Upper Calf Creek Falls is a little hidden oasis nestled among the rocky hills of Grand Staircase Escalante in southern Utah. The beautiful waterfall is accessible via a short, but very steep, 2-mile roundtrip hike located off the Scenic Highway 12 between Boulder and Escalante. Less popular than the nearby lower falls, Upper Calf Creek Falls offers the chance to find some solitude while soaking in the views or cooling off on a hot day in the desert.

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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standing beside a pool of water at the base of Upper Calf Creek Falls

About Upper 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.

Although often overshadowed by its neighbor, Upper Calf Creek Falls is a beautiful oasis in the remote desert of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Compared to the lower falls, Upper Calf Creek Falls is smaller, requires a shorter hike but much steeper hike, and typically sees much fewer visitors.

If you’re looking for a pretty spot to cool off on a warm day in the desert but don’t want to be surrounded by unruly children and Instagram poses, Upper Calf Creek Falls is the hike for you!

standing beside a teal-blue pool at the base of Upper Calf Creek Falls

About Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

Upper Calf Creek Falls is located in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, a massive area of protected land encompassing over 1 million acres in Southern Utah. You won’t find long entry lines or throngs of tourists. Instead, you may come across unsuspecting cows, who are more timid than they are curious, and large tracts of land filled with some of the most unique and diverse geological formations in the country.

Grand Staircase Escalante is full of unique hiking opportunities, and Upper Calf Creek Falls is no exception! The hike to the falls shows off the diversity of landscapes found in Grand Staircase Escalante – after all, you wouldn’t expect to find a lush oasis in the midst of a massive tract of desert land!

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 while exploring Upper Calf Creek Falls

  • 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.
  • Be prepared! There are no services on Hole in the Rock Road. 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.
  • Carry 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.

Upper Calf Creek Falls Overview

Hike Stats

Hiking distance | 2.1 miles
Elevation gain | 600 feet
Total time | 2 hours
Epic-ness rating | 6
Difficulty | Moderate

Highlights

  • Beautiful waterfall and pool to swim in
  • Minimal crowds
  • Option to see the falls from above, in addition to from below

Lowlights

  • Although the hike is short, it’s a steep climb back up to the trailhead
  • Shore of the pool is a bit swampy, no great beach area to hangout

How difficult is the hike?

Although the hike is short, we’d rate it as moderately difficult due to the extremely steep climb at the end. The trail first descends down to the falls, and then you have to climb back up to the trailhead at the end of the hike. The reverse summit makes the hike more mentally and physically challenging. 

When is the best time to hike Upper Calf Creek Falls?

The best time to hike in Grand Staircase is during the spring or fall when temperatures are milder. Upper Calf Creek Falls is a perfect little oasis to cool off on a warm spring or fall day!

We would not recommend hiking in the summer, as the trail offers little to no shade and temperatures in Grand Staircase Escalante get extremely hot. During the winter, expect cold temperature and snow is not uncommon, which would make this steep, slick trail dangerous.

Should I hike Lower or Upper Calf Creek Falls?

We’ll cut to the chase: Lower Calf Creek Falls is much more popular than the upper falls. So if you have time for just one, which should you choose? Let us break down the pros and cons of both.

Lower Calf Creek Falls perhaps has the (very) slight edge in terms of natural beauty, although Upper is not close behind. However, the tradeoff is that you are likely to share the views with many other hikers, whereas Upper Calf Creek Falls is much less visited and you may even have the place to yourself (we did on a beautiful Saturday morning in April!). Additionally, we thought the views along the way to the Upper Falls were more beautiful than the trail to the Lower Falls. 

In terms of difficulty, Lower Calf Creek Falls is a longer hike (6 miles roundtrip), but fairly flat, while the upper falls is a much shorter hike (2 miles roundtrip) but requires a very steep climb. 

If we had to pick just one, we’d probably go with Upper Calf Creek Falls because we love to have a beautiful place like this to ourselves, but truthfully it’s a close call and you can’t go wrong with either!

Upper Calf Creek Falls, the more popular of the two falls along Calf Creek

P.S. Still can’t decide? Read more about the hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls here:

Things to know before you hike

  • There is no clear trail for part of the hike as the route traverses a large slab of slickrock. You will need to look for cairns to find the way. It’s useful to have the AllTrails Pro map downloaded in advance, as cairns can be unreliable.
  • There is no cell service in the area, so download trail maps in advance. 
  • The trailhead is not marked from the road. Use GPS or the AllTrails map to make sure you are headed in the right direction. 
  • Beware that the trail is extremely steep. A pair of trekking poles is very helpful to take some of the pressure off your knees going down and help make the climb back up a bit easier. 
  • Dogs are permitted on the trail.
  • There is little shade and it gets very hot in Grand Staircase, so be sure to pack plenty of water and sun protection.
  • The trailhead is located off the Scenic Highway 12 between Boulder and Escalante. Plan to spend some time admiring the views from the viewpoints along the road to get there. 
  • There are no entrance fees in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
up close view from below Upper Calf Creek Falls

Details | Upper Calf Creek Falls Trail

In the section below, we’ll detail the hike to Upper Calf Creek Falls, including parking and trailhead information and things to look out for along the trail.

Our experience

After visiting the lower falls on one of our first visits to Grand Staircase Escalante, we knew we had to get to the Upper Falls. We did the hike during a 2 week stay at Yonder Escalante during April, and thought the hike ranked pretty close with the Lower Falls in terms of our favorite hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante. 

The views along the trail to the falls are beautiful and although the hike is steep, it’s pretty short making for a great way to spend a couple hours. When we arrived at the falls, there was no one else there and we had the place to ourselves for a solid half an hour!

Getting to the Upper Calf Creek Falls trailhead

The parking area and trailhead are located off of Scenic Highway 12, about 30 minutes from Escalante, Utah, 25 minutes past the start of Hole in the Rock Road, and 10 minutes past the trailhead for the lower falls.

The parking lot is down a short gravel road, and there is no sign from the highway so we’d recommend having it plugged into your GPS.

Starting the hike

From the trailhead, the hike descends immediately down towards the canyon. The trail is very steep and traverses a large section of slick rock. A pair of hiking poles is super helpful here to help take some of the weight off your knees (and to make the climb back up easier!). 

As you make your way down the cliff, keep an eye out for cairns (piles of stacked rocks) to help you find the way. During the first quarter mile or so, there is no clear trail because you’ll be walking over large slabs of rock. We found the cairns to be fairly reliable, but it’s always a good idea to download the AllTrails map ahead of time just in case. 

After a few minutes the trail levels out a bit and it’s a fairly gentle descent towards the falls.

Getting down to the falls

At ¾ of a mile into the hike, the trail continues straight or branches off to the left. The trail to the left continues down to the base of the falls, while the trail ahead leads to the top of the falls. The trail down to the falls can be easy to miss so make sure to keep an eye out for a cairn marking the way. 

Upper Calf Creek Falls

Once you reach the intersection, it’s a short but steep walk down to the base of the falls. Around the pool of water below the falls, there is a grassy area and a large rock slab that would make a nice spot to hangout. Unfortunately, there is no sandy beach area like you’ll find at Lower Calf Creek Falls. 

Spend some time resting and cool off with a dip in the pool at the base of the falls on a hot day!

Note: Please use caution not to trample the grassy area designated as a restoration area.

pool of water below Upper Calf Creek Falls
restoration area around Upper Calf Creek Falls

Continue above Upper Calf Creek Falls

Once you’ve soaked in the views, continue back up the way you came until you reach the intersection with the main trail again. This time take a left and continue along the trail until you reach the top of the waterfall. Here there is another small pool that has collected at the top of the falls with a nice view of the canyon below.

view from above Upper Calf Creek Falls
views from above Upper Calf Creek Falls

Return hike

The trek back to the trailhead is by far the toughest part of the hike, so be sure to save enough time and energy! The final push back up the ridge is extremely steep and will have your lungs burning and thighs aching. Luckily, the trek isn’t too long so take your time and plenty of rests and you’ll be back to the car in no time.

steep final climb back up to the trailhead

Upper Calf Creek Falls Packing List

Before you head out on the hike make sure you are prepared with the following essentials:

  • Hiking poles (Hers: Black Diamond Distance Z poles, His: Black Diamond Distance FLZ poles ) | Very helpful for the steep sections of the Upper Calf Creek Falls hike.
  • Backpack with bladder (Hers: CamelBak Helena 20L, His: Camelback Rim Runner 22L)
  • Hiking boots (Hers: Danner Mountain 600s, His: Salomon Ultra 4 Mid GTX) | A pair of quality hiking boots with good traction are helpful for the steep sections.
  • 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 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.

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 the falls 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 (Chacos) | Helpful for protecting your feet while you wade into the water at the falls.

Other useful resources

Planning a trip to Grand Staircase Escalante in Utah? Be sure to check out these other great hikes in the area!

We’ve rounded up a list of 16 of the best hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante to help you plan your trip here:

For all things Utah: Utah Travel Guide

Questions about the hike? Or can’t decide between the upper and lower falls? Drop us a question in the comments below!

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