Hiking and Backpacking
The Grand Staircase Escalante Canyons National Monument & Highway 12 have many hiking and backpacking opportunities. The area is remote, vast, and requires a lifetime to explore. Hiking guide books are helpful but the rugged twisting nature of the country makes descriptions difficult and often misleading. Be careful, carry plenty of water, and keep track of where you are going. Don’t get in over your head!. If you are unfamiliar with the rugged and harsh nature of desert travel then stick to the wash bottoms and don’t try to navigate cross country until you are better acquainted with the area.
Spring and fall are the best times to hike in the Escalante. Summer can be very hot and brings with it the threat of flash floods which can come roaring down a peaceful canyon bottom filling it very quickly.
Get a good map and pay a visit to the Escalante Ranger Station in the town of Escalante for further guidance.
Camping in the Grand Staircase National Monument – Highway 12 – Burr Trail area can be the event of a life time. Below are the official campgrounds for the area.
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
1 mile west of Escalante Showers, Hookups, RV and tent campsites, entry fee.
On Hell’s Backbone Road north of Escalante Day use and camping areas, water. Lake stocked with trout.
Blue Spruce Campground
On Hell’s Backbone Road Small campground
Devils Garden Natural Area
12 miles down Hole in the Rock road Unusual rock formations, day use area.
Calf Creek Recreation Area
On Highway 12, 15 miles east of Escalante Water,13 campsites (fee area), reserved day use area, 3 mile hike to Calf Creek Falls.
Deer Creek Campground
6 miles east of Boulder on Burr Trail Primitive campground (7 sites, fee area), rest rooms, no water.
Oak Creek Campground
Highway 12 on Boulder Mountain Water, rest rooms, fee area
Pleasant Creek Campground
Highway 12 on Boulder Mountain Water, rest rooms, fee area
Highway 12 on Boulder Mountain. Water, rest rooms, fee area
Most roads in the area are unpaved and maintained intermittently. Many are rough, rocky, and have areas of deep sand. High clearance vehicles are a must and 4wd may be required in some areas. Bad weather can also leave roads impassable for several days so carry warm clothing, food, water, and gasoline.
Some roads have a clay surface which becomes very slippery when wet. Avoid driving on any dirt road if rain is in the forecast. Keep your speed down and watch for sections of heavy washboard which can jar you to the bone and shake your car off the road. Enter sharp curves with caution.
Summer temperatures can climb to over 100 degrees, and winter temperatures can drop below zero. Carry plenty of water in the warm months and layer warm clothing in the colder months. Flash flooding can occur anytime between May and September.
Be alert and pay attention to the weather. Be aware that river levels can rise rapidly and can make crossings dangerous or impossible. Do not try to cross during high water and do not drive through flooded wash bottoms.
Due to the rugged nature of the Escalante Basin there are few marked or maintained trails. Route finding and orienteering skills are often required and a good sense of direction is needed. Always carry a good topo map and compass and know how to use them. If you are new to the the area and can’t read a map then stick to the easier routes. Visit the Escalante Ranger Station in Escalante town for further guidance.
Rattlesnakes and scorpions are the only poisonous creatures in the Escalante. Although rare, you still may encounter one or the other. Always watch where you are stepping and don’t reach blindly around rocks while climbing or scrambling, or setting up camp.
Scorpions are less common and not as deadly as their more southern neighbors. Shake out your shoes before putting them on and be aware of them under your ground cloth. Most of the other bugs burrow into the sand during the heat of the day and come out at night. Biting flies are present from June through mid August and can be a real pain. They usually only bite while you are moving, and wearing long pants keeps them at bay.
Mandatory backcountry permits are required before any overnight trip. They are available at the Escalante Ranger Station and at several trailhead locations. Group size is limited to 12 people.
Open fires are prohibited in the Glen Canyon Recreation Area and are discouraged elsewhere. Use cookstoves to reduce human impact. Fires are unnecessary and leave ugly scars. If you must build a fire, go to a developed campground.
Human Waste and Garbage
Bury all human waste at least 8 inches deep and at least 300 feet away from any water source. Burn all toilet paper completely or carry it out in plastic bags. Do not defecate under overhangs or inside alcoves. Rain water never enters these areas which is essential for decomposition. Increasing use of the area and the acts of an irresponsible few may eventually mandate that all human waste be carried out of the backcountry. Treat the area with respect.
Food leftovers and all garbage must be carried out. Do not dump garbage on the ground or over vegetation. Do not wash dishes in streams or pools, and do not use soap near any water source. Leave the area better that you found it! Things like used match sticks and bits of candy wrappers must be picked up before breaking camp.
Pets must be on a leash at all times in the Glen Canyon Recreation Area and in control at all times elsewhere. Dogs do not do well in the desert heat and spread disease to native species. Leave them home.
Natural and Cultural Resources
Do not deface any tree, shrub, rock, or ancient Indian artifact. Do not touch petroglyphs or remove any artifact found at a cultural sight. Not only is this illegal but it erases evidence of past generations and deprives society of the knowledge about these sites. Do not enter or climb on any Indian ruins.
As always, the time of year will determines the type of clothing required in the backcountry. Late spring and early fall are the best times to hike or backpack because the warm temperatures require less gear. Light clothing such as shorts or light cotton pants work well, and in the warmer months, a tent is sometimes too much. If bugs bother you then bring some kind of shelter for sleeping otherwise a large ground cloth that can be pulled over you will keep out any light rain.
Footwear should be light but rugged and have a good lugged sole. Heavy leather hiking boots do not work well in the wet canyons because it is impossible to keep your feet dry. Modern canvas hiking boots work well, but don’t spend a lot of money on them because the water trashes them after several trips. High top boots are recommended to help keep the sand out.
Wear a double layer of heavy wool socks as they cause less blistering when wet, plus the extra padding isolates your feet from incoming sand and pebbles picked up during river or stream crossings. Also keep your socks from falling down around your ankles with rubber bands or miniature bungi cords. This will keep any debris on the outside of your socks and away from your bare skin.
All surface water should be treated before drinking. The parasite Giardia is common in the water and will make you sick. Always carry a portable water filter. If you hike away from water sources, then you should carry a gallon of water per person per day. Hot temperature and very low humidity can cause dehydration very quickly ! People not use to low humidity should carry extra water and use caution !
Map and Compass
Always carry a good map and compass and never hike alone. Plan an itinerary and stick to it. Let someone know where you are going and when you will return. Always keep track of where you are going. Turn around and pick out landmarks that will orient you on your return trip.