If you’re the type of hiker who is excited to get off the beaten path in an area that is already quite remote, then the hike to Phipps Arch in southern Utah is for you. Phipps Arch is located in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, on an offshoot of the Escalante River Trail. The hike requires scrambling, river crossings, and route finding, and Phipps Arch is notoriously difficult to find. In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know to hike to Phipps Arch, including a few tips on how to find the elusive arch.

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Phipps Arch, Utah hike overview

  • Hiking distance | 6.4 miles
  • Elevation gain | 600 feet
  • Total time | 3 to 4 hours
  • Epic-ness rating | 6
  • Difficulty | Moderate to hard (due to route finding and a challenging scramble)

Find this hike on AllTrails: Phipps Arch Trail

Phipps Arch is a massive sandstone arch located in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in southern Utah. Phipps arch is a lesser-known and more remote, even by Escalante standards!

Finding the arch poses a challenge, as there is no clearly defined trail and the route requires some scrambling up steep slickrock. If you decide to embark on this hike, make sure that you know what you’re getting yourself into and have properly prepared for a long day in the desert with a means of route finding.

Visiting the AllTrails page for Phipps Arch may make you think twice about whether it’s worth the hike. After all, the hike gets a measly rating of 4.1 stars, which pales in comparison to other awesome hikes in the area!

However, if you begin reading through comments, you’ll notice that this rating is artificially low because many people never actually make it to the arch! So if you’re looking for a bit of an adventure, you’ll love the hike to Phipps Arch.

If you want an easy no-brainer hike, we’d recommend looking elsewhere.

Tip | If the route-finding and scrambling required to reach Phipps Arch doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, we’d highly recommend checking out the Escalante Natural Bridge. It’s an easy stroll along the Escalante River to an amazing sandstone arch carved out of the canyon walls. In fact, it shares a parking lot with the hike to Phipps Arch.

Walking along the plateau overlooking a canyon near Phipps Arch

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

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 Phipps Arch is one of the lesser-known arches in the park!

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.

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.

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

Highlights

  • Beautiful sandstone arch
  • Quiet trail, you’re likely to have the arch and views entirely to yourself
  • Although the hike is lesser known, the parking area is easy to access via a paved road (unlike many hikes in the area).

Lowlights

  • The trail is not well marked and the arch is difficult to find
  • Scrambling up steep slickrock is required at the end (although, this could be a highlight if you’re into that kind of thing!)

How difficult is the hike to Phipps Arch?

On paper, Phipps Arch sounds quite moderate. With 600 feet of elevation gain over 6 miles, how bad can it be, right?

The truth is that the majority of the hike is very easy. The trail meanders alongside the Escalante River, crossing it a few times and slowly gaining mild elevation.

However, don’t be fooled by the gentle introduction. The last quarter to half mile before reaching the arch is where all the elevation (and challenge!) comes in. Just take a look at the elevation profile above and you will see what I mean.

The climb up to the arch is steep, but fairly short so I wouldn’t classify it as extremely physically strenuous. However, there are a few sections of scrambling that require patience, strategy and caution.

Furthermore, you’ll need to be prepared to do some route finding to find Phipps Arch. Plan on spending more time on the trail than a typical hike of this elevation gain and distance would normally take you.

When is the best time to hike?

The best time to hike to Phipps Arch is during the spring (March through May) and fall (September through early November).

During the summer, temperatures in Grand Staircase soar and the lack of shade makes hiking uncomfortable, if not dangerous.

If you are visiting the area during the summer, make sure to pack plenty of water and hike early in the morning. Because part of the hike to Phipps Arch is along the Escalante River, this can be a good option to help cool off on a hot summer day.

During the winter, temperatures fall below freezing, and ice on the sections of slick rock scrambling would make reaching Phipps Arch dangerous.

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.

Where to stay nearby

The trailhead for Phipps Arch 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 | We highly recommend staying Yonder Escalante, located just about 20 minutes from the Phipps Arch trailhead. With unique renovated airstreams, stylish modern cabins, and a drive-in movie theater with old refurbished cars, Yonder takes glamping to a new level!

Phipps Arch hike details

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

Our experience

Grand Staircase Escalante is one of our all-time favorite places in the country, and we’ve spent a lot of time exploring the area. After checking off all the area’s most popular spots, we wanted to explore some more off-the-radar locations which brought us to Phipps Arch.

Admittedly, we weren’t fully prepared for what we were getting into with this hike, and we had a really hard time finding Phipps Arch. In fact, we almost gave up and turned back unsuccessful like so many other hikers who attempt this trail.

Eventually, we found Phipps Arch, but not without quite a bit of time wandering around the area. We hope you’ll learn from our mistakes, and we’ve provided some tips to find the route below!

Getting to the Escalante River Trailhead

The hike to Phipps Arch 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 the trail for Phipps Arch, you will head east. The trailhead is located on the opposite side of the road from the parking lot.

To get to the trailhead, you can cross the road, or follow a trail from the parking lot that leads underneath the bridge.

Escalante River Trail

The first mile and a half of the hike to Phipps Arch follows along the Escalante River, offering a nice chance to cool off from the desert heat.

You will have to cross the river a few times. We started the hike wearing Chacos, but changed into a pair of hiking boots once the trail veered away from the river. You will want a pair of hiking boots with good traction for the scramble up to Phipps Arch.

Crossing the Escalante River

Phipps Arch Trail

After one mile into the hike, the trail to Phipps Arch branches off to the right from the Escalante River Trail. Note that the Escalante River trail does continue straight here, so it would be easy to miss the turn. Make sure you are keeping an eye out around 1.5 miles in.

Phipps Arch trail continues for about a mile and a quarter through a wide canyon.

Turn off into canyon

Once again, it’s important to keep an eye out for your turn starting at about 2.5 miles into the hike. The route to Phipps Arch takes a sharp left turn and begins to climb up into a canyon.

The route into the canyon is marked by cairns, so be sure to keep an eye out. Follow the cairns up onto a shelf heading northeast.

Once you find the turnoff, there is a faint dirt trail to follow at times. Unfortunately, the trail has also been blazed by countless other hikers going astray trying to find their way to Phipps Arch, so you can’t necessarily rely on it.

The key thing to know is that the route to Phipps Arch veers sharply and steeply off to the left of the path that you’ll be walking on inside the canyon. This is where you will start the scramble over slickrock to reach the arch.

The turn is very easy to miss because the route so suddenly begins to go up! It’s all too easy to continue on the dirt path, where other hikers have done the same.

Phipps Arch route finding tips

Unfortunately, there is no key landmark or easy set of directions to give you to find Phipps Arch. The AllTrails route gets you in the general direction, but it’s not precisely accurate.

Here are our best tips to help you find Phipps Arch:

  • Follow the cairns as much as you can. If there is no cairn insight, check your downloaded trail map.
  • Beware that cairns may NOT be available for the entire route. Cairns can easily get knocked down by wind, weather, and animals. When we hiked to Phipps Arch, there was no cairn marking the point at which you need to begin scrambling up the slickrock.
  • During the last half mile or so, be wary of “trails” worn down by many other hikers going astray. We continued along a faint path and completely missed the turn up to Phipps Arch.
  • Once you enter the canyon, keep an eye out to the lefthand side of the trail for the route leading up the slickrock. It may or may not be marked with a cairn.
  • The start of the scramble section at the end is not obvious. You will have to climb up a few steep sections and there isn’t always a clear way.

Scramble up to Phipps Arch

The final push to Phipps Arch involves a steep scramble over slick rock. Soon enough, you’ll arrive atop a plateau and Phipps Arch suddenly comes into view!

To reach Phipps Arch, you will come up the crevasse seen in this photo.

Phipps Arch

With it’s slanted oval shape cutout of a massive slab of orange sandstone, Phipps Arch almost looks like a massive eye!

Once you arrive at Phipps Arch, it’s possible to walk up underneath the arch for an awesome view in both directions. Continue through the arch and follow the sandstone plateau to the right for less than a quarter mile for another incredible viewpoint over the canyon and looking back at Phipps Arch.

the first glimpse of Phipps Arch after finishing the scramble!
climbing up underneath Phipps Arch
swirling orange rock formations
view looking out from underneath Phipps Arch
view from underneath Phipps arch
View from the opposite side of Phipps Arch, looking backward

Return hike

Once you’ve gotten your fill of exploring the area around Phipps Arch, retrace your steps to return to the trailhead.

Use caution in getting back down the steep scrambling sections. We found it even harder going down than coming up!

Contemplating the scramble down from Phipps Arch. Note the backpack down below!
Contemplating the scramble down from Phipps Arch. Note the backpack down below!

Phipps Arch 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 to avoid wet boots for the river crossings.
  • 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 Grand Staircase Escalante? 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.
  • Escalante Natural Bridge: an easy 4-mile stroll to a stunning arch carved out of the canyon 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.
  • Devil’s Garden: A unique collection of hoodoos and arches off Hole in the Rock Road.

For all things Utah: Utah Travel Guide

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