At over 1 million acres, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is one of the largest national monuments in the United States. The majority of the land within the monument is wild, rugged, and much of it is inaccessible except on foot. Ancient cultures inhabited for thousands of years, and extensive ruins and evidence of these thriving civilizations can be found throughout the area. The monument has been in the news recently due to a political decision to reduce its size by 47%, and adventurers who’ve heard this buzz are eager to explore and understand for themselves what this southern Utah treasure is all about.
The area is full of some of the world’s most dramatic geologic features, from thousands of slot canyons cut by the Escalante River, to sandstone arches, natural bridges, and tall, skinny spires peeping throughout the landscape.
If you’re planning a trip in the Escalante area, at least a day hike is a must. Below you will find a list of some of the best day hikes in the National Monument. If you have more time, the best way to experience the Grand Staircase-Escalante is to take a backpacking trip. On our Escalante River Backpacking trip you’ll hike along the Escalante River, encounter ancient ruins, swim in “potholes,” and meander down winding slot canyons.
If you only have a day to see a glimpse of this massive monument, make sure you check out one of the hikes included below. After your hike, check out our favorite local coffee shop, Kiva Koffeehouse, for a refreshing frozen lemonade and sweet treat to bring those blood sugar levels back up. 😉
For the most part, you will hike along Calf Creek on a very sandy path. Parts of the trail do not follow near the creek and in these sections the trail is very exposed with little shade. Make sure to bring water shoes, sun protection, and plenty of water. The final destination is the cascading 126-foot Lower Calf Creek Falls, perhaps the most beautiful waterfall of Escalante. Be sure to budget time for swimming and cooling down beneath the falls!
A hike along the Escalante River to the Escalante Natural Bridge is a great introductory day hike for getting to know Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This hike begins at the Escalante River trailhead, just off Scenic Byway 12 and slightly north of the Boynton Overlook. There are multiple river crossings on this hike, so be sure you are prepared to get your feet wet (and then sandy)! You’ll see multiple highlights in just a few miles – first the natural bridge, then petroglyphs, then an arch, and then a cliff dwelling in view on the south side of the river.
Temperatures heat up in the summer, so plan accordingly by starting your hike early, bringing proper sun protection, and plenty of water. Read more about exploring the Escalante River on our hiking the Escalante River blog.
A “best hikes in Grand Staircase-Escalante” list wouldn’t be complete without Coyote Gulch. You have most likely seen the infamous image on the internet of Stevens Arch, the incredibly immense sandstone structure that stretches above the Escalante Riverbed (if not, it’s pictured below). While well-known, this hike is not for the faint of heart, and those wanting to hike to Coyote Gulch in a day should be prepared for a long day of scrambling, hiking in sand, and through the Escalante River. In fact, we do not recommend doing this hike in just one day. The canyon is best explored when you are able to take your time and spend at least two nights of backpacking along the Escalante River, discovering the many slot canyons, arches, and bridges along the way!
You will need a Coyote Gulch permit if you plan to do a backpacking trip. The access point to begin this hike is located near water tanks on Fortymile Ridge, southwest of the confluence of Coyote Gulch and Escalante Canyon.
The best time to hike in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is early spring and fall, to enjoy cooler weather and avoid the dangers of flash flood season in late summer.
You do not need to obtain permits to do these day-hikes in Grand Staircase. If you are camping or backpacking, you will need overnight permits. Permits are free and can be obtained at visitor centers or at developed trailheads.