Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument Things to Do

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Best Rated Things to Do in Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument

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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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    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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    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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    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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    Grosvenor Arch

    by richiecdisc Updated Jun 21, 2009

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    an arch worth the drive (& walk)

    The Grosvenor Arch is an impressive 152 foot high and 100 feet wide double arch easily visited by driving one mile east of the Cottonwood Canyon Road. The arch is named after Gilbert H. Grosvenor, the founder of the National Geographic Society. There is a picnic table and pit toilets there, making it a convenient stop. While the arch is visible from there, a short walk will give you a chance to not only stretch your legs but also one to see just how high 150 feet is.

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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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    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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    Cottonwood Canyon Road

    by richiecdisc Updated Jun 21, 2009

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    one desolate dusty road

    Even scenic drives in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are for the adventurous. No slick paved roads in this park, not even one slicing through some of Utah's most scenic splendor en route to Bryce Canyon National Park. Cottonwood Canyon Road is forty miles of dirt road that is described as “often wash-boarded and full of ruts.”

    Though it can be traversed in dry conditions in a two-wheel drive vehicle, four-wheel drive is generally recommended. We did it in a Camry with no problems in very dry mid-May but inquire at the visitor center about current road conditions. It is a beautiful drive and you'll really escape the crowds on this remote stretch of road. You could never get out of the car except to snap a few photos of the amazingly colorful rock formations but why do that, there are some fine short walks to stretch your legs.

    It is a bit tricky to find the turnoff for Cottonwood Canyon Road. There is a small sign but best to use the odometer method. In this case, it's 10 miles from Big Water Visitor Center. They'll give you a rough map of the area, detailing the hikes with mileage between all the unsigned attractions. They will also give you a small but helpful guide to the drive with mileages and details of things to see as well as trail heads.

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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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    Hackberry Canyon

    by richiecdisc Updated Jun 21, 2009

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    the lovely Hackberry Canyon

    The Hackberry Canyon is a meandering hike up the aforementioned canyon that was recommended to us by some people we met at the White House campground. This is a walk that can go for miles and with more time and perhaps a bit earlier in the day we might have tackled more than the half mile or so we did. We were essentially walking along a sandy wash and in a wetter season, this would be a great place to while away the hours. Of course, you'd need a four-wheel drive to get in here then. It was hot and dry and though beautiful, we found ourselves hurrying back to the comforts of our air-conditioned car.

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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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    petroglyphs

    by richiecdisc Updated Jun 21, 2009

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    big horn or prong horn, only the artist knows

    Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has a prehistoric past with ample fossils being found in the area but it also has strong and well preserved evidence of both Fremont and Anasazi tribes making the beautiful red rock canyons home. Both pictographs formed with color and petroglyphs formed by chipping away rock are readily found while out on the trails. This petroglyph of a mother and baby big horn sheep is a fine example and we came across it while hiking in the Buckskin Gulch

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    Upper Calf Creek Falls

    by BruceDunning Updated Oct 29, 2009

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    View of slickrock going down
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    This is a hike that was said to be moderate to go down the the falls at the bottom of a ravine. It is located off Hwy 12 at mile marker 81. That is just to the south of Boulder about 20 miles, and 22 miles east of Escalante. This is the Calf Creek Recreation area. It is form camping/hiking, and there is also a Lower Calf Creek Falls; comment next page.
    The hike is strenuous. I did not read intently that the drop off down a very steep slick rock face is 600 feet. That meant your thighs were holding you back form tipping forward and rolling downhill. No exaggeration, it was tough. Once you get to the base of the hill there is sandy trails, and some rock climbing. The hike was about 3 1/4 mils, rather that the stipulated 2 1/2 miles. Go only in dry weather that has been that way for a while. Go with a partner since it is isolated and if you fall, you need help quickly because of the drop. Coming back uphill is also a factor to consider. They were not very deep now because of lack of rain. One is very slick underneath form algae of rock. Be careful. The drop of of the pools to the canyon below is 88 feet, and straight down. What fun.

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    Hell's BAckbone-It Broke Mine

    by BruceDunning Updated Oct 29, 2009

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    Information on the road
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    This sounded like a good idea to take an adventure into the outback a little way. I did check with some people first to inquire if it is acceptable for my sturdy 2WD SUV. I was told it should be okay. What they did not tell me is my teeth would chatter all the way from the washboard road. This road is closed in the winter due to its difficulty in driving, and snow clearing is minimal. I am not sure what the locals that live along the road do to get out, or maybe hibernate? The road is called an engineering feat; but maybe walking using your feet may an easier way to get around. It was a wagon route for years until 1940's, when final improvements were made.
    The road is 44 miles long and goes past the Posey Lake and back to Hwy 12 down road 12 miles; it is a loop around what is called Box Hollow Wilderness area. Elevation changes is another issue to consider; steep. The many steep switchbacks go over the mountain range, both sides. It was first built in 1933 by CCC during the Depression. That road washed out and was unpassable in winters, but by 1940, an acceptable road was complete.
    The road is located about 4 miles from Boulder to the south and just after the switchbacks of Hogsback section of Hwy 12; another story later. I got down the road about 7-8 miles and said why shake, rattle and roll and climb steep hills? I turned around

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Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument Things to Do

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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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