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Hell’s Backbone Scenic Drive from Boulder to Escalante, Utah is one of those things I’ve seen and driven past a million times since I first moved out here and we finally decided to drive it earlier this summer.
The TripAdvisor reviews were pretty mixed, but we were already in Boulder so decided to go anyways. The plan was to do the whole drive and camp in Escalante, but like most of our plans, it changed.
It was pretty warm already this time of year and once we were on Boulder Mountain, we decided to just find a good spot to spend the night up there, out of the heat. I won’t lie, at the beginning of the drive, I wasn’t all that impressed.
Like people said, you’re just driving through a forest, not that exciting. We still found some nice little spots to check out and you could see start to see some red rock peeking out between the trees. Then we got to the bridge.
Hell’s Backbone Bridge is arguably the best part of the road. It’s got awesome views of the canyons below and it was totally unexpected scenery for us.
I mean, I would never have thought I’d see that kind of canyon in the middle of a mountain. We spent a little time here hanging out and taking pictures before moving on and admiring some aspens.
The first campground we came to was the Blue Spruce Campground, a small one with only six spots. It was only $9 a night for a pretty great spot. There were toilets available and there was a creek, Pine Creek, running right next to the campsites.
There was one other older couple there, which made me a little less freaked out, so that was nice. We set up shop (and all my matching camping gear, which I didn’t even do on purpose) and just hung out for a while.
I just read in my hammock, which was one of my better purchases this summer, before we scramble together some deli meats and snacks for dinner.
We have no idea how to cook in camp, so if anyone has suggestions on what to make or how to get started, that would be awesome. And “just cook what you make at home” won’t help at the moment because where we are right now, we don’t cook.
After a semi-restless night of sleep, we closed up shop fairly early to finish the drive and get breakfast in Escalante before hiking to the 100 Hands Pictograph.
A few miles from the campsite, we saw signs for Posey Lake and decided to stop and check it out. This was such a cute little lake with a campground right above it. I would love to stay here if we go back again. There were a couple people out fishing, too.
I liked the drive a lot more on the Escalante end as far as scenery went. You’re driving out (or in) through the Box-Death Hollow area, which I thought looked really cool. I’d love to hike around that area someday. Maybe next year!
Once we got to Escalante, we got breakfast sandwiches at the Escalante Mercantile and Natural Grocery. This is the cutest little store and we stop almost every time we’re passing through. They have delicious food and coffee along with all kinds of fun goodies and groceries.
On our way home we stopped at the 100 Hands Pictograph hike in Escalante. it’s a nice hike just above the Escalante River. It was only 82 degrees out but it felt like 100. After that, we just headed home.
I would definitely recommend the Hell’s Backbone drive if you have a few days in the area. If you’ve only got one, I’d save it for another trip. It’s a nice activity in the Boulder/Escalante area if you want to get out of the desert and see something different. It’s not my favorite scenic drive in Utah but it’s still worth doing if you want to get off the beaten path a bit.
What to bring Camping on Hell’s Backbone
Hiking poles – These will be helpful on longer hikes that are on the steeper side. They’ll be good if you have bad knees for when you’re going downhill and will give you something to lean on going up the hills.
Sunscreen – If you plan on being outside, you’ll want sunscreen. I like the Hawaiian Tropic Sheer Touch a lot AND it’s reef safe! If you’re sensitive to fragrance though, it’s not a good choice. I also like the same one but specifically for your face.
Sunglasses – This is a must no matter where you are.
Headlamp – I tend to carry my headlamp around all the time when we’re hiking, just in case.
Kammok hammock – I have a Roo single that I love. It’s the color of mac and cheese and pretty light weight. I don’t think as light as Eno if that matters though. But it’s perfect for just regular camping.
RTIC cooler – We have one of those giant coffin sized Yetis, which is great, but this 20 can soft RTIC cooler is a lot more convenient for small trips with easy access to a fridge and ice.
REI Passage 2 Tent – Our tent isn’t available anymore but this one is similar. We’ve used it quite a few times and it’s been great. It’s good for two people, but can be a little cramped if you move around too much.
NEMO Viola sleeping bag – Mine isn’t available anymore but this one is similar. It’s very good in cold weather, not freezing, but in the 40s with leggings on, I was totally fine. It has zipper vent things on the top that are supposed to help it cool down when it’s hot. I don’t know if it really did that. When we camped in south Florida, I was still pretty warm with them open and it was probably in the 60s.
LuminAID lantern – I love this lantern. It’s great for getting around your campsite in the dark, lighting up campground bathrooms at night, and even during power outages at home. You can plug it in to charge it or just let the sun do the work.
REI Ruckpack 18 – This is the daypack I have and it’s awesome. It’s lightweight, has water bottle pockets that my 40-ounce Hydro Flask fits in, and it comes in nice colors.
REI Camp Wrap – This is totally unnecessary, but I love it. It’s basically a blanket poncho and it doubles as a good blanket for sleeping in warmer weather. I used it two nights in south Florida and it was perfect for when my sleeping bag was too hot.
Pillow – If you’re just driving, I’d just bring a regular pillow, but if you’re flying then renting a car, you might want a smaller pillow. This is a good non-inflatible option. Here is a good inflatable option.
Dramamine – this is a must if you get carsick.
Where is Hell’s Backbone Scenic Drive?
Hell’s Backbone connects Escalante, Utah and Boulder Utah. It is accessed on both ends on Scenic Byway 12.
How long is the Hell’s Backbone drive?
35 miles plus sixish if you stop at Posey Lake. There are tons of dirt roads up here so you could easily spend a lot of time exploring if you have the right kind of car.
What kind of car do you need for Hell’s Backbone?
I don’t think high clearance 4WD is totally necessary. We did hit a couple sandy spots that I would have been nervous stopped in, but they were small. You will need it if you plan to go on any side roads.
If you’re not comfortable driving on dirt roads, you may want to skip this, though it is mostly washboardy. If it is rainy, don’t do thee drive. Road conditions can be very poor if it’s wet.
Camping on Hell’s Backbone
There are a few campgrounds on Hell’s Backbone making it a great way to escape the desert heat. These are the two main ones, both closer to Escalante than Boulder, but there is another one right before Posey Lake. At least the sign is right before it, but I’m not suree how far or what it was called.
Blue Spruce Campground
We stayed at this one and I really liked it. I’ve included it in the map above. There are no RV hookups here, just six dry camping sites. There are a few water spigots and a pit toilet as well. We only saw one other couple when we were there.
Posey Lake Campground
Posey Lake Campground is a little bigger with 21 sites. There are no RV hookups, but there are water spigots on site. Reservations can be made up to a year in advance, but it is only open May to September. Apparently the fishing is really good here.
- Go hiking in Escalante. There are tons of cool slot canyons, Escalante River Trail, Calf Creek Falls, 100 Hands Pictograph, and more.
- Drive Burr Trail
- Visit the Anasazi Museum State Park
- Stop by Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
- You can find more of the best scenic drives in Utah here.
Escalante hiking guides
Utah posts you may also like:
Have you driven Hell’s Backbone? What did you think of it? What is your favorite scenic drive in Utah?