Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Hiking - Escalante Canyons

The Escalante Canyons include some of the most remote, wild and beautiful country in the Southwest. The Escalante, last river in the continental U.S. to be named, meanders slowly between towering canyon walls. Its tributaries, also deeply entrenched in sandstone, contain such features as arches, natural bridges and waterfalls. The area is reminiscent of Glen Canyon before Lake Powell and offers some of the finest opportunities for desert hiking on the Colorado Plateau.

The canyons of the Escalante River offer many fascinating trips. The Escalante is rugged country with no formal trail system. Hikers should be experienced in the use of map and compass and thoroughly familiar with the techniques of canyon and slickrock hiking. Maps and other information are available at the Interagency Visitor Information Center in the town of Escalante. Always consult with a ranger at the Information Center for route information, trail and weather conditions, and other necessary information needed for a safe trip.

Public lands in the area are administered by the National Park Service within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, the Bureau of Land Management within the Escalante National Recreation Area, and the U.S. Forest Service within the Dixie National Forest. Each agency maintains an office in the Escalante Interagency Office Building and Visitor Information Center on the west side of town along Highway 12.

Persons planning to hike overnight within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area are required to obtain a free Backcountry Use Permit before commencing; overnight hikers visiting Bureau of Land Management administered lands need to obtain the same permit. These permits help provide statistical information which assists resource monitoring and management. Route itinerary information can help personnel locate hikers should an emergency occur or a search effort for overdue hikers be necessary.

Roads & Trailheads
Natural & Social History

Roads and Trailheads

Utah Highway 12 is the major route to the area with side roads leading to established trailheads or starting points. The historic Hole-in-the-Rock Road begins five miles east of the town of Escalante and continues south 57 miles to the Hole-in-the-Rock historic site where Mormon pioneers built a road down to the Colorado River. Trailheads can be reached by taking the Harris Wash, Egypt, Early Weed Bench, Red Well, Hurricane Wash or Fortymile Ridge roads (all signed at their intersections with the Hole-in-the-Rock Road).

The Burr Trail begins at Boulder, Utah and continues 66 miles to Highway 276 near Bullfrog. Trailheads for Deer Creek and The Gulch are along this road.

The Wolverine Road leads south from the Burr Trail 13 miles east of Boulder and the Moody Creek Road leads south from the Burr Trail just west of Capitol Reef National Park. There are no established trailheads along these roads, but they provide access to the Wolverine Petrified Wood Natural Area, Horse Canyon, Silver Falls Creek, Moody Creek and others.

The Hell's Backbone Road leads north around the upper reaches of Death Hollow and Sand creek and connects to Highway 12 at Escalante and again 3 miles west of Boulder. Trailheads for The Box and Death Hollow are along this road.

Only Highway 12 and the Burr Trail (for most of its length) are paved. Travel conditions on the other roads may vary depending on the season and recent weather so check at the Information Center for current conditions.

The Hikes

The following are just a few of the many hikes available in the Escalante wilderness. Happy trails!

Moody Creek
Maps: USGS Scorpion Gulch 7.5 minute quadrangle.

Trailhead: From Boulder, Utah, follow the Burr Trail road east 19 miles to the signed Petrified Wood Area access road. Drive south on this road 20 miles to the Moody Creek road. (You can also follow the Burr Trail road 33 miles east to the Moody Creek road. Both roads eventually meet and continue south into Moody Creek.) The road descends into the dry wash of Main Moody Creek Canyon and follows it for about 3 miles.

About 3 miles east of Main Moody Creek Canyon, just west of Purple Hills, is a fork. The right fork leads south into Middle Moody Creek. The road is generally passable for four-wheel drive vehicles with high clearance. (Road conditions vary and are subject to the weather!) The road is passable for about 2 miles. Park at this point. (The last mile before the wash crossing is in poor condition and is closed to vehicles anyway.)

Hiking Distances: From the parking area to the Escalante River (via Middle Moody Creek) - 6 miles (one way).

Water Availability: Water may sometimes be found in Middle and East Moody Canyons, but it is best not to count on it. A fairly dependable trickle of water flows intermittently in the lower mile of East Moody Canyon.

Hiking Conditions: The hike down Moody Creek is scenic and moderately strenuous, without technical difficulties.

General Information: From your vehicle, follow the road one mile to the wash, enter the wash, and proceed downstream. Middle Moody Canyon is quite broad and open and has many colorful Chinle formations topped by cliffs of Wingate sandstone. Walking is easy, as it is throughout most of this hike. The canyon gradually narrows; the Chinle formation diminishes, and the Wingate cliffs become dominant by the time you reach Main Moody Canyon.

Follow Main Moody Canyon downstream to the Escalante River. You can retrace your steps, or you can make a loop hike by walking down the Escalante River 1.5 miles to East Moody Canyon. Ascend the canyon and take the north branch. Continue up the north branch to the next fork. Take the right fork, but instead of following the bottom of the canyon, climb the ridge between the two canyons and follow the remains of an old uranium exploration road. This is a continuation of the road from the Purple Hills to Middle Moody Canyon. It leads out of the north branch of East Moody Canyon through a saddle and down into Middle Moody Canyon.

Views from the saddle include extensive, richly-colored exposures of the Chinle formation and an expansive view to the north of the upper reaches of Middle Moody Canyon, the Circle Cliffs, and Deer Point. Below the saddle on the north is the remains of an old uranium exploration camp. Follow the road down past the cabin and west along the south side of upper Middle Moody Canyon. The road follows the south side of this inner canyon until the canyon ends and can be crossed. You can walk back up the road to your vehicle.

Davis Gulch
Map: USGS Davis Gulch 7.5 minute quadrangle.

Trailhead: Follow the Hole-in-the-Rock road approximately 50.5 miles to the crossing of upper Fiftymile Creek. Continue about one-tenth of a mile beyond the crossing to an unmarked flat area on the south side of the road. From this point, the unmarked cross-country route heads north-northeast, paralleling Fiftymile Creek for about .5 mile, then northeast to an old stock trail which descends into lower Davis Gulch.

Hiking Distance: From the trailhead to the stock trail - 3.5 to 4 miles (one way); stock trail to Lake Powell - .25+ mile (one way); Lake Powell to pouroff in upper Davis Gulch - 3.5 miles (one way).

Water Availability: A small stream begins just upstream from Bement Arch. There are no usable seeps or springs. Pocket water and plunge pools are seasonal.

Hiking Conditions: The approach route to the stock trail is over sand and slickrock. The stock trail route into Davis Gulch does not present any problems. The route from the stock trail to Bement Arch is quite brushy, and there are a number of beaver ponds which must be waded through or circumvented. Upstream from Bement Arch, the route is sandy, without dense brush.

General Information: When hiking from the Fiftymile Point area, stay close to Fiftymile Creek for the first .5 mile, then stay somewhat to the west of Davis Gulch and hike parallel to it until you reach the stock trail area. Getting too close to the rim of Davis Gulch results in much more up and down walking over rolling slickrock, especially near the upper end of the gulch. A small slot canyon tributary, difficult to cross, will also be encountered about a mile north of the road—if you are too close to the rim.

About 3.5 - 4 miles from the road, observe the small plateau on the opposite side of Davis Gulch. A notch in the plateau's side near the top is a landmark for finding the stock trail. (A much larger notch can also be seen downstream in Davis Gulch. This larger notch is about .25 mile downstream of the stock trail.) When you are directly opposite the first notch, head toward the canyon rim to find a bowl-shaped depression. The stock trail may not be readily apparent, but you can find it if you explore around a bit.

From the bottom of the stock trail, the hike downstream to Lake Powell or upstream to the pouroff is straightforward. Please follow established trails where possible, and avoid starting new ones, especially near the lower end of the gulch.

An alternate entrance into Davis Gulch is a challenging scramble down through the narrows at the upper end. This involves chimneying down past several chockstones and pouroffs. Much of the route is very difficult. One long slickrock chute ends in a dropoff into a pool and cannot be climbed back up unless a rope is left in place. Other pools may be deep enough to require swimming, or they may be dry, depending on recent weather. If this route is taken, it is best to continue on down the canyon and return by way of the stock trail and across the bench.

Fiftymile Creek
Sooner Bench and Davis Gulch 7.5 minute quadrangles.

1. Cave Point - This aptly-named projection from Fiftymile Bench is the landmark for this unsigned access route. Follow Hole-in-the-Rock road approximately 47.5 miles. Here, the road dips into a small draw, recognizable by a lightly-defined road heading west toward Cave Point. Park at this draw and walk east down the draw, a tributary which joins Fiftymile Creek 2.1 miles downstream.
2. The Soda - Follow Hole-in-the-Rock road approximately 49.3 miles to a sign which identifies a spring near the road. Back up a short distance and park in the parking area above the cattle watering tank. Walk past the tank and down the downstream.

Hiking Distances: From Cave Point trailhead to Lake Powell - 5.2 miles (one way); The Soda trailhead to Lake Powell - 5.5 miles (one way).

Water Availability: A small stream begins about 2.5 - 3 miles downstream from the trailheads in Fiftymile Creek. There are no usable seeps or springs.

Hiking Conditions: There are no technical difficulties on this hike. A short section of narrows about .5 mile upstream from Lake Powell requires wading, so wading shoes are recommended.

General Information: Hikers starting from the Cave Point trailhead will encounter a pouroff about .3 mile down the channel from the road. This obstacle is easily circumvented by backtracking a short distance and exiting the stream channel on the north side. Parallel the channel and drop back down to the streambed once you are past the pouroff. Other than this one pouroff, there are no other obstacles on either route.

About .3 mile beyond the confluence of the two major tributaries, the small stream of water appears. A short distance farther is an alcove-type arch on the north rim high above the streambed.

Entering from the north about 2.25 miles from the confluence of the two tributaries is a side canyon well worth exploring. This short tributary progressively narrows to a point where some interesting chimneying (a rock climbing technique) possibilities are available to those who are so inclined. If you have a Davis Gulch quadrangle, notice how this side canyon lies along a northwest-southeast joint which has created similar side canyons in Willow Gulch to the north and Davis Gulch and Clear Creek to the south.

Downstream from this tributary is the short narrows section where wading will be required. You can continue down the canyon for some distance beyond the narrows, depending on the current level of Lake Powell.

Harris Wash
Maps: USGS Silver Falls Bench and Red Breaks 7.5 minute quadrangles.

Trailhead: Follow the Hole-in-the-Rock road south from Highway 12 about 10.5 miles to the signed junction, then 6.5 miles on a fair road to the signed trailhead and hiker registration box.

Hiking Distance: From Harris Wash trailhead to the Escalante River - 10 miles (one way).

Water Availability: A perennial stream flows in Harris Wash. Generally, seeps and springs are of insufficient flow to provide usable quantities of water.

Hiking Conditions: Harris Wash is an easy hike with no technical difficulties. The stream must be continually crossed or waded. Wear appropriate shoes.

General Information: Harris Wash offers an excellent opportunity to see a streamcourse develop from a broad, sandy wash to a deeply-entrenched canyon. A minimum of two days should be spent exploring Harris Wash. Begin the hike from the trailhead by walking downstream in the wash bottom. Do not cross the wash and continue on the road, for it leads only to an abandoned drill pad.

About 3.5 miles downstream, the creek passes through a narrow notch. To the north of the notch is an abandoned stream meander, known as a rincon, which was created when the stream cut through and straightened its course. To the south is a brushy side canyon which comes to a pouroff about one-third of a mile up.

Harris Wash continues its winding course 7 miles to the Escalante River. Two more side canyons enter the wash from the south, and, though brushy, can provide interesting exploring opportunities. As the canyon nears the Escalante River, high cliff walls soar, streaked with magnificent patterns of desert varnish. The lower three miles of Harris Wash exhibit the scale and grandeur typical of the canyons of the Escalante.

Once you reach the Escalante River, you can continue upstream about one-third mile to the stark, dry, extremely beautiful Silver Falls Creek, which enters from the east. You may wish to spend a day exploring this extraordinary canyon which derived its name from the great streaks of desert varnish which drape the canyon's walls. Silver Falls Creek is generally dry, so carry all the water you may need.

Coyote Gulch - Hurricane Wash
Maps: USGS King Mesa and Stevens Canyon South 7.5 minute quadrangles.

1. Red Well - Follow the Hole-in-the-Rock road 30 miles to the signed junction, then drive 1.5 miles to the trailhead and hiker registration box. This trailhead provides access to upper Coyote Gulch.
2. Hurricane Wash - Follow the Hole-in-the-Rock road 33miles to the parking area beside the road. The hiker registration box is located 0.2 mile down the wash.
3. Fortymile Ridge - Follow Hole-in-the-Rock road 35 miles to the signed junction, then drive 7 miles to the trailhead. The last two miles of this road is through deep sand and is not suitable for low-clearance vehicles.

Hiking Distances: From Red Well trailhead to the Escalante River - 13 miles (one way); Hurricane Wash trailhead to the Escalante River - 12.3 miles (one way); Fortymile Ridge to Crack-in-the-Wall (access to lower Coyote Gulch or the Escalante River) - 2 miles (one way).

Water Availability: Coyote Gulch contains a number of seeps and springs in addition to a perennial stream. One particularly good spring flows from the canyon wall just downstream from Jacob Hamblin Arch.

Hiking Conditions: The perennial stream in Coyote Gulch begins about one mile from the Red Well trailhead. The stream in Hurricane Wash begins about 3.5 miles from the trailhead. Wading shoes are a must.

The hike through Coyote Gulch is relatively easy, with two minor exceptions - a climb down a ledge near a waterfall and a steep descent down sandstone followed by a rather difficult climb down a second ledge.

General Information: Coyote Gulch contains two arches, a natural bridge, and several waterfalls. It is easy to understand why this beautiful canyon is by far the most popular hiking destination of all the canyons of the Escalante. When hiking in Coyote Gulch in spring or fall, plan on encountering a number of other visitors.

A minimum of three days will be required to explore the length of Coyote Gulch. From Red Well or Hurricane trailhead, the canyon develops from wide, sandy washes to a narrow canyon with towering walls. Follow the wash downstream from either trailhead. Hurricane Wash joins Coyote Gulch about 5 miles from the Hurricane Wash trailhead.

The hike through the lush riparian zone of Coyote Gulch is relatively easy—except for two exceptions. At the second waterfall below Cliff Arch, follow the ledge along the south wall to a place about 100 feet downstream where it is possible to scramble down off the ledges.

About 0.4 mile up Coyote Gulch from the Escalante River is an impenetrable boulder jam. To bypass this obstacle, follow the trail on the right-hand side of the stream across the lower portion of a sand slide and then traverse the fairly steep slickrock slope. (Stay low and near the edge.) The slickrock slope ends at a ledge about 5.5 feet high against which lean several small logs to assist hikers in climbing back up.

You can enjoy an outstanding view from the canyon rim by hiking from Fortymile Ridge to Crack-in-the-Wall. After scrambling down through the crack - a narrow route between the cliff face and huge rock slabs which have peeled off the cliff - a trail leads down a steep sand dune to lower Coyote Gulch. It is great to hike down the dune, but it is definitely strenuous hiking back up! The elevation difference is about 700 feet.

Twentyfive Mile Wash 

Maps: USGS Sunset Flat and Egypt 7.5 minute quadrangles.

1. Twentyfive Mile Wash - Follow Hole-in-the-Rock road 16 miles to the signed Egypt road junction, then drive 3 miles on a good road to the signed parking area. There is no hiker registration box at this trailhead.
2. Egypt - Many visitors make a loop hike from Egypt trailhead to Fence Canyon, the Escalante River, Twentyfive Mile Wash, and back to Egypt trailhead. To reach Egypt trailhead, follow the Hole-in-the-Rock road 16 miles to the Egypt road junction and then 10 miles to the trailhead.
3. Early Weed Bench - Follow the Hole-in-the-Rock road 23 miles to the signed Early Weed Bench road, then drive 6 miles on a fair to poor road to the signed trailhead. Access to Twentyfive Mile Wash is by way of a tributary named Fox Canyon.

Hiking Distances: From Twentyfive Mile Wash trailhead to the Escalante River - 14.2 miles (one way); Egypt trailhead to the mouth of Twentyfive Mile Wash via the Escalante River - 8.7 miles (one way); Early Weed Bench trailhead to the Escalante River via Fox Canyon - 7 miles (one way). At least two to three days should be spent exploring the wash.

Water Availability: Twentyfive Mile Wash contains a perennial stream (beginning 4 - 5 miles from the trailhead), but there are no usable seeps or springs. A stream with numerous pools flows in Fence Canyon. Fox Canyon provides a good water supply. Water from any pool or spring should be boiled or treated before drinking.

Hiking Conditions: Twentyfive Mile Wash presents an easy hike with no technical difficulties. Wading shoes are needed for walking in the stream. The streambed tends to contain a considerable amount of clay, so the wash presents a somewhat "muckier" hike than other canyons, especially after high stream flows.

General Information: The hike from the Twentyfive Mile Wash trailhead begins by hiking down the dry wash and simply following the streambed.

The loop hike from Egypt trailhead entails descending an old stock trail down a fairly steep slickrock slope before descending into Fence Canyon and on to the Escalante River. The hike then continues 5.5 miles downriver to the mouth of Twentyfive Mile Wash where the route proceeds upstream to one of several possible exits from the canyon back to Egypt trailhead. Hikers interested in this loop hike may contact a ranger at the Interagency Visitor Information Center for more detailed route information and a free route guide.

The route from Early Weed Bench into Fox Canyon begins by heading in a northerly direction and descending off the bench. This route takes the hiker down over slickrock to a small tributary of Fox Canyon. (This will actually be the second tributary encountered. The first is easily crossed.) This second drainage can be crossed in only a few places, most of which are toward the upper end of the drainage. Once you have crossed the second drainage, follow the tributary toward Fox Canyon to the east, to a point between this tributary and the next short drainage into Fox Canyon downstream. This point provides the access route down into Fox Canyon and is composed of several short, steep slickrock pitches onto a silt bench. Please look for the well-used route off the upstream end of this bench and avoid contributing to erosion by creating a new path. It is now possible to follow Fox Canyon, which is fairly brushy, downstream to Twentyfive Mile Wash.

Scorpion Gulch

Maps: USGS Egypt and Scorpion Gulch 7.5 minute quadrangles.

Trailhead : Follow the Hole-in-the-Rock road south from Highway 12 about 23 miles to the Early Weed Bench turnoff at Cat Pasture, then drive 6 miles on a fair to poor road to the end of the road at an old drill site. The hiker registration box is located about a half mile before the end of the road.

Hiking Distance: From Early Weed Bench trailhead to the head of Scorpion Gulch - 5.5 miles (one way). From the head of Scorpion Gulch to the Escalante River - 3.3 miles (one way).

Water Availability: Water won't normally be found between the trailhead and the midpoint of Scorpion Gulch except after heavy rains. A few seeps and pools can be found in the lower half of Scorpion Gulch, and a small stream normally flows in the lower end.

Hiking Conditions: This is a rather challenging hike requiring cross-country route-finding skills. There is a lengthy hike over slickrock and sand, a descent down a sand dune, and walking through soft sand and alluvial deposits. The lower half of Scorpion Gulch is an easier walk beside a small stream with no difficulties other than two boulder jams and a small pouroff, requiring some minor scrambling.

General Information: From the end of the road at the abandoned drill site, follow the remains of an old jeep trail about 1.5 miles until it turns to the south. At that point, continue east across a sandy, flat area. If you are near the preferred route, you will see a small arch to the south.

About a mile after leaving the jeep trail, you will descend from a small plateau down onto Scorpion Flat. The flat is comprised entirely of rolling slickrock with intermittent patches of sand. Before descending onto the flat, it is wise to locate Scorpion Gulch from a high point and take a compass bearing on the upper end of it. After making the descent, you will not see Scorpion Gulch again until you reach it. The approximate direction is east-southeast.

Access into Scorpion Gulch is by way of a sand dune on the north side of the canyon about .25 mile downstream from the pouroff at the upper end. About three-fourths of a mile downstream is another sand dune which completely blocks the canyon. The downstream side of this dune is steep and easy to descend, but it is quite a struggle to get back up!

Fence Canyon

Map: USGS Egypt 7.5 minute quadrangle.

Trailhead: Follow the Hole-in-the-Rock road south from Highway 12 about 16 miles to the signed Egypt road junction, then drive 10 miles on a fair road to the signed trailhead and hiker registration box.

Hiking Distance: From Egypt trailhead to the Escalante River - 2.75 miles (one way).

Water Availability: A stream with numerous pools flows in Fence Canyon.

Hiking Conditions: Hiking from Egypt trailhead to the river results in an elevation loss in excess of 1,000 feet. A steep slickrock slope is encountered initially; at other places, sandy areas must be traversed; the canyon bottom is quite brushy. Wading shoes are optional unless you are planning to hike up or down the Escalante River.

General Information: A beautiful panorama awaits you from the Egypt trailhead at the edge of Allen Dump Bench. You can see views of the Escalante country, the Henry Mountains, and Fence Canyon as it leads toward the Escalante River. Fence Canyon is primarily used as a route to the Escalante River and other canyons up- or downstream, but Fence Canyon itself presents an interesting day hike.

The hike begins at the edge of Allen Dump Bench and winds down to a steep slickrock slope. Near the top of the bench is a fairly obvious and well-used path switchbacking down to the slickrock. Please use the path and avoid shortcutting the switchbacks or creating new paths. A stock trail utilizing steps cut into the rock leads down the slickrock, but the trail is not always easy to find. It is possible to walk down the slickrock without using the trail, however.

Both Fence Canyon and its unnamed northern branch have impassable pouroffs at their upper ends. To descend into Fence Canyon, it is necessary, therefore, to skirt its northern rim and head toward the point at the confluence of the two canyons. The route follows an old stock trail which descends into the south branch of Fence Canyon near the point. Both ranches of Fence Canyon present a beautiful and interesting hike.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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