A hidden oasis tucked away in the remote Grand Staircase Escalante, the Lower Calf Creek Falls trail follows along the shores of peaceful Calf Creek for 3 miles until arriving at a majestic waterfall. Tumbling 125 feet down a massive sandstone wall, Lower Calf Creek Falls is one of the most popular spots in Grand Staircase Escalante, and for good reason! As you relax under the canopy of trees surrounding the pool of water that gathers at the base of the waterfall, you will find it easy to forget you are in the desert at all. In this article, we’ll tell you what to expect from the Lower Calf Creek Falls trail and help you prepare for your hike!
- Overview | Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail
- Details | Lower Calf Creek Falls hike
- 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!
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About Lower Calf Creek Falls
Calf Creek flows from north to south through Grand Staircase Escalante, cascading over two waterfalls before joining the Escalante River. The two falls, Upper Calf Creek Falls and Lower Calf Creek Falls, are located just a few miles from each other, but can not be accessed via the same trail.
Of the two falls, Lower Calf Creek Falls is more popular, as it is easier to access and features a larger drop than the Upper Falls. In this article, we will detail the trail to Lower Calf Creek Falls and help you plan your hike.
About Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
Lower Calf Creek Falls is one of the most popular hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, and for good reason! While many of the hikes in the area require driving down rough dirt roads, Lower Calf Creek Falls is easily accessible, located right off Scenic Highway 12.
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument spans over 1 million acres in Southern Utah, and is one of the most remote and rugged areas of the state. The massive tract of land holds some of Utah’s best hidden gems, from narrow slot canyons and mysterious hoodoos to swirling petrified dunes, gulches, rivers and lush oases.
Located between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon, the monument is often overlooked in favor of the nearby national parks, but we think this special area deserts a spot on any Utah National Parks road trip.
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! Carry extra water 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.
Lower Calf Creek Falls Overview
- Hiking distance | 6.5 miles
- Elevation gain | 850 feet
- Total time | 3 – 4 hours
- Epic-ness rating | 6
- Difficulty | Moderate
Find this hike on AllTrails: Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail
Lower Calf Creek Falls is a 126-foot waterfall that cascades over a massive orange-toned cliff and collects in a pool at the base before continuing down Calf Creek. The trail to reach Lower calf Creek Falls will keep you entertained, as it leads along Calf Creek besides massive sandstone canyon walls, stained in shades of black and orange from overflowing streams of water over the years.
- Beautiful waterfall at the end
- See ancient pictographs along the way
- Audio guide with waypoints available (great for kids!)
- Limited parking can fill up
- This is a popular hike so the trail can get crowded
- Scenery on the hike can be repetitive
How difficult is Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail?
Lower Calf Creek Falls trail is a moderately difficult hike, with relatively mild elevation gain over 6 miles. Parts of the hike involves walking through fairly thick sand, which adds a bit of extra difficulty to an otherwise easy hike. That being said, it’s a very manageable hike and great for hikers of any skill level.
Calf Creek Campground
Calf Creek Campground is located at the trailhead for Lower Calf Creek Falls, making for a convenient place to stay before or after the hike. In fact, from the parking area, you have to walk through the campground to get to the trailhead. Nestled along Calf Creek, this desert oasis is the perfect camping spot! Please note that oversized vehicles are not permitted due to space constraints.
There are 13 sites available on a first-come-first-served basis for $15 per night. The campground offers basic amenities like fires rings, picnic tables and bathrooms. You can read more about camping at Calf Creek campground here.
What to pack for hiking Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail
Before you head to Grand Staircase Escalante to hike Lower Calf Creek Falls trail, make sure you are prepared with the following essentials:
- 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)
- Hiking socks (Darn Tough) | Darn Tough makes our favorite hiking socks – they’re thick, comfortable and durable. Everything you need in a good hiking sock.
- 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 areas without cell service and it gives us (and our parents) peace of mind.
- 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.
If you want to go swimming by the waterfall, don’t forget these:
- Bathing suit | After a hot day of hiking in the desert, taking a dip in the little oasis at Lower Calf Creek Falls feels amazing!
- Towel (PackTowl lightweight towel) | If you do decide to take a swim at Lower Calf Creek Falls, don’t forget a towel to dry off with afterwards!
- Water shoes (Chacos) | Helpful for protecting your feet while you wade into the water at the falls.
Tips for a great hike
- Pickup a trail map at the trailhead to follow along with the waypoints numbered along the trail. There are 15 different landmarks that are marked by posts on the trail – a great way to keep kids entertained for the 3 mile hike to the falls! You can also download a copy of the trail guide online here.
- Pack a bathing suit, towel, and picnic and plan to hang out at the pool by the falls. The oasis of trees around the falls keep the area cool even on a hot summer day!
- There is no service in Grand Staircase Escalante. Make sure to download trail maps in advance.
- Dogs are permitted on Lower Calf Creek Falls trail (as well as other hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante), but please be sure to keep your pet on a leash at all times.
Details | Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail
In the section below, we’ll detail the hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls, including parking and trailhead information and things to look out for along the trail.
Getting to the Lower Calf Creek Falls trailhead
The trailhead for Lower Calf Creek Falls is located off Scenic Highway 12, about 25 minutes from Escalante, Utah, and 20 minutes past the start of Hole in the Rock Road, another popular spot for hiking in the area. From Highway 12, turn onto Calf Creek Road and continue until you reach the parking area. Note that you must park before the campground area and walk through the campground to reach the trailhead.
Parking at Lower Calf Creek Falls trailhead
There is a $5 per vehicle fee for parking. Parking is fairly limited and this is a popular hike, so it tends to fill up. There is some overflow parking on the gravel road leading to the main parking area, but be careful to check for posted “no parking” signs before setting off to hike. As usual, we’d recommend starting the hike early, especially if hiking on the weekend, to avoid jockeying for a parking spot.
Starting the hike
Once you’ve paid for parking and gathered up your hiking gear, continue through the campground until you reach a sign for the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trailhead. The trail meanders along Calf Creek at a very gradual incline as you make your way towards the falls.
Calf Creek is home to an abundance of plants and animals, including several species of trout which can be spotted darting around in the water if you look closely. If you’re lucky enough to visit during the spring, colorful wildflowers, lush vegetation, and blooming cacti line the trail. Deer, turkeys, beavers, and ducks also make Calf Creek their home so be sure to keep an eye out for wildlife!
For much of the hike we largely ignored the waypoints, but you don’t want to miss stop #9, which is about 1.5 miles into the hike! From here look to the righthand side of the trail to the massive striped canyon wall until you spot three small figures painted on the wall in red pigment. While the exact meaning of these drawings is unknown, they are indicative of the style of art of the Freemont people, who lived in the Calf Creek Canyon roughly 800 years ago.
Pictographs are a rare archeological treasure that give us unique insight into cultures of the past. Be respectful and look, appreciate, but NEVER touch or deface these treasures.
Fun Fact | Petroglyphs are images carved into a rock face, while pictographs are painted.
Lower Calf Creek Falls
Just under 3 miles into the hike, you can start to hear the thundering sound of water crashing in this distance! Round one last corner and the majestic Lower Calf Creek Falls finally comes into sight.
Tumbling straight down a 126 foot orange and black striped sandstone wall, the falls create a mist that hangs in the air. The area around Lower Calf Creek Falls can best be described as an oasis, with trees and lush plant life that provide shade and relief from the heat of the desert. We highly recommend packing a lunch and planning to spend some time swimming and cooling off by the falls.
Once you have spent sufficient time taking in the beauty of Lower Calf Creek Falls and relaxing by the pond, head back the way you came to return to the trailhead.
Other hikes in Grand Staircase
Planning a trip to Grand Staircase Escalante in Utah? Be sure to check out these other great hikes in the area!
- How to Visit Devil’s Garden in Escalante
- Escalante Natural Bridge: Complete Trail Guide
- 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
- Willis Creek Slot Canyon Trail Guide
We’ve compiled more information about Grand Staircase and details about our 16 favorite hikes in the area if you are interested in learning more:
For all things Utah: Utah Travel Guide
Have you hiked Big Horn Canyon in Escalante, Utah? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!