Nestled between the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon and the colorful strata of Capitol Reef right along Scenic Highway 12, lies an outdoor lover’s paradise: the small town of Escalante, Utah. Escalante makes the perfect home base for exploring the nearby national parks and the remote and rugged land of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, home to some of Utah’s most unique geological formations. While most road trippers will drive right through this mecca of desert adventure without thinking twice, those who stop are sure to fall in love with this quiet and beautiful place, much like we did!
- About Escalante, Utah
- National & State Parks near Escalante
- Things To Do in Escalante, Utah
- Where to eat in Escalante, Utah
- Where to stay in Escalante, Utah
- Other Escalante, Utah 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!
About Escalante, Utah
With a population of just over 800, you won’t find any chain restaurants, large grocery stores or strip malls in Escalante, Utah. The small town still has that rustic Western charm, with a few locally owned small businesses, restaurants and lodges. An Escalante Local proudly told us that the closest stop light is more than 50 miles away, giving you a sense for the small-town charm you’ll find in Escalante.
Despite it’s small size, there’s no shortage of good food, great places to stay, and fun outdoor activities for the whole family. That being said, don’t expect much to be open on Sundays or during the winter, as Escalante all but shuts down.
In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know to plan a trip to Escalante, including where to stay, where to eat and what to do in the surrounding area. We hope can convince you this tiny town is worthy of more than a drive by!
Why we love Escalante, Utah
Through all our travels throughout Utah, Escalante is the place we always find our selves coming back. In fact, it’s where we’ve spent the most time throughout the state. In addition to countless trips to the area, we’ve spent over 2 weeks living here and have explored all the best spots, eaten at every restaurant in town, and lived off the limited supply of groceries available for miles. The rugged, vast landscapes of Grand Staircase Escalante and the authenticity of this old western town has totally captured our hearts.
Most travelers to Utah head straight to the famous Big 5 national parks, but we think passing over Escalante is a mistake! Here you will find some of the most unique and beautiful landscapes in Utah, and you won’t be rubbing elbows with hoards of tourists like you will in the nearby national park. That being said, the national parks in Utah are still amazing and Escalante can make a great stop on a road trip through the Big 5 or serve as a home base for visiting Bryce Canyon or Capitol Reef.
We’re excited to share with you some of our favorite things to do in Escalante, Utah and we hope that you fall in love with this place just the same as we have!
Help us protect this beautiful place!
Before we get into it, we wanted to start with a word about preserving the incredible landscapes that surround 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.
How to get to Escalante, Utah
Escalante is located just off Scenic Highway 12 in southern Utah, 1 hour north of Bryce Canyon National Park and 1.5 hours south of Capitol Reef National Park. Those who complete an Utah National Parks road trip almost certainly drive right through the town on their way from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon.
The closest major cities with airports are Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, both about 4.5 hours by car. If you’re flying in, you will need to rent a car, or better yet, a camper or RV.
How much time do I need?
How much time you need in Escalante depends on what you plan to do in the area. If you want to explore Grand Staircase, we’d recommend about 3 days. If you plan to use Escalante as a home base for exploring Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon, you could easily spend a week here.
Getting around in Escalante
Getting around the town of Escalante itself is very easy. It’s a small town and almost everything is located right in the center of town. Any hotel, restaurant, gas station, etc. is likely no more than a 5 minute drive from the center of town.
While some trailheads are located off Highway 12, many of the best hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument are located off Hole in the Rock Road, a 62-mile-long washboard dirt road that deteriorates the further down you go. If you don’t feel comfortable driving on this road, or you have a large RV you’d prefer not to have to find parking for, you can arrange a hiking tour or shuttle to take you most trailheads.
Below are a few companies that offer hiking tours and shuttle services:
National & State Parks near Escalante, Utah
Escalante is a central hub for exploring many of Utah’s most beautiful landscapes. Below are the state and national parks located close to Escalante that are doable as a day trip.
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
- Distance from Escalante | 5 minutes to 3 hours (this is place is huge!)
- Fee | None
Escalante, Utah sits at the base of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, making it the best jumping-off point for exploring one of our favorite places in the entire US. The monument is huge, so beware that you could easily drive 2 – 3 hours to reach hikes that are in Grand Staircase (just because a hike is in Grand Staircase, does not mean it’s close to Escalante).
Spanning over 1 million acres, Grand Staircase Escalante is a remote and rugged land, filled with hidden gems. For afar, the landscape may look like an endless expanse of barren red hills. But take a peek below the surface, and you will find slot canyons, beautiful gulches, waterfalls, arches, and some of the most unique rock formations we’ve ever seen! In all of our travels across the US, Grand Staircase definitely gets our vote for most underrated park in the country. Due its more remote location and lack of a “national park” designation, expect significantly fewer crowds but the same desert beauty as nearby national parks.
We’ve rounded up a complete guide to all the best hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante here:
Bryce Canyon National Park
- Distance from Escalante | 1 hour
- Fee | $35 entrance fee is good for 7 days (or covered with U.S. National Parks Pass)
Bryce Canyon National Park is an easy day trip from Escalante, located about 1 hour away. The landscape in Bryce Canyon is dominated by its iconic hoodoos – tall, narrow rock formations that resemble sandcastles at the beach. These hoodoos formed over the course of thousands of years and can reach up to 200 feet high!
Read more about 10 of the best hikes in Bryce Canyon National Park:
Capitol Reef National Park
- Distance from Escalante | 1.5 – 2 hours
- Fee | $25 fee to enter the Scenic Drive (or covered with U.S. National Parks Pass)
Although a bit farther than Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef is also manageable as a day trip from Escalante. The main section of the park is located about 1.5 to 2 hours from Escalate. Note that Capitol Reef is very long and narrow, meaning the northern sections are located more than 3 hours from Escalante.
Kodachrome Basin State Park
Distance from Escalante | 45 minutes
Fee | $10 day use fee per vehicle
If you’re looking to escape the crowds and explore a few less popular hikes in southern Utah, check out Kodachrome Basin State Park, located about 45 minutes from Escalante. The park is named for its colorful gradient of orange, pink and red sandstone, and features stunning views of the southeastern side of Bryce Canyon.
Kodachrome Basin has a few awesome short hikes, like Angel’s Palace Trail and the Panorama Loop, and also offers horseback riding.
Escalante Petrified Forest State park
- Distance from Escalante | 5 minutes
- Fee | $10 day use fee per vehicle
Escalante Petrified Forest is a small state park located minutes from Escalante with just one hiking trail that offers the chance to see beautiful petrified wood with views looking down over the town of Escalante. Wide Hollow Reservoir inside the park is also a great spot to hang out and have a picnic.
Best things to do in Escalante, Utah
Now that we’ve covered the basics, we’ll get into more detail on some of our favorite things to do in Escalante, Utah. The following list is ranked in no particular order:
- Explore Grand Staircase Escalante’s slot canyons
- Go on a backpacking trip in Coyote Gulch
- Take a guided canyoneering trip
- Take a day trip to Bryce Canyon National Park
- Take a day trip to Capitol Reef National Park
- Eat at a James Beard award winning restaurant
- Adventure to the 4th largest arch in the world
- Cool off at a desert oasis along Calf Creek
- Discover petrified wood in the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
- Feel like a kid again exploring nature’s playground: Devil’s Garden
- Go back in time with a drive-in movie at Yonder Escalante
- Camp in one of the most remote protected areas of the United States
- Drive the Scenic Highway 12 to Boulder
- Hike Angel’s Palace and Panorama Point in Kodachrome Basin State Park
- Enjoy coffee with a view at Kiva Coffeehouse
- Go horseback riding at Kodachrome Basin or Bryce Canyon
- Take a guided fly-fishing trip
- Hike the Escalante River Trail to Phipps Arch or Escalante Natural Bridge
- Adventure to Cosmic Ashtray, an otherworldly formation!
- Backpack the Boulder Mail Trail
Map of the best things to do in Escalante, Utah
The map below displays the locations of the state and national parks nearby, the best hikes and things to do, hotels and lodging, campgrounds and places to eat.
- 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.
1. Explore Grand Staircase Escalante’s slot canyons
Our favorite way to spend time in Escalante, Utah is without a doubt exploring the stunning, narrow slot canyons in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. While there are slot canyons all over the monument, here are a few great options that are (reasonably) accessible, although some require more effort to reach than others
- Zebra Slot Canyon: Arguably the most visually stunning slot canyon in Grand Staircase is Zebra Slot Canyon, aptly named after the vivid striped walls you’ll find inside this hidden gem. However, nothing this beautiful comes easy! Entering the “zebra” section requires squeezing through a section so narrow that you have to push yourself up the wall and slide over, as you won’t be able to fit through sideways.
- Peekaboo and Spooky Slot Canyons: This 3.5 mile hike is a fun but challenging adventure through two stunning slot canyons! Peekaboo Slot Canyon reminds us in some ways of a smaller version of the most famous Antelope Canyon in Arizona, while Spooky gets as narrow as 10 inches in spots, leaving the canyon rather dark and spooky.
- Dry Fork Narrows: An optional add-on to the Peekaboo and Spooky Slot Canyons hike, Dry Fork Narrows is less beautiful compared to its neighbors, but certainly more easily accessible for those hesitant to tackle the steep climbs, drop offs and narrow squeezes.
- Big Horn Canyon: A lesser visited set of 2 side-by-side canyons accessible via a moderate 6 mile hike that does not require any rock scrambling or narrow squeezes. Big Horn Canyon trailhead also requires the shortest drive on Hole in the Rock Road of any of the slot canyons, making it easiest to access.
- Willis Creek Slot Canyon: Another less popular but more easily accessible slot canyon, accessible via an easy 3 mile round trip hike. Willis Creek is unique from other slot canyons in the area due its golden and black striped walls, and is located off Skutumpah Road closer to Kodachrome Basin.
2. Go on a backpacking trip in Coyote Gulch
Backpacking through Coyote Gulch is a magical way to experience the best of Grand Staircase Escalante in southern Utah! An entire world hidden below the otherwise barren crust of the desert, Coyote Gulch is an oasis of lush green trees, otherworldly rock formations and a variety of wildlife. There are several different trailheads and routes you could take into to Coyote Gulch for a total trip distance between 6 and 27 miles.
The most notable landmark inside Coyote Gulch is Jacob Hamblin Arch, a stunning 150-foot wide and 100-foot tall arch that towers over the gulch. If you aren’t up for backpacking, you can also visit Jacob Hamblin via a 14-mile round trip day hike from the Hurricane Wash trailhead.
For more details on planning an epic Coyote Gulch backpacking trip, check out this article:
3. Take a guided canyoneering trip
Looking to take your slot canyon adventure to the next level and explore an even more remote part of Grand Staircase? Canyoneering will get your adrenaline pumping while exploring some of the more beautiful and rarely visited areas of the park.
Excursions of Escalante is the only guide service that offers canyoneering tours (rather than just guided hikes) in Escalante, with two tour options of different difficulty levels which cost $225 to $275.
4. Take a day trip to Bryce Canyon
No trip to Escalante is complete without taking a day trip to Bryce Canyon! Below are a few great hike options:
- Figure 8 Loop | (6.3 miles, 1500 feet elevation) With just one day in the park, we’d recommend hiking the Figure 8 Loop, which combines 4 of the most popular trails: Navajo Loop, Queen’s Garden, the Rim Trail, and the Peekaboo Loop.
- Fairyland Loop | (7.8 miles, 1550 feet elevation) The Fairyland Loop is the longest hike in the park, and features similar views (maybe slightly less epic) to the Figure 8 Loop with fewer crowds.
- Navajo – Queens Garden Loop | (2.9 miles, 650 feet elevation) If you’re looking for a shorter hike in Bryce Canyon, combine the Navajo Loop with Queens Garden Trail for an awesome ~3 mile hike.
5. Take a day trip to Capitol Reef National Park
Although not as convenient as Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park is also doable as a day trip from Escalante. Most of the hikes in the most popular section of Capitol Reef, near Fruita, are about a 1.5 to 2 hour drive from Escalante. Below are a few great hike options:
- Cassidy Arch: 3.1 mile round trip hike that gains 700 feet of elevation and leads to a massive sandstone arch with stunning views of the Waterpocket Fold; 1 hour 55 minutes from Escalante
- Hickman Bridge: 1.5 mile round trip hike to a natural bridge with 400 feet of elevation gain This is one of the most popular hikes in Capitol Reef, although personally we think it’s overrated. We’d choose the Rim Overlook, Chimney Rock or Cassidy Arch over Hickman Bridge; 1 hour 40 minutes from Escalante
- Rim Overlook: 4 mile round trip hike with 1,000 feet of elevation gain, which includes an overlook with views of Hickman Bridge and ends at a beautiful viewpoint overlooking Fruita; 1 hour 40 minutes from Escalante
- Navajo Knobs: A challenging 9.1 mile round trip hike with 2,250 feet of elevation gain, featuring the best views in Capitol Reef (includes Rim Overlook and shares a trailhead with Hickman Bridge); 1 hour 40 minutes from Escalante
- Chimney Rock Loop: 3.3 mile round trip hike with 300 feet of elevation gain that gets you up close to the unique Chimney Rock and features stunning views; 1 hour 30 minutes from Escalante
6. Eat at a James Beard semifinalist restaurant
Located just 30 minutes from Escalante, in the tiny town of Boulder, lies Hell’s Backbone Grill and Farm, a James Beard-nominated restaurant known for taking farm-to-table quite literally (they operate a farm that provides the ingredients for the restaurant). A James Beard award-winning restaurant in a remote town of 200 in southern Utah? It sounds as unbelievable as the delicious melt-in-your-mouth biscuits this family-owned restaurant serves.
At Hell’s Backbone, you’ll find a selection of wines, craft cocktails and delicious dishes with farm-fresh ingredients – a luxury that’s tough to find in southern Utah!
- Read more: Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm
7. Adventure to one of the largest arches in the world
Grand Staircase Escalante is home to Steven’s Arch, often thought to be the fourth largest arch in the world! Steven’s Arch stands just past the confluence of Coyote Gulch with the Escalante River, and can be tacked on to a Coyote Gulch backpacking trip. At 160 feet tall and 225 feet wide, this magnificent arch is surely one of the best sights in Grand Staircase!
That being, reaching the arch is no easy feat. The most direct route starts from the Crack in the Wall Trailhead, located 35 miles down Hole in the Rock Road, and an additional 7 miles down a side road with rough, sandy conditions.
Getting to the trailhead is an adventure in and of itself, but the adventure doesn’t stop there. About 1 mile into the hike, you will have to squeeze through a series of narrow cracks in the rock (creatively named Crack-in-the-Wall) before descend down to the Escalante River.
Finally, the route up to the arch is unmarked and requires route-finding skills to navigate up the canyon wall.
8. Cool off at a desert oasis on Calf Creek
Through the seemingly barren, rocky landscape of Grand Staircase flows Calf Creek, a small oasis from the desert heat. Over thousands of years, the creek has carved a beautiful canyon, and flows from north to south, 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 and can be accessed via 2 separate hikes.
Of the two waterfalls along Calf Creek, the Lower Falls are certainly more popular and definitely a bit more impressive. However, the Upper Falls come pretty close in terms of beauty, are significantly less crowded, and the trail features more stunning views of Grand Staircase along the way.
To help you decide which falls you fancy, we’ve put together complete trail guides for both. Read more here:
9. Discover petrified wood in the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park is located just a few minutes from Escalante, Utah and is worth a quick stop. There is only one trail in the park: the Escalante Petrified Forest Nature Trail, a 2-mile roundtrip loop that gains nearly 500 feet of elevation with nice views over the Wide Hollow Reservoir and the chance to see petrified wood. The “Sleeping Rainbows” section of the trail features the most concentrated and beautiful petrified wood along the hike, as well as a cool view looking over the town of Escalante.
The Wide Hollow Reservoir in Escalante Petrified Forest State Park is also a great spot to hang out and cool off from the desert heat. During the summer, you can rent kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards from the park visitor center.
10. Feel like a kid again exploring nature’s playground: Devil’s Garden
Exploring Devil’s Garden in Grand Staircase is a whimsical and fun experience! In many ways, Devil’s Garden reminds us of a natural playground. Here you’ll discover sandstone arches, jagged hoodoos, and a mushroom-shaped assortment of rocks.
Climbing up and hopping around these strange rock formations will have you feeling like a kid romping around a playground! (Or, if you have kids of your own, will surely keep them entertained!)
There is a series of trails that lead through Devil’s Garden, but you can also just choose your own adventure around the area. Expect to total about a mile of distance on your feet to explore the best of Devil’s Garden.
11. Go back in time with a drive-in movie at Yonder Escalante
Available only to guests of Yonder Escalante, a luxury RV park offering RV hookups and campsites, as well as cabins and renovated airstreams, the drive-in movie theater at Yonder will transport you back in time, giving you a taste of the classic American West.
Movies are played every night just after dark and free popcorn is available at the concession stand. If the outdoor showers, resort-style restrooms, onsite food truck, stunning modern cabins, and renovated Airstreams don’t entice you, the drive-in movie at Yonder may be reason enough to stay for a night (especially if you have kids!).
12. Camp in one of the most remote areas of the United States
One of our favorite things about Escalante is the abundance of free dispersed camping along Hole in the Rock Road. Unlike many dispersed camping areas, awesome spots are not hard to come by here. Although there are no amenities along Hole in the Rock Road (ie. no bathrooms, running water, RV hookups), you’ll have a front row view to the beautiful sunsets and star-filled night skies and likely won’t have any neighbors (besides cows) for several miles.
- Read more about dispersed camping on Hole in the Rock Road
13. Drive the Scenic Highway 12 to Boulder
Designated as an “All-American Road”, Scenic Highway 12 stretches nearly 123 miles starting in Panguitch, UT and ending in Torrey, Utah, with stunning hoodoos, red rock vistas, swirling petrified dunes, and mountain views.
One of the most beautiful sections of Scenic Highway 12 is the 29 mile stretch from Escalante to Boulder, which features incredible views overlooking Grand Staircase Escalante. A particularly nail-biting stretch of road runs atop a narrow ridge, surrounded on all sides by stunning views.
Along the Scenic Drive are several awesome hikes to get out and stretch your legs, including Upper Calf Creek, Lower Calf Creek, Phipps Arch, the Escalante River Trail, and the Escalante Natural Bridge.
14. Hike Angel’s Palace in Kodachrome Basin State Park
- Hiking distance | 1.4 miles
- Elevation gain | 225 feet
- Total time | 1 hour
- Epic-ness rating | 5
- Difficulty | Easy
Find this hike on AllTrails: Angel’s Palace Trail
The most popular hike in Kodachrome Basin is the 1.4-mile roundtrip trail to Angel’s Palace. The trail climbs just over 200 feet before leveling off and continuing along a flat ridge, with sweeping views overlooking the state park. The highlight of the hike is a towering spire that features a beautiful gradient of color from white at the top to orange at its base.
If you have more time to spend in Kodachrome, we also recommend the Panorama Loop, which includes a stunning view of the backside of Bryce Canyon at Panorama Point. You have 2 options for the Panorama Trail: the short 3-mile Panorama Trail loop, or the 5.6-mile Panorama Trail Long Loop which includes the option to visit Cool Cave.
15. Enjoy coffee with a view at Kiva Coffeehouse
A coffee house located on Scenic Highway 12, Kiva is perched atop a rock cliff featuring a 180-degree wall of windows with panoramic views looking over Grand Staircase. This just may be the best view you can get with a fresh, hot cup of joe in hand! In addition to your standard coffee fair, Kiva also sells a rotating menu of breakfast and lunch items, which includes items such as breakfast burritos, tamales, quiches, muffins, and soups.
16. Go horseback riding
If your feet are aching from too much time spent hiking, give them a rest and explore the area by horseback! Kodachrome Basin State Park offers guided horseback rides along the Panorama Trail, one of the best hikes in the park with awesome views of the backside of Bryce Canyon.
- Kodachrome Trail Rides offers 1 hour rides for $54 per person or 2 hour rides for $75 per person.
Horseback riding is also available in and near Bryce Canyon National Park. Canyon Trail Rides is the only company that offers rides inside the park, so we’d recommend booking with them for the best experience.
- Canyon Trail Rides offers a 1.5-2 hour ride for $75 per person or a 3-hour ride for $100 per person.
17. Take a guided fly-fishing trip
Although it might seem counterintuitive due to the hot desert climate, there are actually many great fly fishing spots near Escalante, in Grand Staircase Escalante and the Dixie National Forest. To have the best experience and find great fishing spots, hire a local guide.
There are two companies that offer guided fly fishing trips in Escalante:
18. Hike the Escalante River Trail
The Escalante River Trail follows along the banks of the Escalante River for about 16 miles, through the heart of Grand Staircase Escalante. The easiest way to access the trail is from the Escalante River Trailhead, located off Scenic Highway 12. From the trailhead, you can hike in either direction.
If you hike upriver, you will reach the Escalante Natural Bridge, a massive sandstone arch carved out of the canyon wall, in about 1.75 miles. If you hike downriver, you can either continue along the river for 3 miles until you reach the end of the trail or take a spur trail up to Phipps Arch, a beautiful but tough-to-find eye-shaped arch.
Here is a summary of the different hike options from the Escalante River Trail:
- Escalante Natural Bridge (upriver/west) 3.5 miles, 250 feet elevation gain
- 100 Hands Petroglyph (upriver/west): 1.0 mile hike to a set of petroglyphs (the trail does not follow the river, but starts from the Escalante River Trailhead)
- Phipps Arch (downriver/east): 6.5 miles, 600 feet of elevation gain (no clear trail to the arch, requires route finding)
- Escalante River Trail (downriver/east): 6.2 miles, 275 feet of elevation gain
- Escalante River Trail (upriver/west to Escalante): 12.9 miles one way, 900 feet elevation gain
19. Adventure to Cosmic Ashtray, an otherworldly formation
- Hiking distance | 8.3 miles
- Elevation gain | 880 feet
- Total time | 5 – 6 hours
- Epic-ness rating | 8
- Difficulty | Moderate (requires route finding)
Find this hike on AllTrails: Cosmic Ashtray via Volcano Trail
The hike to Cosmic Ashtray is an otherworldly adventure that is perfect for those looking to get off the beaten path. In an area filled with crazy rock formations, narrow slot canyons, and limitless adventure, the hike to Cosmic Ashtray stands above all else.
With no designated trail, you will need to use your navigational skills (or AllTrails Pro) to reach this strange and unique rock formation. But with a little planning and an adventurous spirit, you’ll be rewarded with one of the craziest sights we have ever seen!
20. Backpack the Boulder Mail Trail
- Hiking distance | 15.4 miles (one way)
- Elevation gain | 2,800 feet
- Total time | 2 days/1 night or 10 – 12 hour day hike
- Epic-ness rating | 8
- Difficulty | Hard
- Permits/fees | Free permit required for overnight backpacking (available at trailhead)
- Trailhead | Escalante Town Trailhead or Boulder Mail Trailhead
Find this hike on AllTrails: Boulder Mail Trail
Traversing over 15 miles through Grand Staircase Escalante, the Boulder Mail Trail connects the town of Boulder to Escalante and makes an epic 1-night backpacking trip, or very ambitious day hike. Before Highway 12 was paved back in the 1970s, the route was used to deliver mail via mule between Escalante and Boulder, hence where the trail gets its name!
Tackling the Boulder Mail Trail isn’t easy, with about 2,700 feet of total elevation gain including an extremely steep drop into and climb out of Death Hollow, a stunning canyon with crystal clear blue water flowing through. It’s hard to imagine trusting a mule’s footing to carry you safely across this rugged terrain!
The Boulder Mail Trail is over 15 miles one way, and while it’s possible to complete as a 30-mile out and back, it’s best to hire a shuttle to drive you one way. We’d recommend starting the hike from the Boulder Mail Trailhead/Boulder Airstrip and hiking to Escalante, as this direction includes less elevation gain. With Escape Goats, the shuttle will set you back $120 (per vehicle).
Where to eat in Escalante, Utah
Good eats are surprisingly easy to come by in Escalante, although groceries and alcohol are not. In this section, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about eating and drinking in Escalante.
Restaurants in and near Escalante
Although Escalante is a small, remote town, there are a few great spots to grab a tasty bite after a busy day of hiking. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Ranch Dog: “Fancy” German-style hotdogs. The apple, brie, mustard and chicken hot dog on baguette is to die for!
- Georgie’s: Outdoor Mexican restaurant. Makes a great lunch or takeout spot (open 11am – 6pm but hours can change so check their Facebook page)
- Hell’s Backbone: A James Beard Award winning restaurant hidden in the tiny town of Boulder, Hell’s Backbone takes farm-to-table literally and serves up some of the most delicious food and drinks in the area!
- Escalante Outfitters: Cold beer and hot pizza… what more could you want after a long day of hiking!
- Nemo’s: A locally-owned “fast” food (the service isn’t actually very fast… expect to wait 15 minutes or so for your meal) joint serving up all the American classics: tasty cheeseburgers, fries and shakes!
- Kiva Coffeehouse: Located off Scenic Highway 12, enjoy panoramic views while you sip your cappuccino! Kiva also offers a rotating breakfast/lunch menu, with breakfast sandwiches, kitchens, tamales and burritos.
Where to buy groceries in Escalante, Utah
There is no major grocery store in Escalante, but Griffins Grocery sells the basics. If you plan to do a lot of cooking, it’s probably a good idea to buy groceries before you get to town. Escalante Mercantile also sells a limited selection of fresh produce and picnic supplies.
Where to buy alcohol in Escalante, Utah
Alcohol is a bit hard to come by in this tiny Utah town. Escalante Outfitters is one of the only places that sell wine and liquor. You can buy beer here too, or at the gas stations.
Where to stay in Escalante, Utah
Escalante has something for everyone when it comes to where to stay, from budget-friendly motels, RV parks, campgrounds, and free dispersed camping to luxury glamping, cabins, yurts, and hotels.
Hotels & Lodging in Escalante, Utah
Escalante has several RV parks, small cabins, and hotels/motels available if traditional camping isn’t your style.
- Yonder Escalante: Luxury RV park and campground, offering small cabins and renovated Airstreams in addition to RV hookups and tent campsites. Cabins sleep 2 for $260 per night and Airstreams sleep 3 for $330 per night.
- Escalante Yurts: Spacious, luxury yurts for those looking for a glamping experience. Nightly rates run around $330 to $430 and sleep 4 – 7 people.
- Escalante Cabins & RV Park: Offering cabins, tent sites, RV hookups, and even long-term rentals, Escalante Cabins and RV Park is a solid lodging option. Cabins will set you back about $145 and RV sites are about $40.
- Canyon Country Lodge: Large hotel located minutes from Hole in the Rock Road that offers clean and spacious rooms for $200 per night.
- Escalante Escapes: Modern tiny cabins that sleep 2 – 4 for $350 per night.
- Circle D Motel: Budget friendly motel in Escalante with rooms for $70 – $100 per night.
- Cowboy Country Inn: Budget friendly motel in Escalante for around $110 per night.
Campgrounds in Escalante, Utah
- Wide Hollow Campground: Campground located in Escalante Petrified Forest State Park with 20 RV and tent sites located adjacent to the Wide Hollow Reservoir. Sites are reservable in advance online.
- Calf Creek Campground: 13 lovely campsites located next to the trailhead for Lower Calf Creek Falls available on a first come first service basis (fill up fast in busy seasons).
- Yonder Escalante: RV and tent sites run $70 to $130 per night.
Dispersed Camping in Escalante, Utah
Dispersed camping is permitted in many areas around Escalante, Utah. Two great options include:
- Hole in the Rock Road: Free dispersed camping with easy access to many of the best hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante
- Spencer Flat Road: Another nice spot for dispersed camping with lovely views. Less popular than Hole in the Rock Road, with fewer good camping spots available.
Other Escalante, Utah 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
- Hole in the Rock Road: Camping, Logistics & Things to Do
For all things Utah: Utah Travel Guide
Questions about planning your trip or any of the best things to do in Escalante, Utah? Escalante is one of our favorite areas of the country, so we are happy to help however we can!