Length: 11 miles roundtrip
Description: Off the Hole-in-the-Rock Road, 45 miles south of the town of Escalante and Highway 12, Fortymile Gulch offers an incredible peek into the canyon country of the Grand Staircase-Escalante area. The gulch sits to the east of the Hole-in-the-Rock Road, and south of Coyote Gulch, at the lower end of the Fortymile Ridge. The area is a maze of gulches and narrow canyons, all of them feeding into Fortymile Gulch and Willow Gulch, eventually feeding into the Escalante arm of Lake Powell.
As many of the other hikes in the area, Fortymile Gulch can be explored through many different routes. Some people make a complete journey out of the Left and Right Forks of Fortymile Gulch, moving on down to Fortymile Spring, and on down to Lake Powell. Others concentrate on Willow Gulch by itself, or Sooner and Carcass Washes. The route we recommend is to take the Sooner Wash trailhead until it joins with Fortymile Gulch, and then to turn south and hike back up Willow Gulch and back to the road.
The route is wet for the majority of the gulch, and will not appeal much to those that do not enjoy wading and swimming through desert canyons.
Sooner Wash Trailhead
The trailhead is on the west side of the road, beside the Sooner Rocks formation.
The Sooner Rocks offers a great camping place, as well as some laidback exploration for the kids. The rocks sit almost 700 feet above the confluence of Willow Gulch and Fortymile Gulch below.
Sooner Wash-Fortymile Gulch Confluence
Only 1.5 miles past the trailhead, Sooner Wash empties into Fortymile Gulch. For the majority of Sooner Wash, hikers can evade the waterpockets, but once they near the confluence, the cayon will narrow and there will be places where wading is necessary, as water will reach from one end of the canyon to the opposite end. It is a lost cause to try to avoid getting wet once hikers have dropped into Fortymile Gulch. Wading is always necessary, and dependent upon water levels, swimming might also be necessary.
Willow Gulch-Fortymile Gulch Confluence
All too soon, hikers find themselves at the Willow Gulch confluence, coming in from the southwest. It is certainly feasible to continue exploring farther downstream, but as Fortymile Gulch closes in with Lake Powell, it becomes muddier and swampier. Heading up Willow Gulch will continue the exploration of narrow red rock canyons and glistening desert pools, and will offer a nice surprise; Broken Bow Arch sits along the north wall of the gulch, barely half a mile from the confluence.
Willow Gulch Parking Area
Willow Gulch is fed by three main streams, all of them coming from the high ground to the west of the Hole-in-the-Rock Road. Hikers can take any of the three streambeds at the confluence that forms Willow Gulch, but the northernmost of the washes passes by the parking area that forms the end of a short road leading from Hole-in-the-Rock. Hikers that wish to avoid the entire 11 miles back to the Sooner trailhead, much of which is overland, can leave a second vehicle here, making their actual hiking trip 8.2 miles long.