautiful Zebra Slot, there is the option to cross over to another canyon to appreciate the very unique Tunnel Slot.  The crossing takes us over swirling slickrock, which holds many interesting jewels of natural history.

Hiking Level – Strenuous

The hike to the slots is not very shaded and is down hill; the return takes the same path and naturally is uphill.  Zebra slot is often dry but has been known to have a chest high pool of water on occasions (though once I had to swim).  The slot becomes quite narrow and has some tricky scrambling or maneuvering in the last 100 yards.  Tunnel Slot does not have any scrambling.  Tunnel Slot frequently has an ankle to knee high pool of water.  

Navigation Level – Intermediate

The Zebra Slot Canyon hike is an out and back hike with an extension if you plan to hike to the Tunnel Slot. The first part of the hike is pretty straight forward. The hike has become quite popular, thus making the first part of the trail extremely obvious. The second part of the hike goes through drainages that are typically dry, though rains will easily obscure any trail or tracks that were made by previous hikers. It is this section of the hike that will require some form of navigation and awareness to the landscape.

Best Time to Hike

Spring and fall are excellent times for this hike.  The temperatures in mid summer are higher so an early start and three liters of water are recommended.

It is absolutely necessary whenever hiking in slot canyons to check the daily weather and know how to read the weather when you are on your hike.  Be extremely cautious of afternoon thunderstorms, particularly in July and August.   Flash flood risk in the Tunnel Slot Canyon is minimal since it is a very short canyon with easy evacuation options. The flash flood risk in Zebra is greater due to the difficulty of moving quickly within the slot canyon to evacuate if necessary.

Popularity

This hike has had an explosion of popularity in the last few years. This creates challenges in the Zebra Slot canyon since it is an in and out section of the hike and it is quite narrow, which makes it impossible to pass folks that are traveling in the opposite direction (yep, you may have to back up a ways).

Doing a Self-guided Hike? Please read about Desert Hiking Safety.

Prefer to have a guide? Please contact us to reserve a guided tour.

                                                                                              

Peek-a-boo and Spooky Slot Canyons

                                                                                              

Peek-a-boo and Spooky are quite fun though they do require a bit of agility. These slots feel very much like a jungle gym on the playground and both young and not so young have a great time exploring these slots.

Hiking Level – Moderate

The Peek-a-boo and Spooky hike is a very fun hike, though it is useful to be aware of the physical challenges. The hike to the slot canyons is down hill and sections are a bit steep, sections are slightly exposed, and sections are loose sand and rock. Of course the hike back to the parking area is the opposite and might be the most strenuous part of the hike. Once in the slot canyons, you will have a few up climbs and down climbs of 15-20 feet, you will also have several five to six foot ledges to scramble up. Spooky will present you with a very narrow passage way (the Bureau of Land Management recommends that you be able to fit through and 11 inch space, BELIEVE THEM) and when it is not quite so narrow there will be some very tight “S” turns in the slot canyon. Most folks that have never hiked a slot canyon are quite amazed at the upper body workout that one receives on the hike.

Navigation Level – Basic

Though much of the navigation on this hike is straight forward, it can be a bit tricky to navigate cross-country between Peek-a-boo and Spooky. The trail is marked with cairns though occasionally one must look far in the distance to locate the next cairn. The other tricky part of navigation is the return to the parking area after having gone through the slots. The primary canyon may cause a bit of confusion. Recently trail signage has been installed to help mediate this challenge, however awareness of the landscape is critical when hiking these slot canyons.

Best Time to Visit

Spring and fall are excellent times for this hike.  The temperatures in mid summer are higher so an early start and three liters of water are recommended.

It is absolutely necessary whenever hiking in slot canyons to check the daily weather and know how to read the weather when you are on your hike.  Be extremely cautious of afternoon thunderstorms, particularly in July and August.   Flash flood risk can be pretty high in these slot canyons due to the length of the slot canyons and the difficulty of moving through the canyons quickly if an evacuation of the canyon becomes necessary.

Popularity

Peek-a-boo and Spooky Slot Canyons have become wildly popular over the last five years. So much so that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) relocated the parking area, installed a pit toilet and rerouted the trail. The BLM has been encouraging visitors to take a clockwise route in order to avoid trying to pass other hikers in some of the very narrow sections.

Doing a Self-guided Hike? Please read about Desert Hiking Safety.

Prefer to have a guide? Please contact us to reserve a guided tour.

                                                                                              

Routes Requiring

Advanced Navigation Skills

                                                                                              

The hikes in this area are truly limitless.  The hikes, other than those indicated above, require far more navigational skills and may require more physical skills. I am always excited to help people explore the area, whether by helping you understand the logistics of a hike you plan to explore on your own or by guiding you on a hike that you have determined may be better done with an experienced guide.

If you are a hiker that is capable of the more intense hikes and would like additional information, please feel free to contact me.

Doing a Self-guided Hike? Please read about Desert Hiking Safety.

Prefer to have a guide? Please contact us to reserve a guided tour.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s