To make your Southern Utah adventure planning easier, we have created a list of the 14 best Grand Staircase Escalante hikes that you don’t want to miss! Grand Staircase Escalante is a massive stretch of adventure wonderland spanning over 1 million acres in southern Utah. Due to its vast size and remote nature, narrowing down the best hikes can be overwhelming, so we have rounded up 14 of the best hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante. In this article we have provided everything you need to know to plan the perfect Grand Staircase hiking trip.

Hi there! We’re Sarah and Matt, two nomads road tripping across the United States with our cat, Fitzgerald, making a new place our home month to month while working full time and adventuring as much as possible. We spend any free time we can get hiking, camping, backpacking, and exploring new places! We hope that our experiences will help you plan for your next adventure and inspire you to be an outlier!

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Best Grand Staircase Escalante Hikes

Without further ado, below are 14 of the best hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante:

  1. Coyote Gulch & Jacob Hamblin Arch
  2. Cosmic Ashtray
  3. Zebra Slot Canyon
  4. Peek-a-boo and Spooky Slot Canyons
  5. Willis Creek Slot Canyon
  6. Golden Cathedral
  7. Boulder Mail Trail
  8. Big Horn Canyon
  9. Lower Calf Creek Falls
  10. Upper Calf Creek Falls
  11. Toadstool Hoodoos
  12. Phipps Arch
  13. Escalante Natural Bridge
  14. Devil’s Garden

About Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is one of the largest areas of protected land in the United States, filled with some of the most incredible hikes in southern Utah!

You won’t find long entry lines or throngs of tourists here. Instead, you are likely to come across unsuspecting cows, who are only slightly more timid than they are curious, and large tracts of land covered with some of the most unique and diverse geological formations in the country.

For afar, the landscape may look like an endless expanse of barren red hills. But take a peak 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.

Help us protect this beautiful place!

Before we get into it, we wanted to start with a word about preserving the incredible landscapes found 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.

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.

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!
  • Backpack with bladder (Hers: CamelBak Helena 20L, His: Camelback Rim Runner 22L) | We both use a similar Camelback backpack for day hiking – they’re comfortable, lightweight and just big enough to hold the essentials without weighing you down. Plus they both come with a 2L bladder.
  • 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 our Garmin In-reach Mini in case of emergency in areas without cell service and it gives us (and our parents) peace of mind.
  • 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.
  • Sunscreen and chapstick | So important to keep your skin and lips protected during a long day in the desert sun!
  • First Aid Kit | A key essential for day hike in case of an emergency.

P.S. Check out our complete list of day hike essentials here:

Details | Grand Staircase Escalante Hikes

In the section below, we’ll fill you in on the details of each of the best hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante so you can decide which to add to your itinerary!

1. Coyote Gulch & Jacob Hamblin Arch

Hike Stats

  • Distance | 5 – 17 miles (depending on the trailhead and destination)
  • Elevation gain | 780 feet
  • Time | 1 – 2 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 8
  • Difficulty | Moderate

Find this hike on AllTrails: Hurricane Wash to Coyote Gulch
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.

If you are visiting Grand Staircase Escalante, hiking into Coyote Gulch is a must! While the gulch itself is beautiful, with towering orange sandstone walls, there are also several key landmarks throughout Coyote Gulch. You will want to plan your hiking around route around the sights you wish to see:

  • Jacob Hamblin Arch | A massive sandstone arch that towers over Coyote Gulch, Jacob Hamblin Arch is the most popular and most spectacular landmark inside Coyote Gulch.
  • Coyote Natural Bridge | A smaller arch you can walk underneath that is located further down Coyote Gulch.
  • Swimming Hole | A small pool of water that makes the perfect spot to cool off on a hot desert day!
  • Cliff Arch & Falls | A huge arch carved out of the canyon wall and nearby waterfall.
  • Steven’s Arch | Located at the confluence of Coyote Gulch and the Escalante River, Steven’s Arch is one of the largest natural rock arches in the world, rising to160 feet tall and stretching nearly 225 feet wide. Getting to Steven’s Arch is a challenge, as it’s located at the eastern end of Coyote Gulch across the Escalante River and requires route-finding to reach.

Read more about how to hike to Jacob Hamblin Arch in Coyote Gulch here:

Which trailhead is best?

There are 4 possible trailheads to enter Coyote Gulch and the distance and difficulty of the hike vary drastically depending on which you choose:

  • Water Tank trailhead | Offers the shortest route into Coyote Gulch and to Jacob Hamblin Arch. However, this tricky route requires you to repel down a steep 100-foot rock wall in order to enter – a sturdy rope is a must!
  • Crack in the Wall trailhead | Coyote Gulch is only 2.5 miles away, but you must squeeze through a narrow (you guessed it… ) crack in the rock wall in order to enter. Crack in the Wall also puts you significantly further from Jacob Hamblin Arch. Additionally, 4WD is recommended as you will need to drive through thick sand to reach the trailhead.
  • Hurricane Wash trailhead | The safest route for those who are afraid of heights or drive a 2WD vehicle. From here, it’s 5.5 miles into Coyote Gulch and 7 miles to Jacob Hamblin Arch, but fairly flat and not technically challenging.While you will have to travel nearly 33 miles down a bumpy dirt road, the parking lot is typically accessible with two wheel drive.
  • Red Well Trailhead: This is the longest and most boring route to Coyote Gulch so we see no real benefit from starting here.

Backpacking in Coyote Gulch

To allow you to take your time and explore as much of the area as possible without missing out on any of the amazing sights, we highly recommend exploring Coyote Gulch as a one or two night backpacking trip! We’ve put together a complete guide to backpacking Coyote Gulch here:

2. Cosmic Ashtray

Hike Stats

  • Hiking distance | 8.3 miles
  • Elevation gain | 880 feet
  • Total time | 5 – 6 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 9
  • Difficulty | Moderate (requires route finding)

Find this hike on Cosmic Ashtray via Volcano Trail

Cosmic Ashtray is an otherworldly hidden wonder nestled among the rocky hills of Grand Staircase Escalante, perfect for those looking to get off the beaten path. 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 we have ever seen!

There are two possible routes to reach the Cosmic Ashtray, but we recommend hiking from the trailhead off Spencer Flat Road (linked above) 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.

Read more about hiking to Cosmic Ashtray here:

3. Zebra Slot Canyon

Hike Stats

  • Hiking distance | 5.2 miles (+1.4 miles for Tunnel Canyon)
  • Elevation gain | 400 feet
  • Total time | 3 – 4 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 8
  • Difficulty | moderate – hard (requires some scrambling to get into the canyon)

Find this hike on AllTrails: Zebra Canyon

Named after the vivid stripes that line its walls, Zebra Slot Canyon is perhaps the most unique canyon in Southern Utah. The journey to the stunning canyon includes an 8 mile drive down a bumpy dirt road, a 5 mile round trip hike that can be tricky to follow and a challenging climb through very narrow canyon walls, often filled with anywhere from a few inches to a few feet of water. But even though the Zebra Slot Canyon itself is only about a quarter mile long, the beautiful striped canyon is absolutely worth the journey.

We started our hike around 7:00 AM on a spring Sunday morning, arriving to the entrance of Zebra Slot Canyon by 8:00 AM. We were the first people in the canyon and had the place entirely to ourselves for a good 30 minutes! By the time we started our return hike, several other groups had arrived at the canyon.

Exploring Zebra Slot Canyon completely alone was one of the coolest (and frankly, terrifying) experiences of my life! As you venture into the canyon, you slowly lose any sight of the outside world. In complete silence, you can fully take in the immense beauty that surrounds you.

Read more about the Zebra Slot Canyon Hike here:

4. Peek-a-boo and Spooky Slot Canyons

Hike Stats

  • Hiking distance | 4.2 miles (+ 0.8 miles including Dry Fork Narrows)
  • Elevation gain | About 600 feet
  • Total time | 3 – 4 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 8
  • Difficulty | hard (requires some challenging rock scrambling)

Find this hike on Dry Fork Narrows, Peek-a-boo and Spooky Slot Canyons
Note: The Alltrails map includes Dry Fork Narrows, which is an optional addition to the hike.

One of the most popular adventures in Grand Staircase 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.

The trailhead for this hike is located off Hole in the Rock Road, like many of the adventures in this article. Once you turn onto Hole in the Rock Road from Highway 12, keep going for 26 miles before turning left at the sign for Dry Fork trailhead.

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.

Read more about hiking to Peekaboo and Spooky Slot Canyons here:

5. Willis Creek Slot Canyon

Hike Stats

  • Hiking distance | 3 miles (option to extend up to 6+ miles)
  • Elevation gain | 200 feet
  • Total time | 1 – 2 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 7
  • Difficulty | Easy

Find this hike on AllTrails: Willis Creek Narrows

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).

6. Golden Cathedral

Hike Stats

  • Hiking distance | 10.5 miles
  • Elevation gain | 1500 feet
  • Total time | 6 – 8 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 7
  • Difficulty | Hard

Find this hike on AllTrails: Golden Cathedral Trail

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.

7. Boulder Mail Trail

Hike Stats

  • Hiking distance | 15.4 miles
  • Elevation gain | 2,800 feet
  • Total time | 2 days/1 night or 10 – 12 hour day hike
  • Epic-ness rating | 8
  • Difficulty | Hard
  • Permits/fees | Free permit required for overnight backpacking (available at trailhead)
  • Trailhead | Escalante Town Trailhead or Boulder Mail Trailhead

Find this hike on AllTrails: Boulder Mail Trail

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

Hike Stats

  • Hiking distance | 6 miles
  • Elevation gain | 380 feet
  • Total time | 3 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 6
  • Difficulty | Moderate

Find this hike on AllTrails: Bighorn Canyon Trail

Big Horn Canyon is one of the most underrated slot canyons in the park! It might not be as striking as Zebra, Spooky and Peek-a-Boo, but they do featureunique stone colors, textures, and patterns. The best part? 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.

To learn more about Big Horn Canyon, check out our complete trail guide:

9. Lower Calf Creek Falls

Hike Stats

  • Hiking distance | 6.5 miles
  • Elevation gain | 550 feet
  • Total time | 2-4 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 6
  • Difficulty | easy-moderate

Find this hike on AllTrails: Lower Calf Creek Falls

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.

Read more about hiking to Lower Calf Creek Falls here:

10. Upper Calf Creek Falls

Hike Stats

  • Hiking distance | 2.1 miles
  • Elevation gain | 600 feet
  • Total time | 1 – 2 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 6
  • Difficulty | moderate (steep climb back up to the trailhead)

You can find this hike on AllTrails: Upper Calf Creek Falls

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!

standing beside a teal-blue pool at the base of Upper Calf Creek Falls

11. Toadstool Hoodoos

Hike Stats

  • Hiking distance | 1.8 miles
  • Elevation gain | 150 feet
  • Total time | 1-2 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 6
  • Difficulty | easy

Find this hike on AllTrails: Toadstool Hoodoos Trail

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!

12. Phipps Arch

Hike Stats

  • Hiking distance | 6.5 miles
  • Elevation gain | 600 feet
  • Total time | 3 – 4 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 6
  • Difficulty | moderate – hard (challenging scramble up to the arch)

You can find this hike on AllTrails: Phipps Arch Trail

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.

View looking through Phipps Arch in Grand Staircase Escalante

13. Escalante Natural Bridge

Hike Stats

  • Hiking distance | 4.4 miles
  • Elevation gain | 300 feet
  • Total time | 2 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 5
  • Difficulty | easy

You can find this hike on AllTrails: Escalante Natural Bridge

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.

standing below Escalante Natural Bridge in Grand Staircase
Standing below Escalante Natural Bridge

14. Devil’s Garden

Hike Stats

  • Hiking distance | 1 miles
  • Elevation gain | 90 feet
  • Total time |1 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 4
  • Difficulty | easy

You can find this hike on AllTrails: Devil’s Garden

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 hikes.

The entire trail is only 1 mile, but you will want to spend time climbing around the various rock formations. In fact, we didn’t even bother with the trail. 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!

View looking through Metate Arch at Devils Garden

Read More | Grand Staircase Escalante Hikes

Below are links to each of our detailed trail guides for the Grand Staircase Escalante hikes we’ve included on this list:

For all things Utah: Utah Travel Guide

These 14 hikes represent just a fraction of what you can do in the massive Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. In all of our cross-country travels, Grand Staircase is certainly near the top of the list of our favorite places!

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!

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