Coyote Gulch | Overview
An entire world hidden below the otherwise barren crust of the Utah desert, Coyote Gulch is a lush oasis carved into the orange sandstone filled with hidden arches, swimming holes, waterfalls, and more!
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.
There are endless unique sights to explore including magnificent rock formations, waterfalls, unmarked trails, and even a hidden swimming hole. Hiking or backpacking through Coyote Gulch will feel like you’re exploring a new planet!
With multiple trailheads and seemingly endless itinerary options, planning your Coyote Gulch adventure is a daunting task! This article outlines everything you need to know before you hit the trail.
Coyote Gulch, Utah | At a Glance
- Hiking distance | 6 – 27 miles (depends on the trailhead and itinerary you choose)
- Estimated time | 2 – 3 days backpacking; possible to access select landmarks in Coyote Gulch as a day hike.
- Difficulty | Varies from moderate to difficult depending on the trailhead/route.
- Crowd levels | Low to medium
- Permits | Free permits are required for overnight camping in Coyote Gulch, available at the Hurricane Wash trailhead.
- Why you’ll love it | Coyote Gulch is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise and one of the most iconic hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante.
- Trailhead & route options | There are four possible trailheads and route options vary depending on which trailhead you choose.
- Getting there | All trailheads are located 30+ miles down Hole in the Rock Road, a remote, washboard dirt road. Use caution to choose a trailhead suitable to access with your vehicle.
How to get to Coyote Gulch in Utah
There are four possible trailheads to access Coyote Gulch, each located 30+ miles down a washboard dirt road called Hole in the Rock Road:
Which trailhead you choose may be limited by whether the vehicle you drive has 4WD or not, as road conditions get rougher farther down Hole in the Rock road. Below we provide more details on the Coyote Gulch trailhead options and lay out the pros and cons of each.
Map of Coyote Gulch Trailheads
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.
1. Red Well
- 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.
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.
2. Hurricane Wash
- 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.
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.
3. Water Tank (Sneaker Route)
- Pro | Most direct route into Coyote Gulch and to Jacob Hamblin Arch.
- Con | Requires repelling into the gulch using a rope, which may be frightening for those with fear of heights.
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.
4. Crack in the Wall
- 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.
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.
Things to see inside Coyote Gulch
Perhaps one of the most exciting aspects of hiking and backpacking in Coyote Gulch is that there are so many landmarks to see along the way! Here are a few key landmarks:
Fun Fact | 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. Canyons on the other hand, are more expansive and carved by roaring rivers.
Map of Things to see in Coyote Gulch
The map below displays the location of each of the top 5 sights within the gulch.
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 & 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, Utah | Frequently Asked Questions
How difficult is hiking in Coyote Gulch?
The difficulty of hiking and backpacking Coyote Gulch depends almost entirely on which itinerary you choose. 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 thought they were going down the correct path, only to be halted by some unforeseen obstacle. Plan on adding a little time for trail finding.
How do I get permits for backpacking Coyote Gulch?
Permits are required to backpack in Grand Staircase Escalante, but do not need to be reserved in advance. Backpacking permits 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.
Are flash floods a risk 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.
Is water available 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.
How should I store my food?
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!
What do I do with waste?
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.
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.
Are dogs permitted in Coyote Gulch?
No! Although dogs 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.
How do I find 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.
Is dispersed camping available near the trailhead?
Yes, dispersed camping is permitted along Hole-in-the-Rock Road, offering plenty of awesome spots to camp before your Coyote Gulch adventure.
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…).
What should I pack for backpacking Coyote Gulch?
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.
- 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’ve compiled a list of our essential backpacking gear, with a downloadable excel spreadsheet to help you prepare for your next adventure!
Other hikes in Grand Staircase-Escalante
Planning a trip to Grand Staircase Escalante? Be sure to check out our other resources on can’t miss hikes in the area:
Questions about planning your perfect Coyote Gulch backpacking trip? Ask away, and we’ll do our best to help!