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Tag: Colorado Plateau

Trip Report: The Escalante Route of the Grand Canyon

Trip Data

  • Dates: Thu, Oct 21, 2021 to Sun, Oct 24, 2021
  • Route: Lipan Point > Grandview Point
  • Weather: Sunny, with partly cloudy afternoons. Highs in the 60s and 70s, lows in the 30s and 40s.
  • Distance Hiked: 33 miles
  • Time: 4 days

Map

Background

In June of 2021, Max attained permits for an October descent into the Grand Canyon on the Escalante Trail, a relatively unpopular route that has a reputation for being more treacherous and difficult than the average Grand Canyon trek.

Although the standard trip length for this route is 4 nights, Max requested a 3-night permit to make it more likely our friends could get the time off to do it with us. The park rangers cautioned him against this due to the strenuous nature of the trail, but Max held his ground and they gave in.

We were surprised and amused when we received the permit, which said in large red letters, “AGGRESSIVE ITINERARY! HIKER INSISTED ON ITINERARY.”

Despite this delightful warning, our friends Jason and Dana still decided to join us. Max has extensive experience in the Grand Canyon, having worked there as a guide and completed multiple hikes, including the R2R in a day, Havasupai, and Salt Trail Canyon to LCR Gorge. Jason and I also have quite a bit of experience in desert backpacking, and Dana is a kick-ass rock climber, so we were all feeling a bit cavalier about our odds of success on this trek.

By the end of our 3 nights, we were rightfully humbled by the Grand Canyon, and Max had earned the cheeky nickname “Aggressive Itinerary.”

From left to right: Kim (the author), Max, Jason, Dana
From left to right: Kim (the author), Max, Jason, Dana

Summary

We embarked out of Grand Junction and drove to Utah to drop our daughter off with her grandparents. Max had all of his meals and snacks provided by Right on Trek, which made preparation for the trip very easy.

Jason and Dana flew in from Chicago. We picked them up at the Las Vegas airport, and headed to Arizona. We spent the night before our trek camping on a forest road outside of the park. It was freezing cold, and we were grateful for the beer and pizza we had consumed in Williams to keep us warm.

The next morning, we had a leisurely breakfast at the Foodie Club restaurant in Tusayan, blithely ignorant of the ass kicking we would receive in the canyon. We headed into the park that afternoon and left our vehicle at Lipan Point at about 2 PM on October 21st to begin our descent.

Day 1

Distance: 10.7 mi
Ascent: 475 ft
Descent: 5,123 ft

The trail drops steeply in the first 2 miles, with lots of scree scrambling and boulder hopping. I was grateful for my trekking pole, and immediately began to lament that I had not done more squats and lunges to prepare.

After mile 2, the trail was less rocky, with flat sections to break it up. We were shaded from the warm autumn sun through all of it, and there were breathtaking views and geological wonders to entertain us as we descended down further.

Photo op on our first sighting of the Colorado River!
Photo op on our first sighting of the Colorado River!

Within a few hours, the setting sun painted a crimson streak on the cliff walls across from us, and we began to wish we had started a bit earlier. We passed a group of hikers who had to stop and make camp early after one of them had sustained an injury. It was a good reminder not to underestimate the canyon.

The setting sun's last rays cast on the cliffs above us
The setting sun’s last rays cast on the cliffs above us

It was full dark when the temperature noticeably rose, and we began smelling the sweet, reedy aroma of the Colorado River. After four hours of hiking, we had reached the bottom at last!

We heard the roar of the Tanner Rapids in front of us and felt a moment of relief. Unfortunately, thanks to our “aggressive itinerary,” we had another 4 miles of hiking to do before we could stop and camp.

We took advantage of the pit toilet at Tanner – which was a godsend as my legs were jelly and I couldn’t squat even if I wanted to – and then continued downriver with our headlamps on.

The trail was well marked with small cairns, and squirreled up and down the rocky hills that make up the toes of the canyon walls. The almost full moon crept over the south rim, lighting up the splendor around us.

Despite the beauty, it was a grueling two and half hours, and we were grateful when we heard the whoops and greetings of the rafters camping at Cardenas, our night’s destination.

The rafters invited us to drink some beer with them, but we were spent after the day’s exertion. Dana had already developed bad blisters, and we were all aching and exhausted.

We found a sandy grove a few hundred feet from the river and collapsed into our tents. We had to take precautions to keep the mice from our food while we slept, and I was grateful for the earplugs I had brought to tune out the sounds of revelry from the rafting camp, but we all had a great night of sleep in the warm riparian air.

Kim poses in the Grand Canyon

Day 2

Distance: 8.1 mi
Ascent: 1,744 ft
Descent: 1,828 ft

We slept in and broke camp slowly, limping on our stiff legs. I discovered that my water reservoir had sprung a big leak and was useless, and so I made my way down to the rafters to see if they could help me out.

The view from Cardenas Camp
The view from Cardenas Camp

They were a large group out of Aspen, CO. They were incredibly kind to us, offering to take our garbage, supply us with beer and seltzer, and gave me a large jug to carry my water in. We were floored by their generosity!

We filled our water bottles in the Colorado, which was clear enough to require very little filtration, then started on the trail at about 11 AM.

Looking back toward Cardenas Camp from above
Looking back toward Cardenas Camp from above

It was warm and sunny with very little wind. We climbed about 1300 feet onto a mesa several hundred yards away from the river. The trail was narrow and exposed, with sheer scree slopes on the side. It seemed like it was created for bighorn sheep rather than people. Any misstep would have been disastrous.

Kim (the author) makes her way over a talus slope
Kim (the author) makes her way over a talus slope

As we hiked, we were wildly entertained by the rainbow of geography we passed through. Black lava slopes, green flaky layers, deep red cliffs, and rocks with polka dots, stripes, and swirls surrounded us.

Dana’s feet were rapidly deteriorating, forcing our pace to slow. She was suffering from a multitude of bad blisters and beginning to lose sensation in part of her foot. She joked that her feet were made of “puff pastry.”

We encountered Escalante Creek at about 3:30. It was dry, but fortunately we were still carrying plenty of water and were able to continue on.

Escalante Creek was dry as a bone
Escalante Creek was dry as a bone
Max poses in front of one of many grand views on the route
Max poses in front of one of many grand views on the route

At about dusk, we skirted along the yawning abyss of Seventyfive Mile Canyon. There is a steep scramble where you descend into the canyon, and then continue back toward the river.

We took a brief moment to enjoy sunset on the river
We took a brief moment to enjoy sunset on the river

It was a shame we didn’t get to pass through the canyon in the daylight, but the sheer walls around us were impressive even in the dark. We were also able to enjoy the performance of the many bats that careen through the canyon at night. There were still a few datura blooming in the sand at our feet.

We arrived back at the river, and began to ascend back onto the steep, arduous trail toward the Papago Wall. We quickly realized that it was too dangerous to continue in the dark and turned around at about 7 PM.

We found several sandy camping spots on the beach upriver of Nevills Rapids. We had the area to ourselves, and moonrise lit up the whole canyon at 9 PM. I took advantage of the moonlight and solitude to take a bath in the cold river. The water was still clear, but the taste was a bit siltier here.

The view from our camp upriver from Nevills Rapids
The view from our camp upriver from Nevills Rapids

Day 3

Distance: 9.0 mi
Ascent: 2,072 ft
Descent: 962 ft

After vowing to get an earlier start, we broke camp and started on the trail at 8:30 AM.

There are few "cruiser" miles on The Escalante Route
There are few “cruiser” miles on The Escalante Route

The terrain was quite difficult approaching the Papago Wall, and I was grateful we hadn’t attempted it in the dark. The scramble itself was straightforward, albeit exposed. None of us struggled with it.

Dana in her element on the Papago Scramble
Dana in her element on the Papago Wall

The trail immediately after it was rocky, exposed, and difficult to follow. We cliffed out, had to backtrack, and climb higher up another sandstone scramble.

We waved at our rafter friends from above
We waved at our rafter friends from above

After enjoying some stunning vistas, we had to follow a steep, shifting boulder field dropping 200 feet. We split up to avoid hitting each other with rockfall. I found it much scarier than the Papago, and was glad to have it behind us.

The view from the top of Papgao Wall
The view from the top of Papago Wall
The somewhat dicey scree slope we descended after Papago Wall
The somewhat dicey scree slope we descended after Papago Wall

We encountered another group of rafters just upstream from Hance Rapids. This group was from Tennessee, and was even more welcoming than the last, if that were possible. We were laden down with plenty of beer and supplies when we walked out of their camp after lunch time.

Dana and Jason share a romantic moment in the canyon
Dana and Jason share a romantic moment in the canyon
Max and Kim (the author) having a good time
Max and Kim (the author) having a good time

Their generosity put us all in a fabulous mood for the next several miles, which was aided by the uncharacteristically easy trail we followed. We found a bag of garbage near the river, and gathered up as much as we could to take with us before photographing it to notify the park rangers.

Garbage left in the canyon 😢 We gathered some and notified the NPS
Garbage left in the canyon 😢 We gathered some and notified the NPS

After that, Max and I decided to split off and book it to the next campsite to ensure we could find a spot before dark. We stopped only once to enjoy the sunset and inhale some of the delicious snacks provided by Right on Trek.

We arrived at Hance Creek around 6:30 PM and found a pleasant, sandy campsite surrounded by trees. We were delighted to find that the water bubbling out from the creek rocks was crystal clear, delicious, and warm!

Jason and Dana hiked in around 8, following the light of our headlamps to find our site. Dana’s feet were in terrible shape, but she maintained a smile and a positive attitude.

We had a great view of Vishnu Temple from the trail
We had a great view of Vishnu Temple from the trail

Day 4

Distance: 5.3 mi
Ascent: 3,793 ft
Descent: 125 ft

We got another early start and began the steep ascent toward the canyon rim.

The trail was a lot more simple and straightforward than what we had been traversing, and we enjoyed a relatively easy day despite the elevation gain.

We saw more Indian paintbrush as we gained elevation
We saw more Indian paintbrush as we gained elevation

We stopped to check out an old mine and and the rusted equipment around it, a great reminder of the Canyon’s history as a site for uranium mining.

There were thousands of colorful rocks scattered below the mine sites
There were thousands of colorful rocks scattered below the mine sites

As we neared the top, we made a short detour to investigate a crumbling old mess hall with a large rusty cauldron in the fireplace. Signs warning of radiation decorated the land around it.

We continued on, reaching Grand View trailhead at about 4:00 PM. The air was frigid compared to the balmy temps at the canyon bottom, and we immediately dropped our packs and donned several layers of winter gear. We had hiked into a different climate zone!

The trailhead was packed with tourists who had come from all over the world to look into the canyon. None of them were backpackers, and many of them stared at us, congratulated us, or asked us about our trip. We felt a bit like minor celebrities and laughed as we realized we had become part of the tourist attraction.

Max grabbed a ride back to Lipan with one of the couples who had stopped to talk to us, and I was able to kick back, relax, and contemplate the magnitude of the canyon.

As I watched the crowds of tourists come and go and surveyed the incredible views, I realized that the Grand Canyon is a land with many competing claims upon it – miners, tourists, indigenous peoples, rafters, and hikers like me. All of us are insignificant compared to the scale of the canyon walls, and none of us can truly claim it. It has been around long before all of us and will be there long after we are gone.

I was just grateful to be able to pass through it, marvel at its wonders, and come out unscathed – despite our “aggressive itinerary.”

We enjoyed "summit" beers at Grandview Point
We enjoyed “summit” beers at Grandview Point

Food

This year, RightOnTrek brought Max on board as an ambassador and offered to support our hikes and outdoor activities with custom meal plans.

On their website, you can order backpacking meals with fresh ingredients, shipped directly to you.

For the Escalante Trail, Max customized a plan that provided him with 3000 calories per day.

RightOnTrek’s meals are way tastier than the competition, and a great way to nourish your adventures without the hassle of shopping.

Use code BackOBeyond50 for 50% off your first order

View at RightOnTrek

Hiking Guide: Wedding and Monument Canyons Loop

Overview

In anticipation of our arrival to the Western Slope this summer, I started doing research on climbs and hikes in the area.

Monument Canyon got onto my radar when I found out about Independence Monument, a desert tower that was first ascended by John Otto in 1911. He did it in cowboy boots! The tower is located at the meeting place of two canyons, Monument and Wedding.

When I first got to town, I hit up Randy Langstraat, a Grand Junction local who happens to write one of my favorite desert southwest hiking blogs.

He was kind enough to give me a list of must-do hikes in the area. At the top of the list, was Wedding and Monument Canyons Loop (aka Wedding Canyon Loop).

On a hot August evening, I parked at Lower Monument Canyon Trailhead and ran the loop in a counterclockwise direction, up Wedding and down Monument.

Monument Mesa and Independence Monument
Monument Mesa and Independence Monument

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 4.5 mile loop
  • Hike Time: 2-3 hours
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 620 feet
  • Fee: $15 for individual
  • Dogs: No
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Hiking Wedding and Monument Canyons Loop

In August 2021, I ran up Wedding and down Monument then back to Lower Monument Canyon Trailhead, where I started.

At 0.1 miles, I went right at the junction. You can go either way but for whatever reason, I was in a counterclockwise mood.

The first 1.1 miles are mellow, with some gentle ups and downs in and out of washes.

The sun's last beams of light illuminate a mesa in Wedding Canyon
The sun’s last beams of light illuminate a mesa in Wedding Canyon

The next 0.6 miles are a steep climb. This section really got my heart pumping, it was strenuous.

At the 2.4 mile mark, there is another junction. The trail to the right continues another 3.6 miles to Upper Monument Canyon Trailhead on Rim Rock Drive. You are directly underneath Independence Monument here.

Independence Monument
Independence Monument

Bear left to continue down Monument Canyon, past Monolith Spire and to another junction next to the East Entrance of Monument Canyon. This is at the 4.1-mile mark.

Make another left here and finish the last 0.5 miles to the trailhead.

Views of Grand Junction and the Grand Mesa from Monument Canyon
Views of Grand Junction and the Grand Mesa from Monument Canyon

Maps

Colorado National Monument Map – Downloadable PDF

Location

From Grand Junction, head toward Redlands and take Colorado State Highway 340, then turn onto Fawn Lane and park in the dirt lot.

Get Directions

Resources

Guidebooks

Topo Maps

Links

 

Hiking Guide: Peek-A-Boo Slot and Spooky Gulch

Overview

Peek-A-Boo Slot Canyon and Spooky Gulch are among Utah’s finest non-technical slot canyons. The canyons are adjacent from each other and are usually done together, often as a loop hike.

Dry Fork Trail provides access to both Peek-A-Boo and Spooky, which are found off of Hole in the Rock Road in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Kim squeezes her way through Spooky Gluch
Kim squeezes her way through Spooky Gluch

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 4-6 miles
  • Hike Time: 3-4 hours
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 600 feet
  • Fee: Free
  • Dogs: Dogs are allowed but slots aren’t suitable
  • Difficulty: Easy approach, slots are moderate

Hiking to Peek-A-Boo and Spooky

In May 2012, Kim and I hiked Peek-A-Boo Slot and Spooky Gulch.

Max (the author) in Peek-A-Boo
Max (the author) in Peek-A-Boo

In my opinion, the best way to do it is to enter Peek-A-Boo from the south, then bear right at the junction found at the end of the slot. From there, bear right and continue south down Spooky, then exit and bear left to continue down the sandy wash back to Peek-A-Boo’s entrance.

From there, continue back to Lower Dry Fork Trailhead where you started.

On the approach to the lower trailhead, before you turn left off of Hole In The Rock Road, make sure to air down your tires. Most vehicles will have no problem descending the sandy road but its notorious for getting people stuck on the way out.

You can avoid it altogether by parking in the dirt lot on the right side of BLM Road 252. This only adds about 1 mile to the hike total.

Kim scrambles in Peek-A-Boo
Kim scrambles in Peek-A-Boo

Map

Location

From Highway 12, follow the unpaved Hole in the Rock Road for 25.9 miles and turn left onto BLM Road 252. 0.8 miles in, there is a dirt parking lot on the right side. Unless you have 4WD and are prepared to air down your tires, park here. If you’re confident you can back up the sandy road, turn left and continue to the lower trailhead (Dry Fork Trailhead).

Get Directions

Resources

Links

Photos

Spooky Gulch
Spooky Gulch
Kim gives an incredulous smile in Spooky Gulch
Kim gives an incredulous smile in Spooky Gulch

More Great Hikes On Hole in the Rock Road

Hiking Guide: Zebra Slot Canyon

Overview

Zebra is one of Utah’s most picturesque non-technical slot canyons. It is a short and easy hike to the canyon’s entrance but those who venture into the slot may encounter knee to chest deep water, depending on how much rain the area has seen.

It gets its name from the iconic stripes on its sandstone walls.

Matt S in Zebra Slot Canyon
Matt S in Zebra Slot Canyon

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 5 miles
  • Hike Time: 3-4 hours
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 300 feet
  • Fee: Free
  • Dogs: Yes, but most dogs can’t do the slot
  • Difficulty: Easy approach, slot is moderate

Hiking the Zebra Slot Trail

In April 2016, Kim, Troy, Matt S, and I hiked to the Zebra Slot. We set out without knowing exactly where the slot was and took a wrong turn at Halfway Hollow, a sandy junction between dry washes.

Kim wanders through Zebra
Kim wanders through Zebra

After heading east through Harris Wash and checking out Tunnel Slot Canyon, we returned to Halfway Hollow and continued north to Zebra.

Looking at a map now, I can see that we could have continued counter-clockwise and made our erroneous turn into a nice loop hike. I’ll probably do it that way next time.

Hanging out in Zebra
Hanging out in Zebra

Map

Location

From Highway 12, follow the unpaved Hole in the Rock Road for 8 miles and park in the dirt parking lot on the right side of the road. AWD and 4WD vehicles are preferred because of washboarding.

Get Directions

Resources

Links

Photos

Troy Boman in Zebra Slot Canyon

More Great Hikes On Hole in the Rock Road

Hiking Guide: Bear Mountain

Overview

This Sedona hike takes you to the top of Bear Mountain, which rises to 6,447 feet above sea level.

From the summit, you will get 360 degree views of the surrounding area. On a clear day, you can see as far as the San Francisco Peaks, 50 miles to the north and Mingus Mountain, 30 miles to the south.

The hike is strenuous but not overwhelmingly so. From the Bear Mountain Trailhead, the grade is evenly spread throughout the 2.5 mile hike to the peak’s high point.

You will gain 1,800 feet in total and be treated with imposing views of red rock spires, pinnacles, and canyons for the entire hike.

Arrow and I pose in front of Fay Canyon, below the Bear Mountain Trail
Arrow and I pose in front of Fay Canyon, below the Bear Mountain Trail

Quick Facts

Hiking the Bear Mountain Trail

In December 2020, Kim, Arrow, and I hiked the Bear Mountain Trail.

Note: There is a pit toilet at the trailhead

Kim in front of the Bear Mountain Trail sign
Kim in front of the Bear Mountain Trail sign

We parked in the shared lot between Bear Mountain and Doe Mountain, off Boynton Canyon Road.

At 11:25 a.m. on a Wednesday, there were plenty of spaces available and the trail was not too busy.

There was only one other group at the summit when we arrived.

From the parking lot, you will cross Boynton Pass Road and go through a gate to access the trail.

The only flat portion of Bear Mountain Trail is at the very beginning
The only flat portion of Bear Mountain Trail is at the very beginning

The first 0.25 miles are flat but the rest of the hike is a somewhat steep climb all the way to the top.

On a cool day, if you pace yourself and take small breaks to eat and drink, you should waltz right up with no issues.

Navigating the trail is pretty straightforward and there are white marks on the rock to guide the way in more confusing areas.

On Sedona trails, routes are usually marked by cairns. These are 3-foot pillars of rock bound with chicken wire. This hike does not have those so keep that in mind.

The Bear Mountain Trail does not have any junctions with other trails, so as long as you stay on trail you will not get lost.

Before our hike, we stopped at Sedonuts and bought a pink “Homer Simpson” donut to share halfway up Bear Mountain. It was a good decision.

Views from the trail
Views from the trail

Map

Location

From Highway 89A in Sedona, turn onto Dry Creek Road and follow it 2 miles, then turn left onto Boynton Pass Road.

Continue on Boynton Pass Road for 3.7 miles then turn left into the Doe Mountain and Bear Mountain shared parking lot.

Get Directions

Resources

Guidebooks

Topo Maps

Links

Photos

Looking north from the Bear Mountain summit
Looking north from the Bear Mountain summit
The end of the trail is marked by this sign
The end of the trail is marked by this sign
A few hoodoos along the trail
A few hoodoos along the trail

Want to hike Sedona’s best trails? Check out our other Sedona Hiking Guides.

Hiking Guide: Doe Mountain

Overview

If you are looking for a short but steep hike near Sedona with great views, then Doe Mountain is the perfect option. The trail takes you to the top of a mesa with 400 feet of relief from the valley floor.

From the main overlook on the eastern side of the mesa, you will look out across a vast valley to Chimney Rock, Capitol Butte, and Soldier Heights. To the northeast, you will see the red and white cliffs that surround Boynton Canyon.

Be prepared to ascend 400 feet in 0.7 miles. This one will get your heart pumping but remember, it is over fast!

Max (the author) and Maia pose at the western edge of Doe Mountain
Max (the author) and Maia pose at the western edge of Doe Mountain

Quick Facts

Hiking the Doe Mountain Trail

In December 2020, Kim, Maia, Arrow, and I hiked the Doe Mountain Trail.

Note: There is a pit toilet at the trailhead

Max (the author) next to the Doe Mountain Trailhead sign
Max (the author) next to the Doe Mountain Trailhead sign

We parked in the shared lot between Bear Mountain and Doe Mountain, off Boynton Canyon Road.

At 2:45 p.m. on a Friday, there were a few spaces available but the trail was somewhat busy.

Still, we had the main overlook area to ourselves for 30 minutes or so.

Looking east from the top of Doe Mountain. High points from right to left: Chimney Rock, Capitol Butte, Soldier Heights
Looking east from the top of Doe Mountain. High points from right to left: Chimney Rock, Capitol Butte, Soldier Heights

From the top, I noticed a hodgepodge of narrow paths all over the mesa, leading in every direction. Maia was in the mood to stay put and explore her immediate surroundings, so we did not explore these.

I think it would be fun to loop around the whole mesa and soak in views from every angle.

After a very pleasant break, we turned around and went back the way we came. On the way down, the sun sank low in the sky, the lighting softened, and the cliffs turned a coppery red.

Looking west from the top of Doe Mountain
Looking west from the top of Doe Mountain

Map

Location

From Highway 89A in Sedona, turn onto Dry Creek Road and follow it 2 miles, then turn left onto Boynton Pass Road.

Continue on Boynton Pass Road for 3.7 miles then turn left into the Doe Mountain and Bear Mountain shared parking lot.

Get Directions

Resources

Guidebooks

Topo Maps

Links

Photos

Kim and Arrow on the western edge of Doe Mountain
Kim and Arrow on the western edge of Doe Mountain

Maia presents one of many interesting rocks she found on the trail
Maia presents one of many interesting rocks she found on the trail
Arrow the Aussie Cattle Dog
Arrow the Aussie Cattle Dog

Want to hike Sedona’s best trails? Check out our other Sedona Hiking Guides.

Hiking Guide: Grosvenor Arch

Overview

Grosvenor Arch is a one-of-a-kind double arch in Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument. The arch’s trailhead is accessed from a side road of Cottonwood Canyon Road called Four Mile Bench Road.

The trail to Grosvenor Arch hardly qualifies as a hike. It’s less than 1/4 mile and the whole thing is paved. This is one of Utah’s best handicapped accessible natural arches.

The dirt parking lot has a pit toilet, a picnic table and room for a few large off-road vehicles.

This unusual arch is close to Kodachrome Basin State Park and is one of several wondrous features found along the scenic Cottonwood Canyon Road.

It’s named after Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor, former president of the National Geographic Society.

The sun casts its last light rays on Grosvenor Arch. May 2020
The sun casts its last light rays on Grosvenor Arch. May 2020

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 0.5 miles out and back
  • Hike Time: 15-20 minutes
  • Elevation Gain: 0 feet
  • Fee: Free
  • Dogs: Yes
  • Difficulty: Easy

Map

Get Directions

Location

From Kanab

There are no gas stations between Kanab and Grosvenor Arch, so make sure to fill up in town.

Take U.S. Route 89 southeast and follow it for 46.2 miles, then turn left onto Cottonwood Canyon Road.

Follow it for 29.2 miles, then turn right onto Four Mile Bench Road.

Follow it for 1 mile and park in the dirt lot.

From Tropic

Take Utah 12 south and follow it for 4.7 miles, then turn right onto Kodachrome Road.

Continue on Kodachrome Road for 2.6 miles, then instead of turning left toward the State Park, continue straight onto Cottonwood Canyon Road.

Follow it for 14.2 miles, then turn left onto Four Mile Bench Road.

Follow it for 1 mile and park in the dirt lot.

Resources

Topographic Maps

Links

Photos

Grosvenor Arch

Jason sports his trusty Fisher Beer cap in front of Grosvenor Arch
Jason sports his trusty Fisher Beer cap in front of Grosvenor Arch
Justin and the arch
Justin and the arch
Justin (left) and Rachel (right). The "friend lighting" was terrific during golden hour
Justin (left) and Rachel (right). The “friend lighting” was terrific during golden hour
Maggie and the arch
Maggie and the arch

More Great Hikes Near Kanab


Want to hike Utah’s best trails? Check out our other Utah Hiking Guides.

Hiking Guide: Red Hollow Trail

Overview

Directly east of Cedar City, there is a prominent red hill that forms a stark contrast against the forested mountains that surround it.

Behind it runs Red Hollow Trail, which is actually a series of mountain bike trails.

The hike can be accessed from Center Street (once it heads up the canyon) or Thunderbird Gardens on 900 North.

While Red Hollow’s scenery is not as stunning as more well-known parks nearby (e.g. Cedar Breaks, Zion, and Bryce), its views provide a glimpse of what Southern Utah has to offer.

Plus, it’s a kid-friendly, dog-friendly hike that’s less than 10 minutes from “Festival City USA”.

Tip: After the hike, continue 3.5 miles up Highway 14 and dine at Milt’s Stage Shop.

Looking down on Thunderbird Gardens from a perch along Red Hollow Trail
Looking down on Thunderbird Gardens from a perch along Red Hollow Trail

Quick Facts

  • Distance:  3 miles out and back
  • Hike Time: 2 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 660 feet
  • Fee: Free
  • Dogs: Yes
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Hiking the Red Hollow Trail

From Red Hollow Trailhead, follow the trail northward as it ascends the canyon.

Red Hollow Trailhead
Red Hollow Trailhead

When we did this hike in May 2020, there were copious wildflowers on display, including firecracker penstemon, Indian paintbrush, and claret cup cactus.

Indian paintbrush
Indian paintbrush

For the first 3/4 miles, the trail has a 10% grade. Once you reach the saddle, there is a junction.

The trail furthest to the right takes you up to Thor’s Hideout. Any of the other trails ultimately lead to the same place, Thunderbird Garden Trailhead.

From the saddle, the trails gradually descend for about a mile before reaching Thunderbird Garden.

Strange sandstone formations
Strange sandstone formations

Map

Location

Red Hollow Trail is located on the north side of Utah State Route 14 at the mouth of Cedar Canyon.

From I-15 exit 59 in Cedar City, follow 200 N for 0.9 miles, then turn right onto Main Street.

Continue on Main Street for 0.2 miles, then turn left onto Center Street.

Continue on Center Street for 1.5 miles and park on the left in the dirt lot.

Get Directions

Resources

Links

Photos

From left to right: Maia, Max (the author), Kim
From left to right: Maia, Max (the author), Kim
Looking south from just above Thunderbird Gardens
Looking south from just above Thunderbird Gardens
Hiking as a family is the best!
Hiking as a family is the best!

Want to hike Utah’s best trails? Check out our other Utah Hiking Guides.

Trip Report: Upper Paria River Loop

Trip Data

  • Dates: Fri, May 1, 2020 to Sun, May 3, 2020
  • Route: Willis Creek Slot Canyon > Sheep Creek > Upper Paria River > off-trail route over mesa > back to Sheep Creek shuttle car via Between the Creeks Road
  • Weather: Sunny and clear. Highs in the 80s, lows in the 40s
  • Distance Hiked: 20 miles
  • Time: 3 days
  • Campgrounds: Night before – Arch Campground in Kodachrome Basin State Park

Map

Background

In an unprecedented move, the United States locked down during late March 2020 due to COVID-19.

Utah, a state know for its outdoor recreation and natural beauty, shut its doors to tourism for the first time and closed its “Mighty Five” National Parks.

When the shutdown occurred, we were traveling up California’s Central Coast in our RV, our ultimate destination being Yosemite National Park.

Sadly, Yosemite closed before we ever made it there. The various RV resorts and state parks we called home also began to close. We decided to cut our journey short and head to Utah to shelter with family.

While we spent our days in isolation in Utah, we had weekly FaceTime chats with our group of hiking and camping buddies. It helped diminish the anxiety and chaos of the post-COVID world.

One of the subjects that arose in our calls was our longstanding tradition of meeting in Southern Utah in May to camp or backpack. We call it our “May Trip.”

May is the perfect time to visit Southern Utah. The late spring air is just warm enough to thaw the chilled spirit after a long winter. The cactuses are in bloom and the wildflowers are abundant.

And, if there has been rain, the creeks are flowing, meaning there are ample opportunities for backpacking in Southern Utah’s many red rock canyons.

We could tell from our weekly FaceTime calls that our Northern Utah friends desperately needed a break from the cold weather and isolation, especially Justin and Kate, who live in a cabin in the Uinta mountains heated by a wood-burning stove.

Justin and Kate in front of Grosvenor Arch, a nearby attraction
Justin and Kate in front of Grosvenor Arch, a nearby attraction

By late April, Utah State Parks were already beginning to reopen. Lucky for us, much of Southern Utah’s public lands never closed to begin with, including a large swath of Grand Staircase–Escalante.

In fact, Kim and I went on several day hikes during COVID-19:

So, despite the uncertainty surrounding the virus, I decided to carry on with our May Trip tradition.

For anyone that felt brave enough to join, I planned a 20-mile backpacking loop in the Paria-Hackberry Wilderness Study Area of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Given the situation, I was tickled when 10 of our friends agreed to hike the Upper Paria River Loop I planned. I could tell we all really needed to get out of the house.

From left to right: Kate, Justin, Matt, Rachel, Jason, Dustin, Kim, Max (the author), Maggie, Val
From left to right: Kate, Justin, Matt, Rachel, Jason, Dustin, Kim, Max (the author), Maggie, Val

Summary

Before every trip, I like to consult an informed up-to-date resource about current conditions. In the desert, my biggest question is “where can we find water?” Local BLM offices and visitor centers are often a great place to gather information.

Tip: Call 435-826-5640 if you’re planning to hike the Upper Paria River

A week before we departed, I called the Cannonville Visitor Center to get details on the area. They told me that there was plenty of water in the region, and that permits are not required for this hike.

Note: Backpackers and day hikers must sign in at a register at the Willis Creek Trailhead

Bo Beck, manager at The Desert Rat in St. George, was also helpful in volunteering information about the hike when Kim visited the store for supplies.

His book, Favorite Hikes in and Around Zion National Parkhas a brief but helpful section about Willis and Sheep Creek, as well as many other great hikes in the area.

In light of all the information I compiled, I decided that Willis Creek would be the best place to start. We left a shuttle vehicle at our exit point at Sheep Creek and parked the rest of the vehicles at the Willis Creek Trailhead.

Our route took us from the trailhead at Willis Creek to its confluence with Sheep Creek.

After a short foray into Sheep Creek Canyon to see some of its attractions, we followed Sheep Creek southeast until its confluence with the Paria River.

We then followed the Paria north for several miles, took an off-trail route over a mesa to reach Between the Creeks road, and walked along the road back to our our shuttle car at Sheep Creek.

Tip: Willis Creek makes for a great day hike with a lot of reward for very little effort

Kim (left) and Rachel (right) in Willis Creek
Kim (left) and Rachel (right) in Willis Creek

Day 1

  • Distance: 8.9 miles
  • Ascent: 191 feet
  • Descent: 802 feet

We rolled out of our camping spot at Kodachrome Basin around noon. We had slept in after a festive night of drinking craft beer from RoHa Brewing Project and Station II – Zion Brewery, and a dinner of dutch oven barbecue pork.

It took about twenty minutes of driving to reach Sheep Creek. I’d seen the turnoff for Skutumpah Road when we drove in the day before, so it was easy to spot.

The dirt road was pretty well-groomed, albeit with a few stretches of washboarding.

We left “Bert”, our trusty 2009 Ford F-150 at Sheep Creek. This would be our shuttle vehicle.

After that, we met up with the rest of our group at Willis Creek Slot Canyon Trailhead and started hiking at approximately 2:00 p.m.

Arrow, locked and loaded for the adventure ahead
Arrow, locked and loaded for the adventure ahead

Within five minutes of hiking, the canyon narrowed abruptly and became extremely picturesque.

Hiking in Willis Creek
Hiking in Willis Creek

15 minutes later, there was an 8-foot waterfall. Some of us got around it by going to the left and others to the right. We were then able to go down and look at it from underneath.

A small waterfall in Willis Creek
A small waterfall in Willis Creek

At different times, we saw two huge bull snakes on the creek banks.

It took us a little over an hour to reach the confluence of Willis and Sheep Creek.

Kim in Willis Creek
Kim in Willis Creek

We hiked up the Sheep Creek drainage a bit, found the “blue snake” pictograph, then sat down and ate lunch.

The "blue snake" in Sheep Creek Canyon
The “blue snake” in Sheep Creek Canyon

Afterward, we spotted a petroglyph at the bottom of a cliff wall next to the confluence.

There are some unique glyphs here that resemble flowing water. Could it be a map of the canyons?
There are some unique glyphs here that resemble flowing water. Could it be a map of the canyons?

We continued down the canyon in search of water. There were small muddy pools here and there, but nothing consistent.

Near the confluence with Bull Valley Gorge, we started to see cottonwoods. These trees tend to grow in riparian areas. Where there are cottonwoods, there are good water sources.

A lone cottonwood tree in front of a colorful mesa
A lone cottonwood tree in front of a colorful mesa
Just after the confluence with Bull Valley GorgLooking back at the confluence with Bull Valley Gorgee
Looking back at the confluence with Bull Valley Gorge

We took a 10-minute detour into Bull Valley Gorge and got wowed by the narrows and mud cracks.

Jason demonstrates an appropriate gesture of bewilderment in Bull Valley Gorge
Jason demonstrates an appropriate gesture of bewilderment in Bull Valley Gorge
Val (left) and Maggie (right) thoroughly enjoyed the mud cracks
Val (left) and Maggie (right) thoroughly enjoyed the mud cracks

At 7:15 p.m., we found a great campsite next to running water that was good enough to get us through the night.

Later on, we witnessed a dozen or more abnormally bright satellites cross the sky in a straight line. We had read that SpaceX’s Starlink satellites would do this a couple days later, so we assumed it happened early.

The purpose of these low-orbit satellites is to bring high speed internet to the entire globe!

Evening views from our campsite
Evening views from our campsite

Day 2

  • Distance: 5.3 miles
  • Ascent: 471 feet
  • Descent: 283 feet

We broke camp at 12:15 p.m. and reached Sheep Creek’s confluence with the Paria River in 15-20 minutes.

There are layers of white Navajo sandstone stacked on top of red at the confluence
There are layers of white Navajo sandstone stacked on top of red at the confluence

When we stopped for lunch, a few of the ladies became enchanted by the mud and started playing in it. There were spots of quicksand that were 1-2 feet deep that were great fun for playing in.

From left to right: Maggie, Kim, and Val playing in the mud
From left to right: Maggie, Kim, and Val playing in the mud

A few miles up the Paria River drainage, we found some cowboy inscriptions dating back to 1888.

On the way from Payson to Arizona, the Hancocks wrote their names on this wall in 1888
On the way from Payson to Arizona, the Hancocks wrote their names on this wall in 1888

Directly below this, there was an inviting pool that was about 4 feet deep. The sun was beating down on us, so we got in.

Maggie (front and center) wins the most creative outfit award
Maggie (front and center) wins the most creative outfit award
It took a little convincing, but every member of the group had themselves a relaxing soak
It took a little convincing, but every member of the group had themselves a relaxing soak

While we were soaking, a wild mustang came trotting down the canyon. He seemed surprised to see us in his favorite watering hole, but continued on his way.

A wild mustang in the Upper Paria River drainage
A wild mustang in the Upper Paria River drainage

A wild mustang in the Upper Paria River drainage

He glanced back at us as if to say, "Really guys?"
He glanced back at us as if to say, “Really guys?”

I’d seen wild horses in the Great Basin and Navajo Nation, but I’d never seen one in a desert canyon. It was a real treat!

On a sandy bench next to our swimming hole, there was a great campsite so we settled in for the night.

Our final backcountry campsite of the trip
Our final backcountry campsite of the trip

Day 3

  • Distance: 5.7 miles
  • Ascent: 814 feet
  • Descent: 386 feet

We started hiking a little earlier (11:15 a.m.) because we knew it would be hot for the dogs on top of the mesa.

45 minutes in, we stopped marching to enjoy some superb honeycomb weathering along the eastern canyon wall.

When Kim was little, her dad told her there were “Moki monkeys” living in these types of formations
When Kim was little, her dad told her there were “Moki monkeys” living in these types of formations

At 1:00 p.m., we began ascending out of the Paria River drainage. We climbed about 400 feet, then slid under a barbed wire fence and dropped down into a wash. There was a water tank for cattle and a 4WD road.

A water tank for cattle

We followed it and bore right onto the Between the Creeks Road, then followed that back to our truck.

After the hike, we all sat around on the dam at Sheep Creek and rested for awhile
After the hike, we all sat around on the dam at Sheep Creek and rested for awhile

A few members of the group volunteered to roll into Tropic and grab supplies. Meanwhile, the rest of us scouted a car camping spot near Grosvenor Arch.

Matt (left) and Rachel (right) in front of Grosvenor Arch
Matt (left) and Rachel (right) in front of Grosvenor Arch

Our final night was a hoot, filled with a whole lotta music and dancing.

More Photos

Our post-hike group shot
Our post-hike group shot
Matt in Willis Creek
Matt in Willis Creek
Kim (left) and Rachel (right) in Willis Creek
Kim (left) and Rachel (right) in Willis Creek

Backpacking in Willis Creek

Backpacking in Willis Creek

Jason next to a giant Ponderosa in Willis Creek
Jason next to a giant ponderosa pine in Willis Creek
Desert varnish streaks on the sandstone
Desert varnish streaks on the sandstone

Upper Paria River

Kate and Justin responsibly close a cattle gate on the mesa
Kate and Justin responsibly close a cattle gate on the mesa
Arrow in a pool left by the Paria
Arrow enjoying the cool water of the Paria
A portrait of our dog Arrow
A portrait of our dog Arrow

Resources

Guidebooks

Topo Maps

Links

Red Reef Trail Hiking Guide

Overview

Red Reef Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, a swath of desert lands set aside to protect desert tortoises (among other things).

The trailhead is found at Red Cliffs Campground, which is less than two miles from Harrisburg, Utah.

Red Reef Trail follows Quail Creek up a delightful red rock canyon that has flowing water and swimming holes during snowmelt and after significant rainfall.

To get there, you’ll drive through a culvert underneath I-15, then up a paved road. The day use parking lot is undersized and often full.

Often times, the rangers open the parking lot at White Reef Trailhead for overflow use. If you’re up for it, this adds a 3.4-mile walk to the route in total.

A small waterfall and shallow pool along Red Reef Trail
A small waterfall and shallow pool along Red Reef Trail

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 1.5 miles out and back
  • Hike Time: 1-2 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 135 feet
  • Fee: Free
  • Dogs: Yes
  • Difficulty: Easy

Hiking the Red Reef Trail

Most people turn around at the main attraction, which is a swimmable pool and 6-foot waterfall next to Moki steps and a fixed rope.

Every time I’ve visited, the rope has looked pretty tattered. Please use it at your own risk! Luckily, someone does seem to replace it every few years.

Moki steps are hand and toe holds that are carved into the soft sandstone to aid with climbing. It’s unclear whether these ones were left by the Ancestral Puebloans or put here more recently.

Kim uses the rope and Moki steps to climb up and around
Kim uses the rope and Moki steps to climb up and around

There is a great example of these in Red Canyon Slot, another great hike in the region.

If you’re feeling adventurous, continue up the canyon by following the windy Quail Creek.

Desert four o’clock wildflower blooms along the trail
Desert four o’clock wildflower blooms along the trail

There are multiple rockfalls and pourovers that have limited my exploration of this drainage, but if you’re experienced in canyoneering I’m sure there is a lot to see.

Red Cliffs Desert Reserve’s website has a detailed description of what you might encounter, although it might be out of date.

Arrow trots through a calm and serene pool in the Quail Creek drainage
Arrow trots through a calm and serene pool in the Quail Creek drainage

Map

Location

Red Reef Trailhead is located at the northwestern side of Red Cliffs Campground.

From St. George, get on I-15 northbound and follow it 9 miles. Take exit 16 to merge onto Utah State Route 9.

Continue for 2.8 miles, then turn left onto Utah State Route 318.

Continue for 3 miles, then turn right onto Old Highway 91.

Continue for 0.3 miles, then turn left.

Drive through the culvert underneath I-15, then turn left.

Follow the paved road 1.3 miles to Red Reef Campground and park in the day use lot.

Get Directions

Resources

Links

Photos

Southern Utahns play in the water on a warm spring evening
Southern Utahns play in the water on a warm spring evening
A gnarled cottonwood near the start of Red Reef Trail
A gnarled cottonwood near the start of Red Reef Trail
Kim poses in front of the gnarled cottonwood
Kim poses in front of the gnarled cottonwood
Indigo bush wildflower blooms
Indigo bush wildflower blooms
Palmer's penstemon wildflower blooms
Palmer’s penstemon wildflower blooms
Red rock formations at the canyon's entrance
Red rock formations at the canyon’s entrance
This alcove is a pleasant place to eat a snack
This alcove is a pleasant place to eat a snack
Ancient pictographs in an alcove above the canyon floor
Ancient pictographs in an alcove above the canyon floor
Max (the author) poses in a cottonwood stump
Max (the author) poses in a cottonwood stump

More Great Hikes Near St. George


Want to hike Utah’s best trails? Check out our other Utah Hiking Guides.