Interested in hiking and camping on Hole in the Rock Road in Grand Staircase Escalante but having trouble deciding what to do or if you are prepared to take on this off-road adventure? We’ve got you covered! In the article below, we have created a complete guide to Hole in the Rock Road in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, from details on dispersed camping and finding good campsites to the best hikes along the road and vehicle safety tips!
- About Hole in the Rock Road
- Details | Driving Hole in the Rock Road
- Hole in the Rock Road Camping
- Hiking & things to do
- Hole in the Rock Road packing list
- Other useful resources
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!
let’s be friends
About Hole in the Rock Road
Hole in the Rock Road is a 62 mile (one way) dirt road through Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in southern Utah, ending in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The road travels east from the town of Escalante through one of the most remote areas of Utah, if not the entire United States, and gets progressively more rough the farther down you go. As such, driving Hole in the Rock Road requires advance planning and vehicle safety preparedness.
Hole in the Rock Road is home to some of the best hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante, from narrow slot canyons to towering arches, and offers an escape from the crowds of the nearby Utah National Parks. If you’re looking for off-the-beaten-path adventures, unique hiking experiences, and plentiful free camping, we highly recommend spending a few days on Hole in the Rock Road!
History of Hole in the Rock Road
Hole in the Rock Road follows the general path of the San Juan Expedition of 1879, organized by the Morman church to secure a site for settlement in the area east of the Colorado River. The expedition consisted of 250 women, women, and children who set off from Salt Lake City and headed east towards the Colorado River.
To reach their destination, the group decided to take a supposed short-cut, but ended up stuck at “Hole-in-the-Rock”, a narrow crack in the canyon wall just west of Lake Powell. A trip that was expected to take 6 weeks ended up taking 6 months, as the group slow chipped away at the hole, until widening the opening enough to pass through with their carriages and supplies.
The expedition continued until it reached the San Juan River and eventually established a settlement that is now known as Bluff, Utah. Today, if you drive to the end of the road, you can still see (and hike through) the very same “hole in the rock” that held up the Mormon expedition!
Grand Staircase Escalante
The majority of Hole in the Rock Road is located in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, with the exception of the last 5 miles which leads into Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Grand Staircase Escalante is one of the largest areas of protected land in the United States, encompassing nearly 2 million acres in southern Utah.
Grand Staircase Escalante is rugged, remote, and insanely beautiful. While more and more people flock to Utah’s Big 5 National Parks (Bryce, Zion, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef), we have found Grand Staircase to be significantly less crowded and just as scenice, if not more so, than any of the national parks. As one of the last places in the US to be mapped, it truly is a wild, Western experience!
With tons of amazing hikes, from narrow slot canyons to sandstone arches and even massive waterfalls, there is so much to do in Grand Staircase! Many of the best hikes in Grand Staircase are located off Hole in the Rock Road, making it a great base for exploring the area.
Be respectful to 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.
Details | Hole in the Rock Road
In the section below, we’ll cover all the details you need to know about driving on Hole in the Rock Road to help you prepare for your trip.
How to get to Hole in the Rock Road
The start of Hole in the Rock Road is located less than 10 minutes from Escalante, Utah, about an hour from Bryce Canyon National Park, and 35 minutes from Boulder, Utah.
From start to finish, the full road can take more than 2.5 hours to drive (one-way), although the exact driving time varies a lot depending on the type of vehicle you drive and your comfort level with off-road driving. That being said, many of the most popular hikes and attractions on Hole in the Rock Road are located toward the beginning of the road, within roughly an hour of Escalante.
Hole in the Rock Road is an unpaved, bumpy, washboard road. However, it’s not terribly rocky in most parts and is fairly manageable (at least towards the beginning) if you can handle a few bumps. We’ll be honest, we were expecting a lot worse!
It is not until much farther down the road that the road conditions deteriorate and you need to start worrying about deep sand and ruts. See the photo below for the type of road conditions you can expect most of the way.
What type of car do I need?
Hole in the Rock Road is typically passable with 2WD and high clearance up to about mile 35, when weather conditions are good. The farther down the road you drive, the more narrow the road will become and road conditions significantly worsen. For reference, we had no trouble getting to Hurricane Wash Trailhead (mile 33) in our 2WD Jeep Cherokee.
To continue past mile 35, high clearance and 4WD are required, as the road conditions deteriorate. Additionally, 4WD is typically required if it has recently rained or snowed because the road becomes very muddy.
It’s also worth noting that the side roads that branch off Hole in the Rock Road tend to be in worse condition than the main road. Deep sand and ruts are not uncommon, so use caution before you decide to head down any side roads.
Most of the road is packed clay, which can turn into a complete mud pit and become impassable following rain or snow, even with high clearance and 4WD. Be sure to keep an eye on recent weather conditions and do not attempt to drive Hole in the Rock Road if the forecast calls for rain – you could get stranded until the mud dries up.
The BLM maintains a report on current road conditions that is updated fairly regularly. When in doubt, you can also call the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center for updated road conditions.
Before setting off on Hole in the Rock road, make sure that you are prepared and have a plan. There is little to no cell phone service on the road so don’t expect to be able to call for help in case of an emergency or vehicle issues. We always carry our Garmin InReach Mini GPS device in remote areas like this so that we have the option to get help in case of a serious emergency.
Due to the rough nature of the road, flat tires are not uncommon. Be sure to have a spare tire (if not two) and know how to change it. Always keep extra water (several liters) and food in the car in case you become stranded.
Tips for driving Hole in the Rock Road
- Fill up the gas tank before you go! Hole in the Rock Road is remote and there are no gas stations along the 62-mile road. Be sure to fuel up in Escalante before you head out. If you plan to drive the full road, it may be wise to pack extra gas just in case.
- Always check recent road conditions before you go, and do not go if there is rain in the forecast.
- Let someone know your itinerary before you go and when you plan to return in case of an emergency.
- Lookout for cattle along the road. The area is free range, so don’t be surprised if you come upon a herd crossing the road!
- Restrooms are few and far between. There are pit toilets located at Devil’s Garden, Peekaboo & Spooky trailhead, and Upper Dry Fork trailhead.
Where to stay nearby
The closest town to Hole in the Rock Road is Escalante, a small town that offers a few hotel/lodging options, restaurants, and a small grocery store. Escalante is a great place to fill up your gas tank, stock up on last-minute supplies, or get a good night’s rest before heading out to explore on Hole in the Rock Road.
When is the best time to visit
Spring (April – May) and fall (September – October) are the best times to visit Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument for mild temperatures. March and November offer average highs in the 50s, but have colder nighttime temperatures and the possibility of snow.
During the summer, average high temperatures reach the upper 80s and lower 90s, and the lack of shade makes for brutal conditions for hiking and camping. During the winter, expect colder temperatures with average highs in the low 40s and lows dipping into the teens.
Hole in the Rock Road Camping
One of our favorite things about Hole in the Rock Road is the plentiful supply of great, free camping spots! Dispersed camping is permitted along the road, meaning there are no established campsites or amenities, like running water, restrooms, or picnic tables.
Where can I camp?
Camping is permitted at any of the pull offs or side roads off Hole in the Rock Road. Basically, you just can’t park on the road – find a good spot to pull over out of the way of passing traffic.
Always look for previously disturbed land, meaning a flat patch of ground that looks like a tent has been pitched on it before. Avoid disturbing the fragile cryptobiotic soil, the layer of black or white crust over the ground that helps prevent erosion and foster growth of desert plant life.
How to find a good campsite?
Unlike many dispersed camping areas in the American Southwest, great campsites are not hard to come by on Hole in the Rock Road! While the spots with the best views will be snagged early in the day (especially on weekends), you can pretty reliably expect to find a camping spot regardless of what time you arrive.
If you have a specific hike in mind, try to find a spot close to the trailhead. Also, note that there are often great campsites offering a bit more privacy located down the side roads that branch off from the main road.
Do I need a permit to camp?
A free permit is recommended but not required for dispersed camping in Grand Staircase Escalante. The purpose of the permit is mainly for safety reasons in case of an emergency, so it’s always a good idea to pick one up.
How to dispose of human waste
In arid desert environments, like Grand Staircase Escalante, human waste can take a year to decompose! In order to preserve the area, all human waste must be packed out using WAG bags, aka portable toilets.
With campers using the same spots night after night, you can imagine what would happen if everyone left their waste… it may be unpleasant, but please do your part to keep this beautiful area clean.
What type of wildlife could I encounter?
Though not exactly “wild” life, there are lots of free-roaming cattle in the area that you are likely to encounter while hiking or camping. The cattle are typically afraid of humans, so just leave them be and give them space and they won’t cause you any trouble.
There are also rattlesnakes in Grand Staircase Escalante, which tend to be more active during warmer temperatures. Always use caution when walking through brush or moving piles of rock or logs.
Where can I get water?
There are no easily accessible reliable water sources on Hole in the Rock Road, so you will need to pack in all the water you plan to use during your visit. We use 2-liter Platypus bottles to store extra water without wasting plastic and paying for gallons from the grocery store.
Can I have a campfire?
Campfires are generally permitted on Hole in the Rock Road, and some dispersed camping sites even have rock fire pits set up by previous campers. However, campfires may be banned when forest fire risk is high, typically during the summer. Always check the NPS website for current fire bans before you head out!
Because the area is so dry, you should always use extra caution when having a campfire. Make sure your fire ring is well-fortified, do not leave the fire unattended, and put the fire out before you go to bed. Fires are not permitted inside any of the canyons in Escalante.
Backpacking off Hole in the Rock Road
There are several unique backpacking trips off Hole in the Rock Road, including Coyote Gulch, Golden Cathedral and Reflection Canyon. The best part?! Advance reservations are not required, there are no assigned campsites and backpacking permits are free!
Permits are required for backpacking in Grand Staircase Escalante and can be picked up at most of the trailheads or at the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center located in Escalante, Utah. We recommend calling the Visitor Center to inquire about permit availability at your chosen trailhead if you plan to fill out a permit at the trailhead.
Things to do on Hole in the Rock Road
With so many great hikes and things to do, you could easily spend several days to a week camping and exploring Hole in the Rock Road. Below we will highlight a few of our favorite experiences in the area that we’d highly recommend checking out during your visit.
- Visit the hoodoos of Devil’s Garden
- Explore a stunning slot canyon (Big Horn Canyon, Zebra Slot Canyon, and/or Peekaboo and Spooky Gulch)
- Day hike to Jacob Hamblin Arch or backpack through Coyote Gulch
- Hike to the iconic Golden Cathedral inside Neon Canyon.
- Adventure to Cosmic Ashtray for an off-the-beaten-path adventure
- Go on a backpacking trip to Reflection Canyon
For more details on some of the best hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante, check out our complete guide:
Hole in the Rock Road Map
The map below displays the location of some of the best things to do along Hole in the Rock Road.
- 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.
Hole in the Rock Road packing list
Before setting out on your Hole in the Rock Road adventure, make sure you have stocked your car with the following:
- At least one spare tire, Fix-a-Flat and tire inflator
- Vehicle traction boards
- Extra food and water (we use Platypus 2-liter bottles for storing extra water)
- Garmin InReach Mini GPS
- Jumper cables
- Wag bags
- Sun protection (sunscreen, chapstick and sunglasses)
- Car camping gear
- Backpacking gear
P.S. If you plan to camp on Hole in the Rock Road, check out our complete list of car camping essentials to help you pack:
Other Escalante resources
Planning a trip to Escalante, Utah? You may also find the following resources useful:
- 10 Amazing Grand Staircase Escalante Hikes
- How to Visit Cosmic Ashtray: an Epic Adventure
- The Ultimate Coyote Gulch Backpacking Trip: Grand Staircase Escalante
- How to Hike Zebra Slot Canyon: Grand Staircase Escalante
- A Complete Guide to Hiking Big Horn Canyon in Escalante
- Peekaboo and Spooky Slot Canyons: A Complete Trail Guide
For all things Utah: Utah Travel Guide
Questions about camping or hiking on Hole in the Rock Road in Escalante? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll do our best to help!