Escalante River Area Info
Descending into any such maze of canyons, you feel small. This is not like the famous Grand Canyon, which overwhelms with its size. It is much more intimate. You are close to the forces of nature, seeing the power of erosion in the striped, often smooth and undulating, wavy sandstone walls that close in on you and then widen again. At times, the cool walls are close enough to rub against your shoulders. Choke stones, boulders that have fallen from cliffs high above, lodge themselves into the canyons and provide for interesting and challenging obstacles through the canyons. In some areas, the sandy bottom of the canyon is littered with large pieces of petrified wood, making for natural stairs. The deeper you go into the narrows, the cooler the temperatures get. It is like exploring a cave with a permanent skylight. Vegetation within the wider canyons brings bright green contrast to the red rock walls and blue sky.
The best time to hike the Escalante River are late March through June and early September through October. Weather conditions and water temperatures are generally most favorable during this period. It is impossible to predict weather conditions in the Escalante River area very far in advance. If current information about river conditions is desired, contact the BLM or NPS offices in Escalante.
Most of the Escalante River itself is slow and shallow, with depths ranging from ankle to knee-deep. Some deeper water occurs at the lower end, especially in the narrows above Coyote Gulch. Water depth may be considerably higher during spring runoff or after heavy rainstorms. Do not attempt to make water crossings during severe flooding. The river must be crossed many times so canvas shoes or boots are suggested.
Some of the side canyons (Death Hollow, Sand Creek, Boulder Creek, and The Gulch) have sections of narrows that may require deep wading or swimming. Normally, there is not enough water to float the Escalante River. However, depending on spring runoff, it may be possible for a short period of time. Spring runoff can occur any time from April to late May. Contact the BLM office for more information.
Hikers can obtain a free backcountry hiking permit at the BLM or NPS office in Escalante. Permits can also be filled out at various trailhead register boxes at the beginning of a hike.
The information from this permit will be used to determine visitor use and will aid in search and rescue efforts in the event of an emergency. Always let someone know your itinerary before hiking the backcountry. It is advisable to hike with at least one other person.
Special Use Permits--Commercial trips and organized groups (scout troops, schools, clubs, etc.) must obtain a special use permit prior to the proposed trip or event in this area. Contact the appropriate agency or agencies (BLM, NPS, or FS) in Escalante for further permit information.
Group Size--It is recommended that group sizes be limited to 12 individuals when hiking on BLM lands. There is a group size limit of 12 when hiking within the Glen Canyon N.R.A.
There are very few developed or maintained hiking trails along the Escalante River and its side canyons; however, a number of intermittent pathways have become established in some areas from continued use over the years. Most hikes involve personal route selection, which generally follows along the course of the main river canyon or side canyon and usually includes wading in the streambed, walking along pathways across the river benches, and making frequent water crossings. Some side canyons may require deep wading, boulder hopping, and an occasional swim. Other side canyons are dry, and carrying additional water may be a necessity.
When hiking in well-traveled areas where established trails exist, stay on the main trail to avoid creating unnecessary multiple trails or further trampling and erosion of the surrounding area. Otherwise, walk on slickrock, sand, or in the creekbeds. Your footsteps will eventually be erased by floods.
To keep track of your location while you are hiking, you can estimate your mileage and take note of landmarks as you go. Landmarks may include major bends in the river, other side canyons, an arch or natural bridge, a spring, a major cliff, a high point, etc. Many such landmarks can be referenced on a map and double-checked as you go. This is especially important for cross-country hiking and extended back-country trips. Topographic maps and a compass can come in handy for orientation and getting your bearings.
Featured hike: Calf Creek Falls Trail
There are several trailheads which are used for access into the Escalante River and its side canyons. Some of these trailheads have a visitor register at the site. These trailheads are located on BLM, NPS, and FS lands. Visitor use regulations may vary between these agencies.
Main Trailhead Locations
Escalante River from the Town of Escalante--The Escalante River from the Highway 12 Escalante River bridge, 14 miles east of Escalante--Calf Creek Campground--developed interpretive trail to Lower Calf Creek Falls--Deep Creek at Deer Creek Recreation site along the Burr Trail Road--The Gulch, at the Burr Trail Road crossing--Wolverine Canyon Petrified Wood area--Silver Falls Canyon--Moody Canyon--Trailheads along Hole-in-the-Rock road--Harris Wash at Corral Spring--Twenty Five Mile Wash at Egypt Bench road crossing--Egypt--Cat Pasture--Early Weed Bench--Red Well--Hurricane Wash--Fortymile Ridge.
When parking vehicles, be careful not to block any road, corral, or cabin access.
To prevent thefts and vandalism, do not leave valuables in vehicles.
Other Suggested Trips
Because of the many access points into the Escalante River, numerous trips are possible. Below are a few trips lasting from 2 to 10 days. Each trip could be expanded, depending on the amount of time spent exploring the many side canyons. Most of the trips require a car at both the beginning and ending of the trip.
- Escalante to Highway 12. 15 miles. Easy walking.
- Harris Wash to Escalante River and return. 20.6 miles. Moderately easy.
- Deer Creek Recreation Site to Highway 12, 16.6 miles. Deep area require swimming or climbing up on the plateau. Moderately strenuous.
- The Gulch to Highway 12. 26.5 miles. Moderately strenuous.
- Hurricane Wash to Escalante River and return. 26.4 miles. Moderately strenuous.
- Highway 12 to Harris Wash. 36.7 miles. Moderately strenuous.
- The Gulch to Harris Wash. 35.2 miles. Moderately strenuous.
- Death Hollow (Hell's Backbone Road) to Highway 12. 29.9 miles. No water for first 11 miles. Deep pools require swimming or ropes. Very strenuous.
- Harris Wash to Hurricane Wash. 66.3 miles. Moderately strenuous.
- Highway 12 to Hurricane Wash. 82.3 miles. Moderately strenuous.
Flash Floods--Flash floods are most common from July through mid-September. Avoid hiking in narrow canyons if a storm is approaching. Make all camps away from the stream and on high ground. If you find yourself in a flood situation, climb to the highest possible point. Usually flood conditions will subside in 8 to 12 hours, but if a prolonged storm is in the area, you could be stranded for several days.
Quicksand--If you step in quicksand, don't panic! You will most likely not sink past your waist and probably not past your knees. Quicksand is more unpleasant than dangerous.
Hot Weather Hiking--For hot weather hiking carry adequate water to consume a minimum of 2 quarts per day. Make it a point to drink much more water than normal, even if you do not feel thirsty. Try hiking only during the coolest times of the day. Rest often. Don't overexert yourself. Wear a light weight hat and light weight, light-colored clothing. Watch your fellow hikers for signs of heat exhaustion. If you become ill from the heat, rest with your head down and your clothing loosened.
First Aid--You should always carry a first aid kit in your pack. It is also recommended that you carry a first aid manual and have at least one person in your group trained in first aid.
Slickrock--Watch your footing when hiking along steep slickrock slopes or ledges. Slickrock may become slippery when wet and is often crumbly when dry.
Be Alert--for cactus, scorpions, and rattlesnakes. Avoid them. Beware of poison ivy in some areas, especially in lower Death Hollow, where it grows profusely along the creek banks.
Trip Planning--Plan your route and acquire the maps you'll need. Take along an adequate supply of food, water, clothing, and shelter. Let someone know your hiking itinerary and expected return date. Planning ahead can make for a much safer and more enjoyable, rewarding, experience.
Water--Boil or otherwise treat all water before use. Carry extra water with you if you plan to travel cross-country away from reliable water sources.
Trash--Carry a litter bag with you and pack all of your trash back out. Do not bury trash--it soon becomes exposed due to the action of wind and animals. Think! Keep your public lands clean!
Toilets--Dig latrine holes at least 6 inches deep and at least 100 feet away from any water source, drainage, or campsite area. Burn toilet paper in the latrine hole and cover with soil. (Do not burn toilet paper if vegetation or windy conditions present a hazard.) Suggestions: Carry a small, light-weight hand trowel for digging latrine holes. If you are traveling with a large group or camping at the same site for several days, it may be desirable to choose a latrine site and dig a narrow but deep latrine hole for everyone in your group to use. Fill in the hole with a small amount of dirt after each use and, finally, fill the hole in with soil and naturalize the area as much as possible before leaving.
Cleaning--Personal hygiene and washing of pots and pans should be done away from all water sources and campsite areas. If it is necessary to use soap, use a backpackers biodegradable soap to minimize pollution.
Cooking--Campstoves are preferred since, unlike campfires, they keep an area in its cleanest, most natural state.
Fires--If you choose to build a campfire, keep it small, use an already existing fire ring or fire scar when possible, and burn only dead-and-downed wood. Allow the fire to burn down to white ash as much as possible before leaving--this helps reduce unsightly build-up of coals and charred wood chunks.
Note: That portion of the lower Escalante River canyons which lies within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area boundary may be closed to campfires.
A Note About Fires--Campfires are wonderful, but please keep in mind the impact they will have on area; permanent fire scars, blackened rocks, unsightly coal and ash buildup in otherwise pristine areas, and the destruction of live trees and standing snags for firewood in high use areas. The alternative--backpacking stoves--are recommended.
Cattle--Cattle are grazed in the lower elevation areas during the winter months and then moved to higher elevation areas for the summer. Make sure you close all gates after passing through them to prevent cattle from wandering into other areas. If you encounter cows while hiking in the canyons try to slowly move around them in order to avoid "pushing" them down the canyon ahead of you. To report dead or stray cows identify the eartag color and number, general location, and contact the BLM office in Escalante or make a note of it in a trailhead register box.
For more information about the surrounding area:
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