Looking for a quick stop to stretch your legs while road tripping Scenic Highway 12? Want to cool off on a hot day in Escalante? Look no further than the Escalante Natural Bridge, an easy, family-friendly 3.2 mile round trip hike in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument! In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to prepare for hiking to the Escalante Natural Bridge. 

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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scenery along the Escalante River Trail on the way to Escalante Natural Bridge

About Escalante Natural Bridge

Did you know that Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is home to more arches than Arches National Park?! That’s right! There are over 2,300 documented arches in Grand Staircase, and the Escalante Natural Bridge is one of the most spectacular! The impressive 130-foot tall sandstone arch is carved out of the massive walls of the Escalante River Canyon.

The trail to Escalante Natural Bridge meanders along the Escalante River and involves several fun river crossings – a great way to cool off on a hot desert day. The hike is just a small portion of the Escalante River Trail, which stretches for a total of 19 miles and ends in Escalante.

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument spans over 1 million acres of remote desert land in southern Utah, and is home to countless unique gems, like Zebra Slot Canyon, Golden Cathedral, and Jacob Hamblin Arch. While most visitors to Utah skip over Grand Staircase in favor of the “Mighty 5” national parks, we think doing so would be a mistake. Grand Staircase Escalante is one of our all-time favorite places in Utah, featuring an endless expanse of striking desert landscapes to explore without all the crowds.

Many of the hikes in Grand Staircase take quite a bit of effort to reach, as they are located many miles down rough dirt roads. However, the Escalante Natural Bridge is easily accessible, located just off of Scenic Highway 12, which connects Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon. This is a great hike to dip your toes into (both literally and figuratively…) the beauty of the Escalante area!

rocky hills outside of Escalante, Utah
Viewpoint on Scenic Highway 12, just around the corner from the Escalante River Trailhead

Escalante Natural Bridge Overview

Hike Stats

  • Hiking distance | 3.2 miles
  • Elevation gain | 200 feet
  • Total time | 2 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 5
  • Difficulty | Easy

Find this hike on AllTrails: Escalante Natural Bridge

Please note that the route on the above AllTrails link includes the extra distance to Cliff House Arch, hence why the total mileage is 4.4 miles instead of 3.2 miles as we have listed.

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.

Highlights

  • Beautiful sandstone arch
  • The Escalante River is awesome for cooling off on a hot day
  • Family friendly, easy hike
  • Easy accessible trailhead (off a paved road)

Lowlights

  • Deep sand in some areas make hiking more challenging
  • Parking is limited, although typically not a problem
  • River crossings can be unpleasant on colder days.

How difficult is the hike to Escalante Natural Bridge?

Escalante Natural Bridge is an easy hike that’s suitable for kids and hikers of all experience levels. The trail is mainly flat as it meanders alongside the Escalante River. 

The most challenging aspect of the hike is the several river crossings (we counted 5) required to reach the Escalante Natural Bridge. Most of the crossings are quite manageable with a sandy riverbed. There are a few areas where the riverbed is rocky and slippery, which requires a bit of extra caution to cross safely. We found that hiking poles worked wonders for helping us maintain our balance. 

Typically the current of Escalante River is mild and the river crossings are shallow. When we hiked in mid-April, the water was ankle to Please note that the water tends to be stronger during the spring when nearby snowmelt fuels the river. Use your best judgement in deciding whether the river is safe to cross, particularly if you are hiking with small children.

The second factor that adds a bit of difficulty to the hike is the deep sand. There are a few spots that are a bit challenging, but for the most part its not too bad

When is the best time to hike?

The best time to hike to Escalante Natural Bridge is during the spring (late March through May) and fall (September through October) when temperatures are mild. During the summer, it will be very hot. If you plan to hike during the summer, just be sure to pack plenty of water and sun protection. 

During winter, the river crossings would be quite freezing, although it is possible. A pair of neoprene socks would be a lifesaver!

Things to know before you hike

  • There are no entrance fees for Grand Staircase Escalante. 
  • The trailhead is located off Scenic Highway 12, which connects Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon.
  • There are no restrooms at the trailhead. The closest restrooms are located a few minutes away at the parking area for Lower Calf Creek Falls.
  • Nearby Upper Calf Creek Falls and Lower Calf Creek Falls are also awesome, easily accessible hikes that involve water.
  • Be sure to stop by Kiva Coffeehouse before or after your hike, and enjoy a Cup of Joe with best view you’ll ever get from a coffee shop!
  • Dogs are permitted but must be kept on leash.
  • The trail involves 5 river crossings. We highly recommend packing or wearing a pair of water shoes or sandals to avoid hiking in wet boots.

Backpacking the Escalante River Trail

Backpacking is also permitted along the Escalante River Trail, which continues for about 9 miles past the Escalante Natural Bridge. Permits are required and can be picked up at the Escalante Interagency Center in Escalante or at the trailhead. 

Where to stay nearby

The Escalante Natural Bridge hike is located about 20 minutes from the small town of Escalante, Utah, where you’ll find several hotel, RV park and campground options. Escalante also has a small grocery store and several restaurants, making it a good home base for exploring the area.

The even smaller town of Boulder is also about 30 minutes north of the trailhead but is fairly limited in terms of accommodations. 

Tip: the tiny town of Boulder is home to a James Beard Award Winning restaurant, called Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm. It’s delicious, and we highly recommend making a stop on your Scenic Highway 12 road trip!

views from the trail to Escalante Natural Bridge

Details | Escalante Natural Bridge Hike

In the following section, we’ll give you all the details about the hike so you know what to expect.

Our experience

We hiked to Escalante Natural Bridge while living in Escalante for 2 weeks in April. We’ll be honest, we didn’t have the highest hopes for this hike, but had driven by the trailhead several times so we decided to check it out.

The arch is beautiful and definitely exceeded our expectations! While most people flock to Lower Calf Creek Falls, we think the Escalante Natural Bridge is also worthy of a stop. The river crossings are a ton of fun and the scenery is lovely the entire way.

Getting to the Escalante River Trailhead

The hike to Escalante Natural Bridge starts from the Escalante River Trailhead.

Unlike many hikes in Grand Staircase, getting to the trailhead is a breeze. The parking area is located right off Scenic Highway 12, making it accessible with any vehicle. Parking is fairly limited, but there are overflow spots located along the roadside.

Starting the hike

From the parking lot, the Escalante River Trail leads to both the east and west. To get to Escalante Natural Bridge, you will head west (on the same side of the road as the parking lot). You’ll find the trailhead on the far side of the parking lot. 

The scenery along the trail is quite beautiful, leading through the Escalante River Canyon, with swirling petrified dunes, deep orange canyon walls, and an oasis of plant life clinging to the shores of the river.

Escalante River crossings

Almost immediately upon starting the hike, you will face the first of five river crossings. If you haven’t already, change into your water shoes – you’ll likely want to just keep them on for the rest of the hike! The river crossing is fairly shallow, usually about ankle deep but it varies by time of year. The Escalante River is crystal clear and the cool water is actually quite refreshing on a hot day in the desert!

We counted a total of 5 river crossings to each Escalante Natural Bridge, with the last crossing being right below the arch.

crossing the Escalante River just before Escalante Natural Bridge

Escalante Natural Bridge

At about 1.5 miles into the hike, you’ll see the Escalante Natural Bridge out in the distance! You can then cross the river once more and walk right up underneath the arch. The 130-foot tall orange and black striped sandstone arch is quite spectacular and standing below it will certainly make you feel small. 

Granary & Cliff House Arch

Under half a mile past the Escalante Natural Bridge, look out for a granary, a stone structure built into the side of the canyon. Just past the granary is Cliff House Arch, a narrow sliver carved out of the cliff.

Continue along the Escalante River Trail

If you are interested in extending your hike, you can continue along the Escalante River as far as you please. From the trailhead, the Escalante River Trail continues for nearly 13 miles one-way.

Escalante Natural Bridge Packing List

Before you head out on the hike make sure you are prepared with the following essentials, in addition to your typical hiking gear.

  • Hiking poles (Hers: Black Diamond Distance Z poles, His: Black Diamond Distance FLZ poles ) | Helpful for keeping your balance through the river crossings.
  • Backpack with bladder (Hers: CamelBak Helena 20L, His: Camelback Rim Runner 22L): With 2 – 3 liters of water per person.
  • Bathing suit | After a hot day of hiking in the desert, taking a dip in the Escalante River feels amazing!
  • Towel (PackTowl lightweight towel) | If you do decide to take a swim, don’t forget a towel to dry off with afterwards!
  • Water shoes or sandals (Chacos) | Helpful for protecting your feet while you wade into the water at the falls.
  • GPS Device (Garmin InReach Mini) | There is no cell service in most of Grand Staircase Escalante – we always carry our Garmin In-reach Mini in case of emergency in remote areas.
  • Sunscreen and chapstick | So important to keep your skin and lips protected during a long day in the desert sun!
  • Sunglasses (Goodr) | At only $25, Goodr sunglasses are cheap, durable
  • Bug Spray | It can get pretty buggy around the water, so we’d recommend packing bug spray, especially if you plan to hang out for a bit at the falls.

Other hikes nearby

Looking for other great hikes in the area? Here are a few of our nearby favorites:

  • Lower Calf Creek Falls: 6.5 mile hike located less than 5 minutes from the Escalante River Trail.
  • Upper Calf Creek Falls: less popular waterfall hike, about 10 minutes from the Escalante Natural Bridge hike.
  • Phipps Arch: a challenging 6 mile hike to a massive eye-shaped arch that begins on the other side of the Escalante River Trail.
  • Boulder Mail Trail: 15-mile one-way trail that connects Boulder to Escalante, perfect for a one night backpacking trip.
  • Death Hollow: A offshoot of the Escalante River Canyon, Death Hollow features beautiful narrows, with very deep water in sections.

We’ve compiled more information about Grand Staircase and details about our 9 favorite hikes in the area here:

Read More

For all things Utah: Utah Travel Guide

Questions about the Escalante Natural Bridge hike or other hikes in Escalante? Let us know in the comments below!

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