This is one of my favorite hikes in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The Escalante River trail traverses a stunning canyon with soaring white Navajo and red Wingate sandstone walls. As you progress down canyon the scenery gets better and better.
The canyon can be explored on a day hike – going as far as you wish and then turning around -- or as a point-to-point backpack. Both options are extremely worthwhile and make for a memorable trip. Backpackers will want to allocate extra time for side trips up Death Hollow and Sand Creek.
Be forewarned that the hike requires frequent river crossing so be prepared to get your feet wet. That being said the walking is generally easy leaving you plenty of time to appreciate the scenic canyon.
To Death Hollow
Distance from Trailhead: 14.0 miles (round trip)
Ending/Highest Elevation: 5,390-ft.
Elevation Gain: -370-ft.
Note: Mileage for the hike is from the end of the road/lower parking area. If starting from the upper parking area add 0.3 miles to the mileage in the trail description.
The trailhead for the Escalante River is located off Utah 12 at the east end of Escalante, Utah. (See driving directions below.) From the trailhead parking area a path descends north/northeast on moderate grades through scattered junipers and sage. After a brief ascent to bypass thickets of tamarisk, the trail resumes its descent and soon passes through a break in the vegetation to the Escalante River.
Follow the trail as it crosses the narrow, shallow river twice and then passes through a fence delineating the boundary of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument at 0.3 miles. After a short stint along a scrub covered bench to the south of the river, the boot beaten path crosses the river and climbs on easy grades along the north bench, cutting off a wide meander in the river. As the trail crests the high point on the bench great views open to an amazing landscape of multi-hued sandstone cliffs rising to rugged plateaus.
Follow the trail as it descends from the bench, crosses Pine Creek and reaches the Escalante River at 0.6 miles. Along the way pass a gauging station. The boot beaten path will now frequently cross the river in an effort to find the easiest route down canyon. At times you will see trails on both side of the river. The best bet is to pick the path that looks best to you.
The canyon’s soaring white Navajo and red Wingate sandstone walls are simply stunning. As you proceed down canyon the walls grow in stature, rising from a few hundred feet to over 1,000-ft. Progress will be slow as you will stop frequently to admire the vivid colors and patterns of cracks and grooves in the rock surfaces.
At 1.2 miles the trail begins to follow a circuitous route navigating nine long meanders. Short ascents and descents over benches shorten the route by cutting off the wide bends. Occasionally the canyon constricts requiring hikers to walk in the river for a short distance. Getting your feet wet is a small price to pay to travel through this amazing canyon.
As you move deeper into the canyon the views continue to improve. Walking is generally easy, leaving you plenty of time to appreciate the scenic canyon.
Pass a large alcove in the north wall at 2.4 miles. The shady alcove is a good place for a break on a hot day. Hiker exploring the alcove will likely find a rock art panel. Unfortunately it’s been vandalized. Please do not touch rock art panels as the oil on your fingers can speed the erosion of the rock art. Do not vandalize the panels by taking latex mold prints or rubbings from rock art or adding modern additions.
At 3.7 miles we leave the long meanders behind and walk along a section of the canyon that seems almost straight after the previous twists and turns. The canyon widens briefly and travels along broad benches at 5.3 miles. Just beyond are two long meanders. Past the last meander the vegetation becomes noticeably thicker as approach the mouth of Death Hollow, located on the left (north) side of the canyon at 7.0 miles. This is a good turn around point for day hikers.
Many backpackers camp around the mouth of Death Hollow. A side trip up the scenic narrow gorge is highly recommended.
To the Escalante River Bridge
Distance from Trailhead: 14.0 miles (one way)
Ending/Highest Elevation: 5,190-ft.
Elevation Gain: -570-ft.
Beyond Death Hollow, the great scenery continues. As you progress down canyon the walls start to diminish in stature and the canyon begins to open up. About a mile before reaching Sand Creek the trail travels along benches clogged with thick vegetation. Reach the mouth of the north trending Sand Creek at 11.1 miles.
For a detailed description of the hike below Sand Canyon, see the information on the Lower Escalante River hike. The final section of the hike passes by an interesting arch, a natural bridge and a few ruins and rock art panels before reach the parking area near the Escalante River Bridge on Highway 12. Total distance for the point to point hike is 14 miles (14.3 miles from the upper parking area).
Be forewarned that the hike requires frequent river crossing so be prepared to get your feet wet. Before setting out, check on water levels and current conditions with the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center at 775 Main Street in Escalante, Utah.
Note: Due to the amount of walking in water that is required, this hike is best done during warm weather months to avoid hypothermia. High water levels during spring runoff or flash floods may make walking in the river corridor impossible. Hikers should not attempt to walk in the river when water levels exceed knee depth. Hikers must be extremely cautious during flash flood season. The Escalante River drains a large area and is prone to big floods which may cause the river to rise rapidly due to runoff from side canyons. Biting deer flies can be bad in the late spring/early summer. Wear long pants to avoid bites.
From Escalante, UT: From the intersection of Main Street and Center Street in downtown Escalante, drive east/southeast on Utah 12 E (Main Street) for 1.1 miles to the Cemetery (located on the left/north side of the road about .25 miles past the High School). Turn left (north) at the cemetery. There is a sign here for the Escalante River trailhead. The road curves to the right (east) and changes from pavement to dirt. Follow the dirt road as it parallels Utah 12 for just under 0.4 miles and then turn left where another sign points to the trailhead. In a quarter of a mile there is a parking area and trail register on the left side of the road. People driving two wheel drive cars will want to park here. Beyond the first parking lot the road gets rougher and continues for another 0.3 miles to its end at a second parking area. This is the start of the Escalante River and Boulder Mail trails.
From Boulder, UT: From the intersection of the Burr Trail Road and Utah 12 (near the Burr Trail Grill), head south on Utah 12 W for 25.8 miles to the Cemetery (located on the right/north side of the road. (If you pass the Escalante High School you have gone too far. Turn around and drive 0.25 miles back to the Cemetery.) Turn left (north) at the cemetery. There is a sign here for the Escalante River trailhead. The road curves to the right (east) and changes from pavement to dirt. Follow the dirt road as it parallels Utah 12 for just under 0.4 miles and then turn left where another sign points to the trailhead. In a quarter of a mile there is a parking area and trail register on the left side of the road. People driving two wheel drive cars will want to park here. Beyond the first parking lot the road gets rougher and continues for another 0.3 miles to its end at a second parking area. This is the start of the Escalante River and Boulder Mail trails.
South Central Utah
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