Reflection Canyon is a tributary of Lake Powell found in southeastern Utah. From the water, you can reach it by boat, jet ski, or kayak. However, the most spectacular viewpoint is found on the cliff ledges above.
To get there, you’ll need to drive 50 miles on the unpaved Hole-in-the-Rock Road, then hike 8-9 miles one way.
I only recommend this trip for experienced backpackers for three reasons:
- There are no designated trails. You’ll walk over petrified dunes with no cairns for miles. Top notch route finding skills are necessary.
- The mileage might not seem very high but remember, these are desert miles. There is no shade and temperatures can soar, especially during summer months.
- There is no water, so you have to carry enough to last your entire visit. Kim and I shared 9 L for our overnighter and that was barely enough.
Backcountry permits are required for this hike if you plan to stay overnight. In my opinion, this is the best way to do it.
Our spot above the cliff edge of Reflection Canyon is one of the coolest places we’ve ever camped. This gave us the opportunity to witness sunset and sunrise there. Both were phenomenal.
You can obtain permits the day of your trip at the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center in Escalante.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Reflection Canyon is during Spring or Fall, when highs range from 60-85° F and lows 35-55° F.
During winter, a warm spell could be a great time to have the canyon to yourself. Generally, highs are mild but lows are below freezing. Snowfall is infrequent but it does occur.
Summer temps routinely top 100° F. Since there is no shade or water on this hike, I’d discourage doing it then. If you are planning to anyway, hike during the early morning and rest during the heat of the day.
Hiking to Reflection Canyon
- Distance: 16-18 miles
- Hike Time: 2 days
- Elevation Gain: 1,243 feet
- Fee: Free
- Dogs: Yes
- Difficulty: Hard
The trailhead is unofficial, so you’ll need to know exactly where it is to find it. Reset your trip odometer when you turn off Highway 12 onto the Hole-in-the-Rock Road. Once it has recorded 50.7 miles, park off the road on the left side. The GPS coordinates are 37.252384, -110.973548.
From the trailhead, head southwest on the sand footpath. At 0.2 miles, the footpath turns to slickrock, a type of smooth sandstone polished by the elements.
In Southern Utah, hiking on slickrock is the norm but routes are often marked by cairns, which are stacked rocks. These are meant to aid route finding and keep people from getting lost. You won’t see these here, so be cautious and check your GPS frequently. Bring a map and compass as a backup and make sure you know how to use them.
After 0.2 miles of hiking uphill on the slickrock, you’ll reach another sand footpath. You can follow this and others like it for 5.5 miles as they hug the bottom of the cliffs to the west.
This impressive cliff band is the southernmost end of Fiftymile Bench, though the fifty mile portion ends at Fiftymile Point, which sits atop the bluff you see from the trailhead.
Once you’ve hiked 6 miles total, bear left and descend into the sea of petrified dunes to the east. From this point, you’ll be hiking on slickrock until you reach Reflection Canyon.
These final 2-3 miles are the most challenging because it’s difficult to stay on course. Continue in a southeasterly direction and look for Navajo Mountain, an unmistakable lone peak to the south. When it becomes hidden, you’re within a mile. Once it comes back into view, bear left and continue eastward down to the overlook.
At first glance, there won’t seem to be anywhere to camp. However, if you nose around a bit you’ll find plenty of flat areas on the slickrock near the cliff edge to make camp.
Kim and I cowboy camped, meaning we didn’t set up a shelter. By chance, we got to see the April Lyrids meteor shower that night. It kicked off with a fireball, one of the brightest meteors we’ve seen.
What to Bring
The biggest mistake beginner backpackers make is bringing too much stuff and hauling too heavy of a pack.
I guarantee your trip will be much more enjoyable if you pack light. Identify what you need to bring and leave behind what you don’t.
Tip: Not sure which lightweight backpacking gear to buy? We’ve done the “heavy lifting” for you. See our top picks.
Tent: Just in case the weather turned, I brought a Paria Outdoor Products Sanctuary SilTarp. The forecast was for clear skies and that’s what we encountered, so Kim and I slept without a shelter.
Backpack: Kim and I both used our Zpacks Arc Haul-Zips on this trip. If your base weight is under 20 lb, this is a comfortable, lightweight option. It’s included in my best lightweight backpacking packs list.
Sleeping Pad: I used the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite, a lightweight air mattress. Kim used the ProLite Plus, which weighs a few more ounces but self inflates and is more comfortable. See my best lightweight sleeping pads list for more info.
Kim wore Ahnu Montara hiking boots.
Headlamp: Kim and I both used Black Diamond Spot Headlamps.
Food: We brought homemade meals with ingredients that we dehydrated at home. If you’re feeling lazy, here are my favorite freeze dried and dehydrated food options.
- Down jacket – Patagonia UL
- Fleece – Patagonia R1
- Long johns – Patagonia Capilene
- Rain jacket – OR Helium II (read my review)
- Hiking pants – Prana Stretch Zion (one of my favorite hiking pants)
- Shorts – prAna Mojo Short
- T-shirt – Patagonia Bandito
- Tank top – The North Face tank top
- Underwear – ExOfficio Give-N-Go
- Socks – Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew (one of my favorite hiking socks)
- Hat – Quick dry baseball cap and wool Buff
- Down jacket – The North Face ThermoBall
- Fleece – Columbia Women’s Warm Up Hooded Fleece
- Leggings – Under Armour Women’s ColdGear Authentic Leggings
- Shorts – Gapfit 3″ Running Shorts
- Sports Bra – Under Armour Favorite Cotton Longline Bra
- Socks – Darn Tough Vertex Ultra-Light
Sunscreen: Bring high SPF sunscreen and wear it. The Utah sun is not something to be trifled with.
Tip: Accidents happen. Learn how to treat cuts and wounds in the backcountry.
From Escalante, head east on Highway 12. Continue for 5 miles, then turn right onto unpaved Hole-in-the-Rock Road. Continue for 50.7 miles. High clearance and 4WD are advisable for the last few miles.
In April 2019, Kim and I hiked to Reflection Canyon to celebrate four years of marriage. It was Kim’s first backpacking trip since having baby Maia. The last time she went was Wedgemount Lake at five months pregnant.
Weather conditions were clear and sunny. Highs were in the mid 70s with lows in the 50s.
- Distance: 8.5 miles
Made it to the trailhead and started hiking at 2:10 p.m. We got off route within the first 10 minutes. Got back on track, then proceeded to get off route 4-5 more times before reaching Reflection Canyon. We arrived at 6:30 p.m. To our surprise, there were a few other people camping there.
- Distance: 8 miles
Woke up before sunrise to photograph the sun breaking over the cliffs. It was a magical morning, but some guy was flying a drone around 10 feet over the heads of people who were still sleeping in their tents. Not only was this incredibly rude, drones aren’t allowed in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Started hiking back at 8 a.m. On the way back, we only got off route once or twice. We got back to the trailhead at 11:30 a.m.