With plenty of itinerary options, minimal elevation gain, and tons of amazing sights, a Coyote Gulch backpacking trip is a magical way to experience the best of Grand Staircase Escalante in southern Utah! An entire world hidden below the otherwise barren crust of the desert, Coyote Gulch is an oasis of lush green trees, otherworldly rock formations and a variety of wildlife. In the article below, we have outlined everything you need to know to plan your own epic Coyote Gulch backpacking 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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    Coyote Gulch Backpacking Trip Details

    With multiple trailheads and seemingly endless itinerary options, planning a Coyote Gulch backpacking trip can feel daunting at first. In the section below, we’ve detailed everything you need to know to plan your perfect trip, from a breakdown of the 4 different trailheads and itinerary options, to must-see sights along the hike.

    Coyote Gulch Overview

    Coyote Gulch is a tributary of the Escalante River located in one of the most remote areas of the US near Escalante, Utah. The majority of the gulch is part of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, while the lower section reaches into Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

    The gulch is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise! There are endless unique sights to explore including magnificent rock formations, waterfalls, unmarked trails, and even a hidden swimming hole. Backpacking in Coyote Gulch will feel like you’re exploring a new planet!

    Hike Stats

    Hiking distance | 6 – 27 miles (mileage depends on the trailhead and itinerary you choose)
    Total time | 1 – 3 days
    Epic-ness rating | 8
    Difficulty | moderate

    Note: There are several possible trails and routes depending on which trailhead you choose. The above link refers to trail from Hurricane Wash to the Escalante River and back.

    Be respectful to this beautiful place!

    Coyote Gulch and the area surrounding it is a remote and rugged place. Please help keep it that way! Do not carve or vandalize the rock or leave behind trash. Camp only on previously disturbed land and use waste disposal bags to carry out any human waste. Fires are NOT permitted inside the gulch.

    While there is no defined trail, you should do your best to avoid trampling the crypotbiotic soil (that layer of black or white crust over the sand the dirt). Walk through loose sand, previously disturbed land, or across slick rock where ever possible.

    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.

    What is a Gulch?

    When we started researching our excursion into Coyote Gulch, we were a little confused about what, exactly, a gulch is. How is it different than a slot canyon, or normal canyon for that matter? A gulch is somewhere between a slot canyon and a normal canyon (think the Grand Canyon).

    Whereas slot canyons are very narrow and usually dry, a gulch is wider and typically has some flowing water. However, it is not as wide as a more expansive canyon carved by a roaring river. Coyote Gulch has high rock walls on each side and a delicate, ankle-deep stream meandering down its center.

    About Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

    Coyote Gulch is located in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, one of the largest areas of protected land in the United States encompassing over 1 million acres in Southern Utah. It was actually the last area to be cartographed in the US and it still has that rugged, adventurous spirit that characterizes the American West.

    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 explore Grand Staircase Escalante. In all of our travels across the US, this is easily one of our favorite places!

    Hole in the Rock Road

    There are four possible trailheads for the Coyote Gulch backpacking trip, each located 30+ miles down a washboard dirt road called Hole in the Rock Road. Road conditions get rougher farther down Hole in the Rock road. Typically, the majority of the road is accessible with 2WD. After heavy rains, the road can get muddy, requiring 4WD.

    Be sure to check current conditions before you go, carry a spare tire, and know how to change it! The last 15 miles or so are impassible without 4WD. Also note that it will take more time than expected to drive on the the unpaved, washboard road.

    Read more about Hole in the Rock Road here:

    Coyote Gulch Trailhead Map

    The map below displays the 4 possible Coyote Gulch trailheads, including the trails leading into Coyote Gulch. Note that you will be driving down Hole in the Rock road from the northwest side of Red Well.

    Note: distances indicate mileage from trailhead to the gulch

    Which trailhead should I start from?

    The most challenging aspect to planning a Coyote Gulch backpacking trip is deciding which of the 4 possible trailheads to depart from. Which trailhead you choose may be limited by whether the vehicle you drive has 4WD or not. Otherwise, choose your trailhead based on the amount of time you have and miles per day you’d like to hike.

    Below, we provide more details on the 4 trailheads and lay out the pros and cons of each option to help you make your decision.

    1. Red Well

    Red Well is technically the closest trailhead from the main road, but not by much. From the Red Well trailhead, it’s a rather boring and difficult to follow 6.5 mile hike into the Gulch and 8 miles to Jacob Hamblin Arch.

    To get to the Red Well trailhead, drive 30 miles down Hole in the Rock road before taking a left and continuing for 1.5 miles until you reach the park lot.

    PRO: Frankly, we don’t see any advantage of hiking from Red Well over Hurricane Wash. The drive to the trailhead is rougher, and the hike to the gulch is longer.
    CON: Longest (and most boring) hike to reach the lower section of Coyote Gulch. Trail can be tough to follow.

    2. Hurricane Wash

    The most popular trailhead for backpacking Coyote Gulch is Hurricane Wash, located just off Hole in the Rock road and typically accessible with a 2WD vehicle. From Hurricane Wash, it’s 5.5 miles to Coyote Gulch, 7 miles to Jacob Hamblin Arch, and 12.3 miles to the Escalante River.

    To get to Hurricane Wash trailhead, drive 33 miles down Hole in the Rock road before bumping into the parking lot to your left.

    PRO: Relatively easy access to the trailhead, typically not requiring 4WD.
    CON: Long hike into Coyote Gulch and to Jacob Hamblin Arch or Stevens Arch.

    3. Water Tank (Sneaker Route)

    If you’re up for a little adventure, the Water Tank (a.k.a. “Sneaker” Route) may be for you! From this trailhead, you’ll hike 2 miles until you reach the upper edge of the gulch, where you will repel 100 feet down a steep rock wall into Coyote Gulch. This route requires a rope, and steady nerves, but provides the shortest access route to the gulch.

    To get to the Water Tank trailhead, drive 35 miles down Hole in the Rock Road, then turn left at the junction and continue for 4 miles.

    PRO: Most direct route into Coyote Gulch and to Jacob Hamblin Arch.
    CON: Requires repel into the gulch using a rope, which may be frightening for those with fear of heights.

    4. Crack in the Wall

    Suitable only for those with a high clearance 4WD vehicle, the Crack in the Wall trailhead is the most remote and difficult to reach starting point. The 2.5 mile trail from Crack in the Wall drops you into Coyote Gulch at the far southeastern end, close to the Escalante River. To enter the gulch, you’ll have to squeeze through a literal “crack in the wall”, which poses additional challenges with backpacking gear.

    To get to the Crack in the Wall trailhead, drive 35 miles down Hole in the Rock Road, before turning onto a side road and continuing for 7 miles through sandy, rocky terrain until finally reaching the trailhead.

    PRO: Second most direct route into Coyote Gulch and closest to Steven’s Arch and the Escalante River.
    CON: Access road is rough, requiring 4WD to reach the trailhead. Tight squeeze through the “crack.” Far from Jacob Hamblin Arch.

    Planning your Coyote Gulch backpacking itinerary

    There are countless possible Coyote Gulch backpacking itineraries, and planning can be overwhelming given all the options! The best itinerary for you depends on a few factors:

    • How much time do you have?
    • How many miles do you want to hike per day?
    • What is your risk tolerance? Namely, are you willing to repel down a 100 foot wall?
    • Does your vehicle have 4WD?

    Below we’ll lay out a few itinerary options, based on how you answered the questions above.

    Coyote Gulch is definitely doable as a one-night trip, but you may have to skip some of the must-see landmarks. Two nights allows you to take your time, and make sure you are able to see everything! Also keep in mind that there is very little elevation change through the trail, so you may be able to manage more distance than a typical backpacking trip, in the mountains per-say.

    Top itinerary options

    With one night in Coyote Gulch, we recommend camping near Jacob Hamblin Arch. There are plenty of awesome campsites in this area, and you can set up camp and continue exploring farther down the gulch without your packs if desired.

    Option 1: This itinerary is for you if repelling into the gulch sounds like fun (total distance: 6 – 19 miles)
    • Trailhead: Water Tank/Sneaker Route
    • Day 1: hike into the gulch, setup camp near Jacob Hamblin Arch (3 miles). Note that the arch is to the left once you enter the gulch.
      Optional add-on: after setting up camp, day hike down the canyon towards the Escalante River (+13 miles roundtrip to Steven’s Arch, + 7.5 miles roundtrip to Cliff Arch
    • Day 2: hike out, returning to the Water Tank/Sneaker Route Trailhead (3 miles)
    • With one extra night: camp night 2 near the Escalante River, return day 3 to Water Tank/Sneaker Route trailhead
    Option 2: This itinerary is for you if you are afraid of heights and have 4WD (total distance: 16.5 to 23 miles)
    • Trailhead: Crack in the Wall
    • Day 1: hike into the gulch, setup camp near Jacob Hamblin Arch (11.5 miles)
    • Day 2: return the way you came (11.5 miles), or ascend to the Water Tank/Sneaker Route trailhead (6 miles, would need to leave a car at Water/Tank Sneaker Route)
    • With one extra night: camp night 1 near Cliff Arch, night 2 near Jacob Hamblin Arch, exit via the Water Tank/Sneaker Route
    Option 3: This itinerary is for you if you don’t have 4WD, AND/OR you are afraid of heights (total distance: 14 – 27 miles)
    • Trailhead: Hurricane Wash
    • Day 1: hike into the gulch, setup camp Jacob Hamblin Arch (7 miles)
      Optional add-on: after setting up camp, continue hiking down the canyon towards the Escalante River (+13 miles roundtrip to Steven’s Arch, + 7.5 miles roundtrip to Cliff Arch)
    • Day 2: hike out, returning to the Hurricane Wash Trailhead (3 miles)
    • With one extra night: camp night 2 near the Escalante River, return to the Hurricane Wash trailhead on day 3 (14 miles)

    The itineraries listed above are just a few options for you to consider. Feel free to get creative and do whatever is best for you!

    Views along the trail from Hurricane Wash to Coyote Gulch

    How difficult is backpacking in Coyote Gulch?

    The difficulty of your Coyote Gulch backpacking trip depends almost entirely on which itinerary you choose – how far will you hike per day and which trailhead will you start from. The gulch itself contains only minor elevation change as the stream empties into the Escalante River below.

    Once inside Coyote’s Gulch, you really can’t get lost, as you’ll be wedged between two massive rock walls. That being said, finding the best and safest route to follow through the gulch can be tricky. There are a lot of false trails where prior hikers thoughts they were going down the correct path, only to be halted by some unforeseen obstacle. Plan on adding a little time for trail finding.

    Must see landmarks in Coyote Gulch

    Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of the Coyote Gulch backpacking trip is that there are so many landmarks to see along the way! The map below displays the location of each of the top 5 sights within the gulch.

    Next, we will describe the must see sights, in the order that they appear hiking down Coyote Gulch towards the Escalante River.

    1. Jacob Hamblin Arch

    The most popular sight in Coyote Gulch (and for good reason!), Jacob Hamblin Arch towers over the gulch at 150 feet wide and 100 feet tall. The sun reflects off the beautiful pink-orange rock making it feel like the arch itself is illuminated. The area immediately surrounding the arch is absolutely beautiful, featuring massive striped canyon walls and a green oasis.

    If you are hiking from the Hurricane Wash trailhead, you’ll run into Jacob Hamblin Arch about 7 miles into your hike. From the Water Tank Trailhead, you’ll have to take a left once you enter the canyon to reach the arch.

    2. Coyote Natural Bridge

    Though less impressive than the grand Jacob Hamblin Arch, Coyote Natural Bridge makes for another neat stop along your Coyote Gulch backpacking trip. The trail and stream leads directly underneath the natural bridge, about 1.5 miles south past Jacob Hamblin Arch.

    3. Swimming Hole

    Looking to cool off after a long day of hiking? You’re in luck! Tucked away behind a forest of wetland brush, lies a peaceful swimming hole, perfect for a mid-hike rest and lunch break. It will take a little bit of exploring to find the swimming hole, as the trail does not lead to it, but those willing to spend the time will be rewarded.

    4. Cliff Arch & Cliff Arch Falls

    About 2 miles past Coyote Natural Bridge, the gulch opens up into a section of huge boulders that require a bit of scrambling to navigate. This is one of the most beautiful sections of the gulch, in our opinion! If hiking towards the Escalante River, you first come across the Cliff Arch Falls. You can either scramble down the waterfall, or continue along the canyon to your left.

    After passing the falls, keep your eyes open for Cliff Arch, high up on the canyon wall to your left.

    5. Steven’s Arch

    While it is the farthest (from all trailheads, except Crack in the Wall) and most difficult to reach, Steven’s Arch is certainly the grandest of landmarks in Coyote Gulch. Located just north of the Coyote Gulch – Escalante River junction, Steven’s Arch rises to 160 feet tall and 225 feet wide, making it one of the largest arches in the world!

    Stevens Arch is located about 7 miles from Jacob Hamblin Arch. If you are hiking from Hurricane Wash Trailhead, it’s about 14 miles, so getting here will be a challenge with only one day. From Crack in the Wall, it’s just a short detour to Stevens Arch and certainly worth adding to your itinerary!

    Coyote Gulch backpacking logistics

    So you’ve decided on the perfect itinerary, now how do you make it happen? After finalizing your itinerary, the logistics are quite simple – advance permits aren’t required so you don’t need to worry about snagging reservations months in advance! There are a few considerations to make sure you are aware of before taking off, which we’ve covered here.

    Coyote Gulch backpacking permits

    Permits are required to backpack in Grand Staircase Escalante. However, permits do not need to be reserved in advance, and may be picked up and completed at the trailhead. The permit is essentially just a slip of paper documenting your plans for the trip and your anticipated return date.

    Weather in Coyote Gulch

    Be sure to check the weather before you go, and do not attempt this hike if the forecast calls for rain. Flash floods can occur with little warning in Coyote Gulch, and the last place you want to be stuck during a flood is in a deep narrow canyon.

    Water in Coyote Gulch

    As you may guess, water is available nearly the entire hike! If you are camping inside the Gulch, you will almost certainly have water access with one hundred feet. Be sure to pack a water filtration system, as the water from the gulch must be filtered before being safe to drink.

    Food Storage

    While bears are not an issue in Coyote Gulch, small critters and bugs are abundant here. We recommend bringing a bag to hang your food from a tree to prevent unwanted animals from getting into your food. We use this Sea-to-Summit dry sack – it’s ultra light and doubles as a dry bag!

    Waste Disposal

    In Coyote Gulch (and elsewhere in Grand Staircase) you must follow the pack-in-pack-out principle... and yes, that even means your poop! The gulch is narrow and soil is thin and sandy – it goes without saying that everything ends up in the water that flows through Coyote Gulch. Be sure to bring a “disposal toilet,” often referred to as a “wag bag” or “biffy bag,” and pack it out with you.

    It’s not glamorous, but please do your part to protect this incredible place and keep it clean for the next to enjoy, and more importantly, for the plants and animals that call it home.

    Are dogs permitted in Coyote Gulch?

    No! Although they are permitted on most trails in Grand Staircase, dogs are NOT allowed in Coyote Gulch due to the fragile ecosystem. Please leave your canine friends at home.

    Can I have a campfire in Coyote Gulch?

    No, campfires are NOT permitted in Coyote Gulch. Pack a portable stove to boil water for cooking.

    Picking a campsite in Coyote Gulch

    There are no designated campsites in Coyote Gulch. However, it’s always good practice to look for a “previously disturbed” spot (ie. a flattened patch of dirt) and avoid disturbing plant life.

    Some of the best sites in the gulch are just after Jacob Hamblin Arch. There are also a few nice spots just before the arch and near the Coyote Natural Bridge. Once you pass Cliff Falls and Cliff Arch, the gulch narrows and finding a spot to camp becomes more challenging.

    When choosing a camp site, keep in mind that sound echoes and carries long distances in the gulch. Pick a spot far from others, and be courteous with your volume levels even if you don’t have immediate neighbors.

    Dispersed camping near the trailhead

    To get an early start on your Coyote Gulch backpacking trip, you may want to camp in Grand Staircase Escalante the night before. Luckily, dispersed camping is permitted along Hole-in-the-Rock Road, offering plenty of awesome spots to camp.

    The dispersed camping sites are top notch – relatively easy to access, plenty of space, nice views and some even come equipped with self-made stone fire rings (although you may share your space with some neighbors of the bovine variety…).

    Coyote Gulch backpacking packing list

    Before taking off on your Coyote Gulch backpacking trip, don’t forget to pack these extra items in addition to your usual backpacking essentials:

    Waste Disposal | Biffy Bags
    It’s not glamorous, but you must pack out all your waste (that includes your #2!) so be prepared with waste disposal bags. These Biffy Bags do the trick (and they’re actually quite “luxurious” in the backcountry!).

    Water Filter | Katadyn BeFree 1.0L Water Filter
    There is plenty of water along the trail so we highly recommend packing a water filter to save some water weight. The Katadyn BeFree is small and couldn’t be easier to use.

    Bug Spray | The mosquitos around the water at night are absolutely brutal. They will bite right through your layers! If you don’t have bug spray, you may find yourself seeking relief in your tent.

    Water shoes | Chacos
    You’ll be walking through water for a large portion of the hike through Coyotes Gulch. If you don’t want to be stuck with wet boots, bring a pair of water shoes to change into.

    Compact towel | PackTowel lightweight towel
    This compact lightweight towel packs down small, making it great for carrying on backpacking trips and perfect for drying off after walking through the gulch.

    Our Backpacking Essentials

    Good gear can make all the difference on a backpacking trip. Below we’ve compiled a list of our tried and true backpacking gear essentials – we use these items every time we backpack and couldn’t live without them.

    Backpack | 40L Osprey Tempest / 65L Osprey Ariel / 55L REI Co-Op Flash
    For one-night backpacking trips, I (Sarah) love my 40L Osprey Tempest! It fits the essentials but is super lightweight. For longer trips and/or carrying more weight (think water), the 55L Osprey is more spacious, really comfortable, and provides more hip support. Matt’s go-to pack for most trips is the lightweight 55L REI Flash.

    Backpacking Tent | Mountain Hardwear Aspect 3
    A reliable tent makes all the difference in the backcountry, and the Mountain Hardwear Aspect 3 has not let us down. Though it’s not cheap, it’s lightweight (less than 4 pounds), durable, easy to set up and feels spacious enough to fit 2 people comfortably.

    Campstove | Jetboil Flash
    Picture this: you wake up in the dark in the backcountry, aiming to catch the sunrise somewhere nearby but its so cold you don’t want to get out of bed… then you remember you’ve got a Jetboil and piping hot coffee can be ready within minutes! Morning made.

    Coffee | Sea to Summit Collapsible Coffee Filter
    If you’re a coffee snob (like me…) who needs *real* coffee in the morning, even in the backcountry, the compact Sea to Summit collapsible filter makes it easy. Pair with the Jetboil Flash and Sea to Summit cups and you’ll have your cup of joe in no time!

    Sleeping Bag | REI Co-op Women’s Magma 30 / REI Co-op Men’s Magma 30
    At this price point, you can’t beat the REI Co-op Magma 30 (Women’s and Men’s). We both use this sleeping bag, and it’s lightweight enough for backpacking without sacrificing on warmth and durability.

    Sleeping Bag Liner | Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite Sleeping Bag Liner
    I’m a very cold sleeper so I often bring this Sea to Summit sleeping bag liner,even for summer nights. It’s super cozy, lightweight, adds 8 degrees of warmth and helps keep your sleeping bag cleaner.

    Trekking Poles | Black Diamond Distance Z Trekking Poles / Distance NFZ Trekking Poles
    I had always thought trekking poles were silly until one very steep, exposed, slippery hike in Death Valley left me feeling quite insecure even with solid tread on my boots. Immediately after I bought my Black diamonds and haven’t hiked without them since.

    Sleeping pad | Women’s Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xlite Sleeping Pad / Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xlite Sleeping Pad
    I often sleep better on my Them-a-rest sleeping pad than I do in a hotel bed… this thing is so comfy and weighs only 12 ounces! Only downside I have found is it is a bit noisy if you tend to move in your sleep a lot.

    Inflatable Pillow | Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow
    This Sea to Summit inflatable pillow is super lightweight and packs down tiny (I’ve actually lost it a few times because it packs down so small), so it’s great for camping and backpacking trips. The best part, it’s shockingly comfortable! I am a light sleeper (in a normal bed), so this is huge for me!

    Dehydrated Meals | Backpacker’s Pantry Pad Thai with Chicken
    Backpacker’s Pantry has a huge variety of dehydrated meals that we’ve found to be surprisingly tasty. The Pad Thai and Chana Masala are our all time favorites!

    GPS | Garmin InReach Mini
    The one piece of gear you hope you never need to use, but is worth its weight in peace of mind. 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. It can also be used to simply let a loved one know you’ve arrived at your destination.

    Headlamp | Black Diamond Storm 400
    Navigating around a campsite is nearly impossible after dark without a headlamp. We both use Black Diamond Storm 400’s, and we’ve found them to be reliable and long-lasting despite the compact size.

    Other hikes in Grand Staircase

    Planning a trip to Grand Staircase Escalante? Be sure to check out our other resources on can’t miss hikes in the area:

    For all things Utah: Utah Travel Guide

    Questions about planning your perfect Coyote Gulch backpacking trip? Ask away, and we’ll do our best to help!

    4 Comments on “Coyote Gulch Backpacking Trip: Complete Trail Guide

    1. Did you guys go down the Crack in the Wall? If so, how much rope did you carry and what thickness was it? And I love your website! So happy that you guys are living such an awesome life while you are young!

      • Hi Russ! When we backpacked Coyote Gulch, we did not go down Crack in the Wall. We hiked in from Hurricane Wash. However, we did go down Crack in the Wall when we hiked to Steven’s Arch (which we strongly recommend!). Because we were just day hiking and not carrying big packs, we did not need to lower our bags with a rope. Therefore, I don’t have a great answer for the length/thickness you’ll need. That being said, because it’s just your bags and you don’t expect any sharp falls (like could happening rock climbing) you probably don’t need anything too thick. I’m trying to think back to how far the drop was that you’d need to lower your bags and while I don’t have a specific distance, I do remember thinking that you could probably drop your bag and not suffer too much damage. Meaning, that you should definitely bring a rope but it’s not like you need hundreds of feet. Hope that helps and thanks for visiting our website!

        • Thanks so much for the reply. I decided to go with 20 feet of 8MM climbing rope from REI. Should be plenty.

          Are you going to post a blog on your trip to Steven’s Arch? We are considering it.

          Lastly, how did you secure your food while in the Gulch? I have a ratsack and dry sack that I plan on hanging but not sure if there are a ton of trees to hang the bag from while camping near Jacob’s Arch.

          Thanks again!

        • Hi Russ, we may put a blog up at some point about Steven’s Arch but don’t have anything in the works at the moment. I’m happy to answer any questions about it though. As soon as you come upon Crack in the Wall, you’ll see it towering over the confluence of the Escalante River and Coyote Gulch. It’s massive and magnificent, highly recommend it.

          In terms of food storage, I think we just kept everything in our tent or our bags. There are no large predators down there so your main concerns is just small critters gnawing through your food storage. I think there are some trees around Jacob Hamblin Arch so you should be able to hang your food if it makes you feel better. We never had an issue keeping our food in the tent/in our bags though!

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