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It’s an amazing destination for outdoor lovers and it’s perfect for long hiking trips and casual visits alike. Whether you want a short hike, a coffee, a scenic drive, a museum, or a backpacking adventure, Escalante has it.
It has waterfalls, petroglyphs, arches, weird rock formations, and more. The monument itself is bookended with two cute little towns that I love to visit, Boulder and Escalante.
I think either town is great to base yourself in but know Boulder is smaller. It has better food though (Burr Trail Grill, the burrito truck at the museum, and Hells Backbone) and a little gas station market.
Escalante has more in it but the food options aren’t that great. I do love the little mercantile there but it is pretty expensive. The coffee and breakfast is delicious though and I’ll still go every time I’m there.
Best things to do in Escalante, Utah
While I haven’t done everything there is to do in Escalante, I have done quite a few of these things and want to do the rest next time I’m there.
This first section is things to do close to Escalante (the town) and there is another small section for other things to do in Escalante (the monument) but are farther away, like closer to Kanab than Escalante.
Hike the slot canyons
This is one of the things I haven’t done yet: hiking the Escalante slot canyons. This is what most people that go here do and for good reason. They look amazing.
They provide a little challenge making it an awesome experience. They almost rival the well-known Antelope Canyon with their curving sandstone walls.
Spooky Gulch, Peek-a-boo Gulch, Dry Fork, and Zebra are the four main slot canyons down Hole-in-the-Rock Road. Some of these are incredibly narrow and do require some good squeezing to get through.
They may not be the best options if you’re really claustrophobic. I know one of them has a sign at the trailhead that says something like if you can’t fit through the bars on this sign, this canyon isn’t for you. It’s only about ten inches wide in some spots.
They may sometimes have water in them and may require some scrambling and minor technical skills. These hikes aren’t for everyone and that’s ok.
Slot Canyon Safety
Flash floods are a huge risk in slot canyons and people die from that far too often. In May 2020 a 7-year-old girl and her 3-year-old sister died in a flash flood in Little Wild Horse Canyon, a popular slot canyon in the San Rafael Swell. This isn’t even a super narrow canyon. And it’s popular. It can happen anywhere.
In 1997, 11 hikers died in a flash flood in Antelope Canyon (the storm was 15 miles away) and that’s a huge reason you need to go with a tour now.
Flash floods are no joke kids. I haven’t seen one in a slot canyon but I did see one right as it was starting in a more open canyon and it really picked up fast. I also saw one in Zion along the Mt. Carmel Highway this summer. It was small but they just happen so fast, please be safe.
- DO NOT ENTER THEM IN THE RAIN
- DO NOT ENTER THEM WITH RAIN IN THE FORECAST
- DO NOT ENTER THEM IF IT’S NOT RAINING IN THEM BUT NEAR THEM TOO
- If you don’t feel comfortable with any climb or narrow squeeze and can turn back, do that! You don’t want to get hurt or stuck and need to be rescued. I linked tons of stories of this below.
- Make sure you’re following the right fork. A lot of slot canyons have multiple forks or are close to other ones and ending up in the wrong one can have dire consequences (especially in the North Wash area of Utah.)
Visit Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
This is an easy park to visit and you probably only need a couple of hours here. We did the Sleeping Rainbow Trail (1.75 miles) which was easy (just watch the trail, the light dirt was surprisingly slippery and I slipped weird onto my knee on a little hill.)
It’s not the most thrilling state park, especially if you’ve already been to Petrified Forest National Park, but it’s still worth visiting if you’re in the area, have some spare time, or love petrified wood. There are some pretty cool pieces of it there.
Hike the Willis Creek slot canyon
If you want to hike a slot canyon but don’t want to have to hold your breath squeezing through it, the Willis Creek slot canyon is perfect!
This is a three-ish mile hike that is nice and easy with little elevation gain. It’s a glowing golden slot canyon not far from the town of Escalante. The walls here are different than the slot canyons mentioned above but it’s still beautiful.
I do like other slot canyons more but it’s a great hike and it’s dog-friendly if you’re bringing your furry friends! We saw a tons of dogs on this hike. It can get busy so I would go earlier in the morning.
Hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls
I know I said most people that visit Escalante hike the slot canyons, but I think this is the most popular hike in Escalante. The Lower Calf Creek Falls hike is about 6.2 miles and takes about three hours.
The trail itself isn’t the most exciting, you’re hiking through a canyon. It’s pretty leafy and a lot of the trail is deep sand which makes the hike feel harder than it would be otherwise.
There are pictographs along the way on a huge canyon wall on the right (on your way to the falls) which is exciting, but the falls are the real draw.
This is a popular hike so it can get busy but it’s still worth doing. Early morning and evening can help cut back on the crowds. This is also dog friendly, just pick up the poop. We saw too many bags of it along the trail.
Hike to Upper Calf Creek Falls
Upper Calf Creek Falls is a more difficult hike but the trail is shorter (3 miles), which leads to some of the difficulty. It’s more steep and cannot be reached from Lower Calf Creek Falls or it’s trail.
I haven’t done this one yet but I would love to. This hike is closer to Boulder than Escalante not far from the Hogback area. Dogs are also welcome on this trail.
If you want to see a waterfall in Escalante but want to avoid some crowds at Lower Calf Creek, this is a good choice. You could do both in one day if you don’t mind nine miles of hiking in total.
Hike the Escalante River Trail
This can be a day hike or a backpacking trip. It can be a long hike or a short one. It’s a 15-mile one-way hike along, well, the Escalante River.
If you do the whole thing, you’ll either need two cars or a shuttle back to your car. But if you’re just looking to hike for a few hours, you can head out and just turn around whenever.
Drive Hells Backbone
If you want to do a scenic drive instead of a hike one day, you could drive Hells Backbone between Boulder and Escalante! It’s a dirt road but any car should be able to do this. I would maybe avoid it if it’s rainy though.
I also wouldn’t do this if you just have one day in Escalante or Boulder and I would take Scenic Byway 12 over this if you’re driving between them and just have one chance to do it.
But if you have spare time, this is a good drive. There is some good Geocaching along the way and tons of other roads branching off of this but I do prefer other drives and think there are better things to do in Escalante. But it’s still not bad, it has some great views from the Hells Backbone Bridge.
Enjoy a coffee at Kiva Koffeehouse
They are closed Monday and Tuesday! It took me forever to realize this and forever to eventually get here because I was always in the area on Monday and Tuesday. They’re also closed in the winter.
They have some food and coffee and it’s a great place to sit and enjoy a beverage with an incredible view. It can get warm in here but it’s a great place for a break from hiking or to start your day.
Hike to the 100 Hands Pictograph
The 100 Hands Pictograph hike is a wonderful short hike starting at the Escalante River Trailhead. It takes you to a pictographs of 100 hands, shocking, I know, and some petroglyphs that look like a witch zapping a reindeer.
There is no shade on this and some of it was a little hard to follow but it’s not too bad. I would not do this one when it’s over 90 degrees because you will be baked by the end.
Things to keep in mind when visiting rock art & ruins:
- Do not touch the rock art (pictographs or petroglyphs) because the oils on our fingers can degrade them.
- If you find artifacts, do not take them. Leave them where they are and just take pictures.
- If there are structures (rooms, kivas, anything like that) don’t enter them unless it is stated that you can. Most places you can’t but national and state parks will have restored structures you can enter. Mesa Verde, Edge of the Cedars, and Anasazi Museum all have ruins you can enter.
- And finally, don’t carve in or write or paint or draw on the rocks! I don’t want to have to say this, but I need to for real.
Drive to and hike down Hole in the Rock
Now, I wouldn’t just drive down Hole in the Rock Road for the heck of it because it’s long and takes forever (especially the last ten-ish miles) and it’s rough.
But, you have to drive down it to get to the slot canyons, the actual Hole in the Rock, and Devils Garden. This is the road that Mormon Pioneers made/took on their way out west.
At the very end of the road, they hauled their wagons down that cliff to cross the canyon. 83 wagons were hauled down this after they enlarged the crack and made a path for them.
You can scramble your way down to Lake Powell from the crevice at the end of Hole in the Rock Road and the distance changes as the water levels change. Right now it’s going to be a lot further of a scramble. I wouldn’t do this if you’re not used to or comfortable with rock scrambling.
Visit the Devils Garden
Devils Garden is a hoodoo filled area twelve miles down Hole in the Rock Road reminiscent of Goblin Valley. You don’t need much time here, 15-30 minutes probably, so it’s a great stop on your way to other things on Hole in the Rock Road.
Day hike to Coyote Gulch
You can hike Coyote Gulch in one day or as an overnight trip. It will be 10-12 miles round-trip but it looks incredible. It’s probably one of the best hikes in Escalante.
There are a few routes you can take for this hike (in the post linked above) so you can choose which works best for you. If there are any ropes already in place along the way, use them with caution. It may be best to bring your own just in case.
You’ll get to see some waterfalls, arches, and more along the way. If you’re doing this overnight, you do need a permit for the camping and can get it at the trailhead.
Escalante hiking guides
- Hiking Grand Staircase Escalante and Glen Canyon
- Hiking the Escalante
- Best Easy Day Hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante and Glen Canyon
- Hiking Grand Staircase Escalante and the Glen Canyon Region (different from the first one)
- Escalante Topographic map
Other things to do in Grand Staircase Escalante
Hike the Toadstool Trail
So, the Toadstool Trail is technically in Grand staircase Escalante, but it’s not by the town of Escalante or Boulder. It’s at the south end of the monument between Kanab and Page.
This is a short, easy trail to the hoodoo pictured above. I don’t like it but I know it’s super popular and highly rated on AllTrails. It’s a good way to stretch your legs and break up a long drive but other hikes are better. I would not drive down here from Escalante to hike this.
Anasazi Museum State Park
If you want to visit a museum and do something in Boulder other than eat (seriously, go to Boulder just to eat, we did this from Bullfrog a lot), then the Anasazi State Park Museum is perfect.
It’s a small museum and you don’t need tons of time here, maybe an hour, and you can see artifacts on display and learn about the human history of the area. Out back they have some ruins you can see, too.
I drove the bottom half of this road and wasn’t that impressed but we didn’t see the part in the picture above. There are a few hikes along the way and you can see Grosvenor Arch right on the side of the road. There is a turnoff for it but it’s super easy to see.
As long as it’s not rainy, this could be a good way to get from the Willis Creek Slot Canyon area to the Page/Kanab area. I don’t think it’s the best road but it looks like the top half would be pretty cool. I wouldn’t do this just for fun but more for a road to get from one place to another.
Drive Burr Trail
I love Burr Trail and I think it’s the best scenic drive in Utah (with Scenic Byway 12 close by.) Burr Trail connects Bullfrog on Lake Powell to Boulder and it’s mostly paved but has a dirt section through Capitol Reef.
There are hikes along the way like Pedestal Alley, Surprise Canyon, Headquarters Canyon, and Halls Creek Overlook. You could do this one as a day trip, we did a lot, or you could take it just as a way to get from Boulder to Bullfrog (or vice versa).
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There you have it! 16 incredible things to do in Escalante, Utah for hikers, drivers, and just good old coffee drinkers. It’s a must-see area on a Utah road trip and I hope you get to spend some time there!
Have you been to Escalante? What did you think of it? What is your favorite thing to do in Escalante? Do you want to go?