Awesome Above & Below the Surface
Explore the depths and the surfaces of Grand Staircase Escalante
The canyons in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument provide some of the most outstanding hiking opportunities to be found on earth. This is a huge area consisting of a maze of sandstone cliffs, canyons, and plateaus. The Canyons are part of a natural basin surrounded by higher areas of the Colorado Plateau. Parts of the Colorado Plateau, such as the Aquarius Plateau, rise to above 11,000 feet, while lower parts of the canyons empty towards Lake Powell at 3,700 feet. Read more...
This vast difference in topography and elevation give the area an amazing variety of plant and animal communities. Much of the area is remote and dangerous. There are practically no marked trails throughout this canyon country. Hearty visitors can experience true backcountry isolation and exploration. This area is not suitable for unprepared hikers.
The area encompassing the magnificent landscape of the Escalante River canyons is known as the Escalante Basin and is a small part of the greater province known as the Colorado Plateau. The Escalante Basin is bordered by the prominent features of the Aquarius Plateau to the north, the Circle Cliffs and Waterpocket Fold to the east, and the Straight Cliffs of Kaiparowits Plateau to the west. Formation of these great plateaus, sheer cliffs, and deep canyons began during a period of intensive geological and erosional activity occurring 60-80 million years ago. As the plateaus were uplifted by the shifting and buckling of the earth, and the canyons were eroded by meandering streams, a great cross-section of geological formations was eventually exposed. These formations are thought to have been deposited some 180 to 225 million years ago. Geologists believe these various formations were deposited as the area alternated between sea, lake, and desert environments. Some of these formations contain the fossils of dinosaur bones, sea shells, land and marine organisms, and the petrified wood of ancient forests. As you hike along the canyons or drive down the highway today, you may be passing through an area once covered by seas and inhabited by marine organisms, or perhaps you'll pass through an area where ancient forests once thrived and dinosaurs roamed.
Amazing displays of geological activities and erosional forces can be seen throughout the area, including the intricate network of deep canyons, uplifted plateaus, sheer cliffs, beautiful sandstone arches and natural bridges, water pockets, sandstone monoliths, pedestals and balanced rocks, domes and buttes, ironstone concretions, and volcanic boulder fields to name a few.
The first significant recognition of the recreational resources in this area occurred in 1941 when the National Park Service studied the Escalante River in conjunction with a comprehensive study of water resources in the Colorado River Basin. The study was published in 1946 and identified the Aquarius Plateau-Escalante River Basin as a "little-known but potentially important recreation area." The road between Escalante and Torrey was described as "the most scenic road in southeastern Utah," and Escalante was identified as a "gateway town" with great potential as an important recreation center. Within 100 miles of Escalante are Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Zion National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Petrified Forest State Park, Anasazi Indian Village State Historical Site, Kodachrome Basin State Park, and part of the Dixie National Forest. Due to the abundance of recreational opportunities in a relatively small area of the state, visitors often "discover" the Escalante-Boulder area on trips to other destinations.
The Escalante area offers both primitive and non-primitive types of recreation. The Escalante River and its drainages provide an outstanding opportunity for backpacking. The area's national reputation and large numbers of hiking opportunities serve to yearly increase visitation to the canyons. Motor vehicle tourists enjoy the scenery on Highway 12, Hell's Backbone, Burr Trail and Hole-in-the-Rock Road. The color contrasts between the semi-arid canyon country and the pine-and-aspen-covered mountains add to the beauty of the area. Camping is considered a major recreational use of the area. Both the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service offer well maintained camping areas in scenic locations. Camping fees are charged on some of the more developed sites. The most popular sites are Calf Creek, Posy Lake, and Blue Spruce.
See our pages on area hiking trails, and our special section on hiking the Escalante River for more detailed information.
Some areas of the Escalante Resource Area are open to ORV use. Sheer canyon cliffs and generally-rough terrain restrict ORV use in many locations to existing roads and trails. To operate any type of vehicle on public lands you must observe all state and local regulations. Drive in a careful, responsible manner. Driving in a manner which creates excessive damage or disturbance to the land, wildlife, or vegetative resources is prohibited. Some areas are closed to motorized vehicles and mountain bikes. Contact the BLM office in Escalante; they can inform you of any ORV restricted areas and direct you to areas suitable for your type of ORV use. All motorized and nonmotorized vehicles are restricted to maintained roads within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
The developed Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service campgrounds have approved water systems. The Escalante River and the many lakes, creeks, and springs provide backcountry users with water. However, these sources should be treated. The recommended method of treatment is boiling. The intestinal parasite Giardia lamblia may or may not be present, and boiling is the only sure way to kill this parasite. The use of chlorine or iodine has not always been effective. This parasite has been found in deer, rats, mice, livestock, beaver, coyote, cats, dogs, and man. With the wide variety of possible sources of parasite transmission, all water sources are suspect of being contaminated and should be treated. Giardiasis is generally not life-threatening. The symptoms include diarrhea, intestinal gas, loss of appetite, weakness, discomfort, nausea, weight loss, bloating, and cramps.
The climate in Escalante is temperate and arid, with annual precipitation averaging about 10 inches. From June through early September thunderstorms will advance from the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico and southern California. Frontal-type storms out of the northwest move through the area from October through June. The highest amount of precipitation occurs from November through March. Summer temperatures in Escalante vary approximately 30 degrees F., with highs in the mid to upper 90's and lows in the mid 60's. Winters in Escalante have a temperature range of about 26 degrees F., with highs in the low 40's and lows of about 15 degrees F. Snowfall in Escalante generally averages 28 inches, beginning in October or November and ending in March or April.
The traveler is advised to be aware of weather conditions before hiking or driving in this area. Mountain and desert roads can become impassable, and flash floods are a possibility after rainstorms. Rainstorms far upstream can catch a hiker unprepared in a downstream canyon.
Travelers off paved highways are advised to carry tow chains, a shovel, extra water and gas, food, a first aid kit, a flashlight, and other items necessary in case of an emergency.
Food, fuel, and lodging are available in the communities of Escalante and Boulder.
The public lands of the Escalante Resource Area are administered by the Bureau of Land Management. The National Park Service manages lands within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Capitol Reef National Park boundaries and the Forest Service administers lands within the Dixie National Forest boundary. There are also some State and private lands in the area. Visitors use regulations may vary between these agencies. For more information on area recreation, hiking, camping, and visitor use regulations, contact the appropriate agencies.
Bureau of Land Management Escalante Resource Area, P.O. Box 225, Escalante, Utah 84726 Phone: 435-826-4291. The office is located .5 mile west of the Town of Escalante on the south side of Highway 12.
National Park Service Glen Canyon N.R.A. Escalante District, P.O. Box 511, Escalante, Utah 84726 Phone: 435-826-4315. The office is located next to BLM office .5 mile west of the Town of Escalante on the south side of Highway 12.
Dixie National Forest Escalante Ranger District, P.O. Box 245, Escalante, Utah 84726 Phone: 435-826-4221. The office is located on the north side of Highway 12 in the Town of Escalante.