Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument Things to Do

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Most Recent Things to Do in Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument

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    The Toad Stools

    by richiecdisc Updated Jun 21, 2009

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    the exotic toad stools

    For those who complain about the cost of hiking permits and need to drive down dirt roads, there are a few hikes off the main highway. The short but very pretty hike to the Toad Stools is well worth the effort and short enough to do later in the day when it's cooled down a bit. This two-mile round trip hike passes through a lovely desert setting over some incredible rock formations, with the Vermilion Cliffs as a backdrop.

    The toad stools are oddly shaped rock formations caused by uneven erosion that effects the base more quickly, thus creating a top heavy “mushroom” effect. It is quite an interesting trail that follows a wash and has some small scrambles over rock formation en route. For such a short walk, it will get the uninitiated and those lacking in time a good feel for desert hiking in the area.

    Perhaps the hardest part of the hike is finding the trail head. Though located right on scenic route 89, there is no sign for the hike. Ever keeping their visitors on edge, the Monument rangers hand out maps detailing how far in miles everything is from each other. For instance, the toad stools hike is 7.6 miles from the Big Water Visitor Center or 1.4 miles from White House. This is a free hike but you should sign in at the trail head for safety purposes.

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    Taking Photos at The Wave

    by richiecdisc Updated Jun 21, 2009

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    the wonderful colorful Wave

    Once at The Wave, you will be surprised at how small the area is though in no way will you be disappointed with it. It is stunning. We'd been hiking around the southwest for a month and had super high expectations and we were in no way let down.

    We had a fairly serious group of photographers in our group of permit holders so we found it quite easy to get shots without anyone in them. People seemed to realize the importance of getting perfect photos and took turns getting into the best spots. Shade was hard to come by so everyone huddled together to rest, snack and replenish fluids in what small patches there were. We could only stay so long due to the heat and more importantly lack of supplies. It would have been nice to walk back with the sun lower in the sky but we enjoyed the return hike quite a bit. With The Wave finally under our belt we perhaps appreciated the natural desert setting more, and the cacti were in mad bloom.

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    Hiking to The Wave

    by richiecdisc Updated Jun 21, 2009

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    the hike to The Wave would be great w/o The Wave

    The Wave has to be the best bit of non-advertised advertisement ever. Even though the newly crowned Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument has been running now since 1996, it is managed by the Bureau of Land Management rather than the National Park system, putting the protected area in a more subdued limelight.

    In a state blessed with too many National Parks to mention, this “adventure” park exudes a more insider's only allure. Rather than follow the one price includes all mentality of the National Park system, this one is free to enter with money generated via day hiking/backpacking permits, some of which are limited to protect the fragile ecosystem. The Wave is naturally one of these limited access hikes, and hence its approaching cult status amongst those in the know.

    While most of the day hike permits in the Monument can be obtained at each trail head via a self-pay envelope, The Wave permits are limited to 20 per day. Half of those are reserved on the Internet and the other are “won” in a lottery type atmosphere each day for walk-ins.

    Anyway, what about the hike you say? Well, there is no marked trail per se. When you “win” your right to purchase the $5 permit, you also get a detailed description, map, and even photos to help guide you over the approximately three miles of incredibly beautiful but desolate desert that brings you to the geological wonder. We were told it was best photographed mid-day due to shadows and rather than lug a whole day's worth of water/food around, we did it later in the morning than we normally would. It was great for photos at The Wave but the hike was hot and the light was a bit washed out en route. If I were to do it again I would go out very early morning and bring enough supplies to last the day. The hike out is just as beautiful if not as dramatic as The Wave itself and you shouldn't rush through it in mere anticipation of getting “there.”

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    Big Water Visitor Center

    by richiecdisc Updated Jun 20, 2009

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    loving dino

    The Big Water Visitor Center is conveniently located right on scenic route 89 running between Kanab in Utah and Page in Arizona. It would be the rare tourist in this area that would not pass by it. But the mistake is to not stop in to get a deeper appreciation of this area's illustrious and ancient past.

    There are numerous displays but perhaps most impressive is a huge colorful painted mural depicting life many million years ago. I was always a huge prehistoric creature fan as a kid and this much more elaborate portrayal was much appreciated by me now. I can only imagine how much I would have enjoyed it 40 years ago. The rangers were particularly knowledgeable and even in mere conversation were giving full blown presentations on not only the past but what the park was up to in uncovering the mysteries of a time long gone. It seems there are more fossils being found in this area than anywhere in the world.

    100 Upper Revolution Way
    Big Water, UT, 84741
    435-675-3200

    9:00 AM - 6:00 PM
    7 days a week
    April - October

    8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
    7 days a week
    November - March

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    Paria Canyon

    by richiecdisc Updated Jun 20, 2009

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    Paria Canyon has a charm of its own

    Though compared to other National Parks, Staircase-Escalante National Monument will seem quite empty, if you want to escape whatever crowds there are, a great hiking area is Paria Canyon. Generally, only backpackers or people camping at White House campground utilize this gorgeous area. We were camping there and had just got our permits for the following day to hike The Wave so rather than waste a day, we hiked down the wide Paria Canyon into the Paria Narrows, which look pretty much exactly like Buckskin Gulch. In fact, you could make a loop of the two if you have two parties with two vehicles.

    The hike to the confluence is 14 miles round trip. We hiked in and out of each and found it perfectly satisfactory and easier logistically though it required two days and hence two day use permits. We walked in our water shoes which was fine for the wet sections of the Narrows but it was a long dry walk back and our feet started to get sore. If I was to do it again, I'd hike in boots and carry the water shoes for the Narrows. In wetter times of the year, the Paria Canyon can have more water in it but that was not the case when we did it in mid-May.

    Permits for the Paria Canyon are available via a self-pay envelope station at the White House campground. This can also be done as a 38 mile backpacking trip to Lee's Ferry in Arizona but that is a limited permit that must be attained at the ranger station.

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    Wire Pass

    by richiecdisc Updated Jun 20, 2009

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    the narrow Wire Pass

    Wire Pass is a quick and easy introduction to the world of slot canyons. These narrow canyons are fascinating to snake your way through but as with all such areas, one must be aware of potential flash flooding . You need to pay attention to weather reports as well as signs of a change in the weather while hiking. This short 1.7 mile hike is the most narrow canyon in the Monument and is used as a short cut by many people hiking or backpacking the Buckskin Gulch. For this reason, there is a $5 day use fee for it and you can easily combine this with part of the Buckskin Gulch to make for a great day hike. Walk as far as you feel comfortable but remember, you have to walk back too!

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    Buckskin Gulch

    by richiecdisc Updated Jun 20, 2009

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    Buckskin Gulch is an amazing slot canyon

    Though The Wave is the star attraction of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, there are quite a few other noteworthy hikes, some of which that equal their more famous park mate in sheer beauty. Also, if you arrive at the Monument without a permit you will have to find things to keep yourself occupied until you get one. Unless you are very lucky, you could be there for quite a few days but there are ample things to do.

    Though the area's second most famous hike is generally noted as a backcountry trail, Buckskin Gulch can be walked in part as a day hike too. The full length is 16 miles but it's not distance that makes this a difficult hike, it's the terrain you traverse. This is slot canyon country and flash flooding is always a possibility so being aware of the forecast and knowing the signs are part of keeping yourself safe. Knowing when to turn back or seek safety is another. You also need to carry ample drinking water as there is ironically none in the parched canyon. Permits for overnight hiking are limited and must be obtained at the ranger station but day use permits can be found at the trail head. Simply put $5 per person into one of the provided enveloped after filling it out and signing the trail register.

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    Cottonwood Narrows

    by richiecdisc Written Jun 20, 2009

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    Cottonwood Narrows is a nice short trail

    Cottonwood Narrows is an enjoyable short walk off Cottonwood Canyon Road. This 1.5 mile hike will require a mile backtrack on the road or perhaps more enjoyable to just return as you came. Either way, it brings you into a narrow dry canyon that while not a true slot canyon gives you an idea what desert hiking is like. We even ran across some errant tumbleweed while hiking. It is located 24.4 miles up the road if traveling from the south.

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    Vermilion Cliffs

    by richiecdisc Written Jun 20, 2009

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    the cake like Vermilion Cliffs

    The Vermilion Cliffs are an amazingly colorful ridge of sandstone that were the original reason this area was designated a protected area. They truly look surreal with seven individual layers of sandstone that reveal seven major geological formations. The effect is one of a huge birthday cake and you will see miles of these driving around Utah especially on Route 89. This lovely patch is readily visible on the hike out to The Toad Stools.

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    Hike the rivers of the south

    by Segolily Written Mar 22, 2009

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    Wirepass wash and trailhead
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    There are a couple of river walks at the far south of the monument that continue on into Arizona and the Vermillion Cliffs NM. The Buckskin and Wirepass washes both connect up with the Paria river which eventually empties into the Colorado at Lee's Ferry. The Buckskin and Wirepass washes in Utah have some nice slot sections. While I haven't taken them yet the Wirepass is calling me.

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    See Grosvenor arch

    by Segolily Written Mar 22, 2009

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    Maybe I like this arch because it is off the beaten path, not so many other arches around it. But I think I like it because it is also beautiful. It is about 5 miles down the Cottonwood Wash road past Kodachrome basin. Standing 60 feet tall the double arch is both graceful and majestic

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    Check out the Visitor's centers

    by Segolily Written Mar 22, 2009

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    Escalante Visitors Center
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    This being an unusual park it stands to reason they have not one, but four visitor's centers. Each poised at the entrance to one of the major paths into the heart of the monument. If there is a main one it would be in Escalante, introducing us to the plant and animal life of the monument it is near the beginning of the Hole in the Rock road. Another in Cannonville focuses on the human element of the park and is near the Cottonwood canyon road. Big Water is my favorite, shaped like an ammonite, it is at one end of the Smoky mountain road. The last in Kanab is near the Johnson Canyon road. Besides the information about the geology, history, plant life etc that you will find at the visitor's centers you should always check in with the rangers on hand to find out about the latest road conditions before heading out on them. The roads are not paved and their conditions are subject to change due to weather.

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    Hike Calf Creek Falls

    by Segolily Written Mar 22, 2009

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    This is the classic Escalante hike. You probably don't want to go in the heat of the summer, but the middle of March was a little cold. It is a 3 mile fairly level trek to the falls. Some is through soft sand though so it can feel like you aren't making much progress. The falls are all the more beautiful because they are so unexpected in this dry rock filled environment. Enjoy the journey, and pause at the end to wonder at the power of water.

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    Willis Creek, a great little slot canyon

    by WinInZion Written Dec 16, 2007

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    Our friend Irina in one of the narrows.

    Coming either from Bryce or from Zion a trip to Willis Creek is well worthwhile. First you get to drive thru the Kaiparowitz Plateau which is beautiful. And then you get to do a couple of great hikes.

    This is located on Skutempah Rd in the Grand Staircase. The easiest way is to come in from Cannonville, off RT 12. There is a BLM office in Cannonville that can give you road directions. If your coming from Zion you'll need to check road conditions by calling the BLM. If it's wet or snowy you can't get to it.

    Along this road, coming South, you'll have Willis Creek, Bull Valley Gorge and Lick Wash to explore.
    I take visitors to Willis Creek, easily accessed from the road and really beautiful. The hike is usually
    2-3 hours depending on how far in you go.

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    The Rim Rock Hoodoos

    by WinInZion Written Aug 16, 2007

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    This the first Hoodoo, you climb up to the left
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    The southern boundary for the GSENM is RT 89 from Kanab, UT to Page AZ. At MM 19 in Paria area are these fabulous Hoodoos. There is a parking area and you just follow the wash until you climb up on the plateau. By going around to your left you'll come into the area with the white Hoodoos. It's awesome when you first enter their city!

    This has got be one of the easiest and most rewarding little hikes in GSENM! There are a others that I've not yet visited but they require either a HC vehicle or several miles of sandy hiking.

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Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument Things to Do

Segolily's Profile Photo

The sprawling Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument is the desert southwest at its finest.  From the Pink Cliffs to the Escalante river slots, from the Hoodoos at Devil's Garden to...

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