This is your ultimate guide to all the best hikes in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, whether it’s your first time visiting the area or your tenth. As two desert-obsessed adventure lovers, we’ve spent countless days hiking under the hot Escalante sun, and we can’t wait to share all the reasons we love this desert wonderland!

Best Hikes in Grand Staircase-Escalante

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is one of the largest and most remote areas of protected land in the United States, where you won’t find long entry lines or throngs of tourists.

For afar, the landscape may look like an endless expanse of barren red hills. But take a peek below the surface, and there are countless hidden gems to explore. Slot canyons, beautiful gulches, waterfalls, arches and unique rock formations await those who come to hike in Grand Staircase-Escalante.

We’ve hiked nearly every trail in Grand Staircase-Escalante, from the most popular landmarks to off-the-beaten-path gems. Keep reading to learn more about the best Grand Staircase Escalante hikes and decide which is right for you!

Grand Staircase-Escalante Hikes at a Glance

Map of Grand Staircase-Escalante Hikes

To make your trip planning easier, we’ve put together a map displaying the trailhead for each of the 10 hikes covered in this article.

  • To email this map to yourself for future use, click the three dots in the upper right corner.
  • To view more details about each location, click on the marker on the map.

1. Coyote Gulch & Jacob Hamblin Arch

Hiking towards Jacob Hamblin Arch in Coyote Gulch
Crossing the stream that flows through Coyote Gulch
  • Distance | 5 – 17 miles (depending on the trailhead and destination)
  • Elevation gain | 780 feet
  • Difficulty | Moderate
  • Estimated time | 1 – 2 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 8
  • Why you’ll love it | Massive orange canyon walls conceal one of the largest arches in Utah, a true hidden gem!

If you are visiting Grand Staircase-Escalante, hiking into Coyote Gulch is a must! The gulch itself is beautiful, with towering orange sandstone walls that enclose a lush green world below the surface of the barren desert.

Jacob Hamblin Arch is the most famous landmark inside Coyote Gulch, and a popular destination for day hikers.

There are four possible trailheads you can use to access Coyote Gulch, each resulting in various hike lengths to reach Jacob Hamblin Arch. Note that the road conditions to reach the various trailheads vary considerably. To help you decide which trailhead to use, you can find more detailed information about each option in the article below:

Note | the AllTrails linked above references a 26.7-mile hike from Hurricane Wash trailhead all the way to the Escalante River – Jacob Hamblin Arch is located just about 7 miles from the trailhead, making for a 14-mile round trip hike.

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Jacob Hamblin Arch Hike Guide

Jacob Hamblin Arch in Coyote Gulch is easily one of the most impressive geological formations in the remote area of Grand Staircase Escalante.

2. Cosmic Ashtray

Overlooking the otherworldly Cosmic Ashtray, one of the most unique Grand Staircase-Escalante hikes
  • Distance | 8.3 miles
  • Elevation gain | 880 feet
  • Difficulty | Moderate (route finding skills required)
  • Estimated time | 5 – 6 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 9
  • Why you’ll love it | A true desert adventure that will leave you asking: how is this possible?!

Cosmic Ashtray is an otherworldly hidden treasure nestled among the rocky hills of Grand Staircase-Escalante.

There is no designated trail to follow, so you will need to use your navigational skills (or Alltrails!) to reach this strange and unique rock formation. But with a little planning and an adventurous spirit, you will be rewarded with one of the craziest sights in the southern Utah desert!

There are two possible routes to reach the Cosmic Ashtray, but we recommend hiking from the trailhead off Spencer Flat Road for a moderate 8.3-mile roundtrip hike.

Once you arrive at the Cosmic Ashtray, it’s possible to climb inside the giant sandbox via a “ladder” (basically footholds carved into the rock wall) to explore the area from below. While a rope is not necessary, it may make the climb into and out of the ashtray easier, as the footholds are slippery from being worn down.

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3. Zebra Slot Canyon

Exploring the striped canyon walls of Zebra Slow Canyon
  • Distance | 5.2 miles (+1.4 miles for Tunnel Canyon)
  • Elevation gain | 400 feet
  • Difficulty | Moderate to difficult (requires some scrambling and squeezing through tight spaces to enter the canyon)
  • Estimated time | 3 – 4 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 8
  • Why you’ll love it | A slot canyon like no other awaits those up for a fun challenge to climb inside!

Named after the vivid stripes that line its walls, Zebra Slot Canyon is perhaps the most unique slot canyon in Utah.

The journey to the stunning canyon starts with an 8-mile drive down a bumpy dirt road. After hiking 2.5 miles to reach the mouth of the canyon, a tough climb through very narrow canyon walls awaits those keen on seeing the zebra stripes with their own eyes. And to add a little extra challenge, the canyon is typically filled with anywhere from a few inches to a few feet of water.

Even though the Zebra Slot Canyon itself is only about a quarter mile long, the beautiful striped canyon is absolutely worth the journey.

It’s a true adventure, so make sure you know what you’re getting into if you decide to tackle this hike!

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Zebra Slot Canyon: Hike Guide

Named after the vivid stripes that line its walls, Zebra Slot Canyon is one of the most unique rock formations in Southern Utah.

4. Peek-a-boo and Spooky Slot Canyons

Admiring the stunning walls of Spooky Slot Canyon, one of the most adventurous hikes in Grand Staircase-Escalante
  • Hiking distance | 4.2 miles (+ 0.8 miles including Dry Fork Narrows)
  • Difficulty | Hard (requires some challenging rock scrambling)
  • Elevation gain | About 600 feet
  • Estimated time | 3 – 4 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 8
  • Why you’ll love it | If climbing, squeezing, and scrambling through bright orange canyon walls sounds like your definition of fun!

One of the most popular hikes in Grand Staircase-Escalante is the 4.2-mile hike to the breathtaking Peek-a-boo and Spooky Slot Canyons. Exploring these twisting twin formations, with their dazzling colors and unique rock walls, is a perfect way to spend a few hours.

Be warned: there is some challenging rock scrambling and tight squeezes, so this is not a hike for the timid or claustrophobic. But the incredible beauty, pink and orange striped rock, and walls reaching up to the sky are definitely worth the effort.

A less visually stunning, but more easily accessible slot canyon, Dry Fork Narrows, can also be added onto the Peekaboo and Spooky hike adding an extra 0.8 miles.

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5. Willis Creek Slot Canyon

Add Willis Creek Slot Canyon to your Grand Staircase bucket list!
  • Distance | 3 miles (option to extend up to 6+ miles)
  • Elevation gain | 200 feet
  • Difficulty | Easy
  • Estimated time | 1 – 2 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 7
  • Why you’ll love it | A more easily accessible slot canyon that doesn’t require any scrambling or squeezing, but wows with its black and tan striped walls.

Willis Creek Slot Canyon (a.k.a. Willis Creek Narrows) is one of the more underrated slot canyon hikes in Grand Staircase-Escalante.

Though slightly less visually stunning compared to Peekaboo, Spooky and Zebra Slot Canyons, Willis Creek Slot Canyon is easily accessible and never gets too narrow (roughly 4 or 5 feet at its narrowest).

You will pass through multiple slot canyons along the trail until you reach the tallest and narrowest section of the Willis Creek Narrows at about 1.5 miles into the hike. From there you can turn back, or continue for another couple miles through the wider sections of the canyon if you wish to extend the hike.

The trailhead is located 9 miles down Skutumpah Road, near Kodachrome Basin State Park. Although Skutumpah is a dirt road, it’s fairly well-maintained and typically passable with any vehicle. However, note that the road may become muddy and impassable following recent snow or rain).

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Willis Creek Slot Canyon Trail Guide

Willis Creek Slot Canyon | Hike Overview Willis Creek Slot Canyon (a.k.a. Willis Creek Narrows) is one of the more underrated slot canyon hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante, where you can leave the crowds behind to enjoy the stunning formations in peace. While most slot canyons in the area are known for their classic orange…

6. Golden Cathedral

Standing under the Golden Cathedral in Grand Staircase
  • Hiking distance | 10.5 miles
  • Elevation gain | 1500 feet
  • Difficulty | Hard
  • Estimated time | 6 – 8 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 7
  • Why you’ll love it | Leave the crowds behind with this remote and rugged adventure to one of the most epic sights in Grand Staircase!

Golden Cathedral is one of the most iconic hikes in Grand Staircase-Escalante. That being said, if it’s your first trip to the area, we probably wouldn’t recommend putting this hike at the top of your list, namely because getting there is a serious ordeal.

First, the hike begins from Egypt Trailhead (yes, the name feels fitting) which is located 17 miles down Hole in the Rock Road, plus 9 miles down Egypt Road. Egypt Road starts out in fairly good condition but deteriorates the further you drive. The last 5 miles or so to the trailhead are quite rough, and 4WD and high clearance are required.

The trail to Golden Cathedral is not well marked and it can be tough to find your way, even with a GPS device or AllTrails Pro map downloaded. Furthermore, reaching Golden Cathedral requires hiking through sections of deep sand and 5 river crossings, which are frequently knee to hip deep.

If this sounds like the type of adventure that gets you excited, the payoff upon reaching Golden Cathedral is well worth the effort! If you have more time in Grand Staircase or are looking to get further off the beaten path, add this hike to your southern Utah hiking bucket list.

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Golden Cathedral & Neon Canyon: An Epic Adventure

Looking to get off the beaten path and explore one of southern Utah’s most unique geological formations? Golden Cathedral in Neon Canyon is one of the most iconic hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante, featuring a massive amphitheater with 3 nearly perfectly round holes cut out of the canyon wall. With no defined trail to follow,…

7. Boulder Mail Trail

The Boulder Mail Trail is an amazing long-distance hike for those looking to backpack!
  • Distance | 15.4 miles
  • Elevation gain | 2,800 feet
  • Difficulty | Hard
  • Estimated time | 2 days/1 night or 10 – 12 hour day hike
  • Epic-ness rating | 8
  • Permits/fees | Free permit required for overnight backpacking (available at trailhead)
  • Why you’ll love it | The perfect Grand Staircase Escalante hike for a one-night backpacking trip

Traversing over 15 miles through Grand Staircase-Escalante, the Boulder Mail Trail connects the town of Boulder to Escalante and makes an epic 1-night backpacking trip, or very ambitious day hike.

Before Highway 12 was paved back in the 1970s, the route was used to deliver mail via mule between Escalante and Boulder, hence where the trail gets its name!

Tackling the Boulder Mail Trail is no easy feat, with about 2,700 feet of total elevation gain including an extremely steep drop into and climb out of Death Hollow, a stunning canyon with crystal clear blue water flowing through. It’s hard to imagine trusting a mule’s footing to carry you safely across this rugged terrain!

The Boulder Mail Trail is over 15 miles one way, and while it’s possible to complete as a 30-mile out and back, it’s best to hire a shuttle to drive you one way.

We’d recommend starting the hike from the Boulder Mail Trailhead/Boulder Airstrip and hiking to Escalante, as this direction includes less elevation gain. With Escape Goats, the shuttle with set you back $120 (per vehicle).

8. Big Horn Canyon

Big Horn Canyon is a lesser visited slot canyon in Grand Staircase
  • Distance | 6 miles
  • Elevation gain | 380 feet
  • Difficulty | Moderate
  • Estimated time | 3 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 6
  • Why you’ll love it | Explore two lesser-known slot canyons and leave the crowds behind

Big Horn Canyon is one of the most underrated hikes in the park, featuring two nice slot canyons Although the canyons may not be as striking as Zebra, Spooky and Peek-a-Boo, you are likely to have the entire place to yourself!

The trailhead for this hike is about 5 miles down Hole in the Rock Road. The hike itself is about 6 miles and 380 feet of elevation gain, making it moderate but not too challenging. The hike follows along the Harris Wash, a tributary of The Escalante River, before entering two different narrow slot canyons.

These canyons don’t get as narrow as Zebra, Spooky, and Peek-a-Boo slot canyons, so they are a bit easier to navigate. If you want to see slot canyons, but are a little claustrophobic, these canyons are perfect for you.

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9. Lower Calf Creek Falls

Lower Calf Creek Falls: a classic Grand Staircase Escalante hike!
  • Distance | 6.5 miles
  • Elevation gain | 550 feet
  • Difficulty | Easy to moderate
  • Estimated time | 2-4 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 6
  • Why you’ll love it | A little desert oasis great for cooling off on a hot Utah day

The hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls is a popular 5.7 mile trek that winds its way through a wide canyon, passing impressive Native American pictographs, before reaching the towering falls.

The trailhead to this hike is located about 15 miles east of Escalante at the Calf Creek Campground. With only 544 feet of elevation gain, the hike is relatively easy but still beautiful.

Along the trail, there are a number of fenceposts with interesting information about different sites in view. We walked right past the first handful but make sure you pay attention! We would have completely missed the Native American petroglyphs on the opposite canyon wall if the fencepost didn’t point it out!

At the terminus of the trails, you will find Lower Calf Creek Falls cascading down the towering walls of the canyon. It is definitely a sight you do not want to miss! Pack a lunch and spend some time cooling off by the water once you arrive.

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10. Upper Calf Creek Falls

standing beside a teal-blue pool at the base of Upper Calf Creek Falls
  • Hiking distance | 2.1 miles
  • Elevation gain | 600 feet
  • Difficulty | moderate (steep climb back up to the trailhead)
  • Estimated time | 1 – 2 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 6
  • Why you’ll love it | A less crowded alternative to Lower Calf Creek Falls, the waterfalls connoisseurs will love this one

Upper Calf Creek Falls is a little hidden oasis nestled among the rocky hills of Grand Staircase-Escalante. The beautiful waterfall is accessible via a short, but very steep, 2-mile roundtrip hike located off the Scenic Highway 12 between Boulder and Escalante.

Although often overshadowed by its neighbor, Lower Calf Creek Falls, Upper Calf Creek Falls offers the chance to find some solitude while soaking in the views or cooling off on a hot day in the desert.

Compared to the lower falls, Upper Calf Creek Falls is smaller, requires a shorter hike but much steeper hike, and typically sees much fewer visitors. If you’re looking for a pretty spot to cool off on a warm day in the desert but don’t want to be surrounded by unruly children and Instagram poses, Lower Calf Creek Falls is the hike for you!

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Upper Calf Creek Falls Trail Guide

A hidden oasis tucked away in Southern Utah, Lower Calf Creek Falls trail follows Calf Creek until arriving at a majestic 126-foot waterfall.

11. Toadstool Hoodoos

Crazy desert landscapes await at the Toadstool Hoodoos
  • Hiking distance | 1.8 miles
  • Elevation gain | 150 feet
  • Difficulty | Easy
  • Estimated time | 1-2 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 6
  • Why you’ll love it | A dreamy, whimsical landscape unlike anything we’ve ever seen and a photographers playground.

For a very different Grand Staircase-Escalante hiking experience, check out the Toadstool Hoodoos, located on the southern side of Grand Staircase about 30 minutes east of Kanab.

Visiting the Toadstool Hoodoos is a surreal experience. Oddly shaped “hoodoos” of every shape, size, and color pop up seemingly from nowhere! The hoodoos take on a mysterious air about them and it’s hard to believe these odd shapes could possibly be formed by nature.

The hike to reach the Toadstool Hoodoos is just under one mile (one way). From there, you can explore the area in both directions in search of your favorite hoodoo!

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Toadstool Hoodoos: an Underrated Adventure

Toadstool Hoodoos | Hike Overview Visiting the Toadstool Hoodoos in southern Utah is a surreal experience. Thin needles of sandstone in every shape, size, and color are topped with a layer of dark rock, perfectly balanced to withstand the test of time. Wandering through the Toadstool Hoodoos, it’s hard to believe these wild rock formations…

12. Phipps Arch

View looking through Phipps Arch in Grand Staircase Escalante
The eye-shaped Phipps Arch is perched high atop of rocky cliff
  • Hiking distance | 6.5 miles
  • Elevation gain | 600 feet
  • Difficulty | Moderate – hard (challenging scramble up to the arch)
  • Total time | 3 – 4 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 6
  • Why you’ll love it | You’ve been hiking in Grand Staircase-Escalante a few times and you’re looking to get off the beaten track

The hike to Phipps Arch is quite the adventure! To find this elusive formation, you will need to be comfortable scrambling up fairly significant rock faces and navigating without a marked trail.

We had a really difficult time finding Phipps Arch. The trail we were following originally did not lead to the arch, a packed down by many hikers before us who also went astray. After quite some time searching, we eventually realized that the “trail” actually climbed right up a steep section of the canyon wall.

The arch itself is enormous and features stunning views of the canyon below. It’s certainly well-worth the effort! Just make sure you’re comfortable with what you’re getting into before you decide to undertake the hike to Phipps Arch.

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How to Find Phipps Arch in Escalante, Utah

Phipps Arch | Hike Overview If you’re the type of hiker who is excited to get off the beaten path in an area that is already quite remote, then the hike to Phipps Arch in southern Utah is for you. Phipps Arch is located in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, on an offshoot of the…

13. Escalante Natural Bridge

standing below Escalante Natural Bridge in Grand Staircase
Escalante Natural Bridge is one of the best easily accessible hikes in Grand Staircase
  • Hiking distance | 4.4 miles
  • Elevation gain | 300 feet
  • Difficulty | easy
  • Estimated time | 2 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 5
  • Why you’ll love it | A fun family-friendly hike that requires no driving on dirt roads to access

This fun, easy hike crosses the Escalante River several times before leading to the Escalante Natural Bridge, a massive 130-foot tall sandstone arch carved out of the canyon wall. With at least 4 river crossings, make sure you bring your sandals or water shoes on this hike!

You can also extend this trail by connecting it with the trail to Phipps Arch, which heads down river from Highway 12 or by continuing on past the Natural Bridge to other fun sites, like Cliff House Arch. Either way, the whole family is sure to have a fun time exploring the Escalante River Canyon on the way to Escalante Natural Bridge.

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14. Devil’s Garden

A group of hoodoos at Devil’s Garden in Escalante
View looking through Metate Arch at Devils Garden
  • Hiking distance | 1 miles
  • Elevation gain | 90 feet
  • Estimated time | 1 hour
  • Difficulty | Easy
  • Epic-ness rating | 4
  • Why you’ll love it | A quick, fun stop on Hole in the Rock Road, exploring Devil’s Garden will make you feel like a kid on a playground!

With countless hoodoos, arches, and other odd rock formations, Devil’s Garden makes for a quick but unforgettable experience. Located about 12 miles down Hole in the Rock Road, just a few miles from the Zebra Slot Canyon trailhead, Devil’s Garden is a great pit stop before or after tackling other Grand Staircase-Escalante hikes.

The entire trail is only 1 mile, but you will want to spend time climbing around the various rock formations. The entire place felt more like a playground so we spent our time climbing and scrambling over the many formations.

Even if you just stop for 30 minutes, you will not regret visiting Devil’s Garden!

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Devil’s Garden Trail: Best Hike in Arches National Park Park

The longest hike in Arches National Park, the Devil’s Garden Trail features some of the park’s most unique arches and stunning landscapes. Furthermore, Devil’s Garden Trail offers a welcome reprieve from the heavy crowds found at many of the shorter trails in Arches as you venture through the Primitive Loop side of the trail. In…

Help us protect this beautiful place!

We wanted to leave you with a word about preserving the incredible landscapes found on these hikes in Grand Staircase-Escalante.

You’ve almost surely heard or read about “Leave no trace“, but it’s especially important in this remote area, as services are limited, the ecosystem is particularly fragile, and there are often no defined trails. Here are a few important things to keep in mind:

  • Do not carve or vandalize any of the rock or plant life.
  • Always stay on the trail. When there is no defined trail, avoid trampling the crypotbiotic soil (that layer of black or white crust over the sand and dirt). Walk through loose sand, previously disturbed land, or across slick rock where ever possible.
  • Pack out what you pack in – do not leave behind trash. Do not take anything with you that you didn’t bring.
  • Use waste disposal bags to carry out any human waste.
  • Be prepared! There are no services on Hole in the Rock Road and many of the trailheads around Escalante are in remote areas down dirt roads with no cell service. Make sure you are prepared to change a tire, carry extra water and food, and have a means of navigation without cell service. Carrying a GPS device, like a Garmin In-Reach Mini, is a good idea to be able to call for help in case of a serious emergency.
  • Know your limits. Research trails ahead of time and don’t attempt any hike that outside your skill level.
  • Never set out on a hike in the desert without extra food and water, and avoid hiking midday during the summer.

Grand Staircase-Escalante is a remote and rugged place. Please help keep it that way!

Remember to Leave No Trace. Pack out what you pack in, stay on trail, be well-prepared, leave nothing behind, take only photos and memories with you, treat the area with respect and help preserve this beautiful spot for generations to come.

Willis Creek Slot Canyon hike in Grand Staircase Escalante

What to pack for hiking in Grand Staircase-Escalante

Before you head out for a hiking trip in Grand Staircase-Escalante, make sure you are prepared with the following essentials:

  • Plenty of water | Once you turn down Hole in the Rock road, there are no water sources. Be sure to pack plenty of water – at least 3 liters per person for hiking and keep extra water in the car in case of emergency. We use Platypus 2-liter bottles for storing extra water.
  • Sunglasses (Goodr) | At only $25, Goodr sunglasses are cheap, durable and non-slip (perfect if you’re the type of person that tends to loose sunglasses, like me!)
  • Fix-a-flat | Due to the rough nature of Hole in the Rock Road, getting a flat tire is always a possibility. Although just a temporary solution, Fix-a-Flat can be a good option to avoid having to change a spare tire. However, beware that you can only drive up to 100 miles on it (and even less on a washboard road), so you should also make sure you have a spare tire and know how to change it!
  • Rain jacket or windbreaker | Heavy winds can whip through the slot canyons blasting sand around and stinging your skin. A windbreaker or rain jacket is great to have to break the sandy wind!
  • Hiking boots (Hers: Danner Mountain 600s, His: Salomon Ultra 4 Mid GTX) | A pair of quality hiking boots with good traction are helpful for walking in sand and climbing around the slot canyons!
  • GPS Device (Garmin InReach Mini) | There is no cell service on Hole in the Rock Road, where most of the hikes on this list are located. We always carry out Garmin just in case of emergency in areas without service.
  • Map downloaded on AllTrails Pro | Many of the trails on this list can be difficult to follow, so you will want to have the trails downloaded in advance to make sure you are able to find your way.

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Have you done any of these Grand Staircase Escalante hikes? Have a hike you’d add to the list? Let us know in the comments section below!

Sarah Vaughan

Hello! I'm Sarah, one half of the couple behind Two Outliers! In 2023, I quit my job as a Data Scientist to travel around the world on an epic 15-month journey in search of the world's greatest hikes and outdoor adventures. Matt and I started Two Outliers in 2021 as a place for visitors to find concise, accurate, and honest information to plan their own adventures. We hope our experiences inspire you to hit the trail! Happy Hiking! Sarah


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