Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (what a mouthful!) is the furthest east we traveled on this trip. I didn’t know a lot about the area, but wanted to check it out since we had never been there before. Plus, its pretty close to Bryce Canyon, where we also wanted to go. During our two days there, we went on these 2 hikes:
Lower Calf Creek Falls
If you look at any guide for best hikes at GSENM, then you’ll find this one at the top of the list. And for good reason! There is a beautiful waterfall at the end of a very scenic hike.
The hike is about 6 mi in and out. We started it around 5pm and walking briskly, finished a little after 7:30pm before sunset. The elevation was pretty easy…aside from a few short stretches of steep areas, the land was flat. After hiking Dead Woman’s Pass on the Inca Trail, I feel like I can conquer any climbing hike now!
HB was fascinated by these purple cacti! I’m pretty sure they’re just sun-stressed.
At last, we reached the falls! It exceeded my expectations. What I thought would be a trickle of a waterfall actually turned out to be quite gorgeous.
We had a nice (cold!) picnic nearby, and then turned back. The sun was beginning to set!
There was another family who was just beginning the hike as we left the park (wtf?)…I would not recommend this! We almost got lost on the way back by taking a wrong turn, and the best scenes like the waterfall will be unviewable in the dark. Tip: make sure you know when sun sets so that you can make it back in time before dark! We always hike with a headtorch now (they are SO handy). I would highly recommend one for any low-light situation and always pack one in my bag just in case…
Willis Creek Slot Canyon
The Willis Creek hike was actually Plan C…Plan A was to hike the Zebra Slot Canyon. When I found out that the canyon was filled with waist-deep water, I figured we could do the alternative Peekaboo and Spooky Gulch Canyons near Zebra. We made our way over and quickly learned that our little sedan was not cut out to drive on the gravelly, unpaved Hole-in-the-rock Road. We were going 14 mph and our bones were rattling all over the place. We noticed that most people drove large vans or trucks, and they were able to go twice our speed. After 7 miles of this agonizingly slow speed with 20 more to go, I felt like we had to pivot. I wasn’t sure if our little rental car was going to make it! It would sure suck if we had car troubles out in the middle of nowhere. So! If you plan to do any hikes along Hole-in-the-rock Road (which most are), then I would suggest driving a 4x4 or rent an ATV? Small jeep? We saw that the nearby city Escalante had them for rent.
As a result, we made our way over to Willis Creek (closer to Kodachrome Basin State Park) to do a slot canyon hike. It seems like GSENM has plenty of slot canyons!
You will still have to drive in unpaved dirt roads to get to the trailhead but at least it was only 3 mi vs 20 mi of it. I was pleasantly surprised by what a fun, unique hike it was! We were actually within the slot canyons, hiking alongside the creek.
The top of a canyon
Nearly the entire hike was within slot canyons
Many parts of the creek were still iced over! My Texan eyes could not believe there was still snow out there in late March! Especially not under that strong sun! Despite the high UV index, that day was actually quite cold - 46 deg F.
It was a good thing that the ice hadn’t completely melted yet. I imagine that when it does, the hike will be much harder to do with higher water levels. We would’ve probably had to wade through a stream to complete it, like the Zion Narrows (which we also did!). With the water levels so low, this was an easy hike where we could easily jump across the creek where we needed to. There were also plenty of young kids (and dogs) hiking! It made us wonder just how young can kids go on hikes? Let us know!
There were a variety of slot canyons that we walked through - this was the biggest one we saw:
Eventually there were no more slot canyons to hike through. After the last giant slot canyon seen above, we were walking under wide, open skies with giant trees on both sides of us. At this point, we ended our hike and turned back.
All in all, we hiked about 3 miles roundtrip. It wasn’t strenuous since we didn’t really have to climb. It was a fun, easy, and unique slot canyon hike!
Below are additional places that we really liked and would recommend.
We were pretty happy with our stay at the Slot Canyons Inn. It’s a few miles west of Escalante but is close enough to everything you’d want to do in the north side of GSENM. Our stay was inside The Tiny House Casita, which was very comfy. I’m pretty sure they had memory foam beds, which made such a difference compared to the other hotels we stayed at! The icing on top was the homemade breakfast that was served every morning with a variety of foods (fruit, yogurt, granola, toast, eggs, hash browns and more…). It truly was a home away from home!
“Homemade” dinner outside our tiny house
Have you been to this national monument? What would you recommend to see/do around here?