Escalante & Boulder: 2 Top Spots Near Utah’s Bottom
Oct 30, 2019
By: Bobby Brinton
You’ve hiked Arches. You’ve explored Bryce. You’ve camped at Canyonlands. Here’s where to get your next, fresh fix to feed that outdoor itch.
What to do, what to do? You’ve visited Utah’s popular destinations (or maybe you haven’t) and you’re ready for something different. Something off the beaten path. Enter Escalante and Boulder, Utah. These two together are considered the heart of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. They’re a jumping-off point for nearly every outdoor activity you can imagine — exploring a slot canyon, biking a forested trail, hiking a petrified forest, camping near a lake or casting into a mountain stream. And that’s just for starters. The surrounding landscape features plateaus, cliffs, and canyons that have been eroded by water and time to reveal formations that were deposited back when dinosaurs roamed the planet. Now it’s your turn.
Make adventure your middle name
If you’re visiting, you may as well fit in an amazing activity or seven.
Take a trek through time and experience Escalante in the most elemental way — on foot. Crank things up a notch and learn all about the ‘ologies (paleontology, geology, ecology, and archeology) with a local guide.
Have a hankering to follow in Butch Cassidy’s footsteps (or rather, his horse’s)? Ride along the Escalante River, see historic wagon trails or traverse Butch’s escape routes on horseback.
Get a shot of adrenaline (minus the needle) by dropping 200 feet to the bottom of a slot canyon. If heights aren’t your thing, you can also make your way along the bottom of any number of canyons in the area.
Bring things back down to a simmer with some relaxing time on the water. Spend an afternoon at Wide Hollow Reservoir on a paddleboard or a week on the Escalante River in a kayak or packraft.
Stick with the water, but keep it even more zen with a bit of fly fishing. Anglers will find themselves in freshwater heaven with dozens of lakes to choose from in the Boulder Mountain area.
Bring the intensity back up a notch by cranking gears on a mountain bike. You’ll find oodles of rideable terrain here, from mountains to deserts and highlands to foothills. Shhh — it’s our best-kept secret.
Okay, things are about to get real dark. Because Escalante is one of the darkest places on Earth at night. View the Milky Way so vividly that you’ll think you’ve been sent out an airlock in deep space.
Hike like nobody’s watching
Grab your daypack, fill up your canteen, tighten those laces and hit the trails.
Kiddos and parent-os will love this easy-to-moderate hike located 15 miles east of Escalante. On your way to the spectacular 126-foot falls, you’ll travel by beaver dams, pictographs, and granaries — all framed by a picturesque red rock canyon.
●Escalante River to Natural Bridge
A river runs through it. The hike, that is. It’s a moderate jaunt located 14 miles east of Escalante where Highway 12 crosses the river. Head upstream for 2.5 miles and you’ll see the natural bridge on the south side of the canyon.
This pair of Escalante slot canyons are two of the most popular in the area. If you’re up for a bit of scrambling and scooching through narrow gulches, put these moderate-to-strenuous excursions on your list. Located off Hole-in-the-Rock Road.
Are you familiar with Goblin Valley? This is like the mini-golf version. Hoodoos, arches, domes, and slots can all be found in this natural playground. Also located off Hole-in-the-Rock Road, Devils Garden is perfect for an afternoon of exploring and/or picnicking.
Dude, where’s your car?
If you’d rather see the sites from the comfort of your car, catch these can’t-miss drives.
Travel where the pioneers of the American frontier did — along the route of the last major wagon train. Hole-in-the-Rock Road is 57 miles of unpaved history, accessible to most vehicles up until the last 10 miles or so (4WD recommended thereafter). Check out Dance Hall Rock for a short out-and-back trail.
Burr Trail Road is a spectacular drive just off Highway 12, southeast of Boulder. Stop by the local favorite “Singing Canyon” slot canyon, located in Long Canyon, or take a scenic hike at Circle Cliffs, Wolverine Canyon or the Gulch. The first 30 miles of Burr Trail is paved, but 4WD is recommended for Wolverine Loop.
It may be called Hell’s Backbone, but it’s actually quite heavenly. This 44-mile gravel road connects Escalante with Boulder and is a must-stop for fans of jaw-dropping photos. Don’t miss the dizzying views of Box-Death Hollow Wilderness area. Note: this route is closed during winter.
You got some ‘splorin’ to do
Find inner and outer peace as you explore these public lands, parks and rec areas.
Discover what life was like in an Anasazi village that was once one of the largest communities west of the Colorado River, way back in A.D. 1050 – 1200. Located in Boulder.
See petrified trees from eons ago in this state park, then cross the road and enjoy the current eon as you camp along the shores of Wide Hollow Reservoir. Located just outside Escalante.
The Aquarius Plateau (or Boulder Mountain to local folks) is the highest plateau in North America and also the home of Dixie National Forest. Check out Posey Lake or Barker Reservoir Complex for excellent fishing and camping. Located north of Escalante and Boulder.
Grand Staircase is a series of ginormous plateaus descending southward from Bryce Canyon toward the Grand Canyon. The Kaiparowits Plateau is possibly the most remote place in the lower 48. And the Escalante Canyons section to the east is home to some of the most stunning canyons in the southwest. The whole area is one big playground primed for general outdoor antics, but Grand Staircase-Escalante camping is a beloved favorite. Located in south-central Utah (seriously, it’s just huge).
Want to know more? (You know you do.)
For info about any of these activities or locations, visit escalanteut.com or contact the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center, 755 W Main St. in Escalante, 435-826-5499.