Escalante National Monument – The Grand Staircase: Cayote Gulch

 

         

Overview

Location:

6 hours south of Salt Lake City it’s just north of Glen Canyon. There’s a multitude of hiking options to choose from, we chose to do an out and back trip from Hurricane Wash to Crack in the wall and then back out Hurricane wash.

 Time: We did this over Labor-day weekend (3 days). We got to the trailhead Saturday at 11am and we got back to our cars at ~2pm on Monday.

Gear needed: This is a full backpacking trip with no fires allowed. I’ll be posting our gear checklist on the site soon if you want a list of what we used. Special note: If you can get to Jacob-Hamblin arch early enough in the day you can get a spot to camp under the natural overhang and you won’t need a tent. Bring water shoes!

Length: ~10 miles from hurricane wash to Jacob-Hamblin arch + ~10 miles out and back to crack in the wall + ~10 miles back out Hurricane wash = ~30 miles over 3 days.

Difficulty: 5/10 not much elevation gain but much of the 2nd day involves hiking in water.

Would I recommend it: Absolutely I would! Great mid difficulty backpacking trip for a long weekend. With spectacular views not much traffic and free entrance!

I’m almost afraid to write this post because Escalante is one of the most underrated hikes in all of Utah. As a backpacker, it’s  difficult to find a trip that is beautiful, and not completely crowded. Most tourists come to Utah to see both Zions, and Arches. While these are amazing parks (I will definitely write a post about how much I love them later!) it’s almost impossible to compete with the sheer number of people who visit them on a daily basis. Cayote gulch has all the same beauty, but none of the traffic. Also, it’s a national monument rather than a national park so you don’t have to pay park entry or camp fee, which is always a huge appeal for poor college students like ourselves.

We got to the national park around 11:00 AM on Saturday and hiked in with all our gear through Hurricane wash.

The Entry to Hurricane Wash

Hurricane Wash

 

It starts out as a dry creek bed in the middle of nowhere that slowly creeps down into a magnificent canyon. After about 5 miles water started to fill the creek and about a mile and half from our campsite we stopped to put on our water shoes.  Our destination and campsite for the first day was Jacob Hamblin arch, a towering 200 foot natural stone arch.

 

One of our friends who came on this trip has done it annually for the last 12 years, and assured us that we wouldn’t need to bring tents. However, we were still pretty new to backpacking at this point, and didn’t trust him at all.  He was, of course, correct. Our camp spot was covered by a cliff ledge that blocked any potential rain while still allowing us a perfect view of the stars. We laid out our sleeping bags, had dinner, and then went to explore the surrounding hikes. We didn’t have much daylight left at this point so we were only able to do one trail that evening. Our more experienced friend recommended that we start with what he referred to as Devil’s staircase.

Our camping spot on Jacob Hamblin’s arch

 

As I mentioned earlier our friend has done this trip at least 12 times and he has quirky little names for the trails he regularly does, so you will be unable to find any reference to Devil’s staircase on any map or website, but I’m including it in this post because it’s a great representation of the rock formations that cover the grand staircase. It was a moderate scramble (slight climb that doesn’t require any gear) to the top of the formation. Once we arrived at the top we could see the entire staircase. I feel like the view is just as good as Angel’s landing, the big difference being that we were standing completely alone.

The view from the top of “Devil’s staircase”. The campsite in the picture is ours, notice the tent that we packed in but didn’t need to bring. We did end up storing our food inside, to protect it from being eaten by crows, so it wasn’t a complete waste of energy!

We spent all of Sunday touring as much of Cayote gulch as we could. The monument is so large that you can’t even begin to see it in three days but we were able to explore a lot of the highlights. After you get past The Jacob Hamplin arch you are hiking almost exclusively through streams, narrow canyons, and small rivers. Normally this would sound miserable, but because we did the trip in the late summer being knee deep in water most of the time felt amazing, and gave us the added bonus filtering water when needed, versus packing it all in.

                           

 

Some examples of the scenery along the hike. The water in this last picture looks pretty tame, but it’s actually about waist high, and moving pretty quickly.

What makes it easy

The trail itself is not incredibly difficult to traverse. There is a lot less gear required for this trip because you don’t have to pack in water, or tents which makes the backpacking portion a lot easier. Also, we set up our trip so we ended both nights in the same camping spot so we only had to carry our gear on the first and last legs. While the trail is covered in rock formations, and small waterfalls that you can climb, the majority of the trip can be done without any major climbing. There are some spots where scrambling can’t be avoided, but for the most part you can cater the difficulty to your experience level.

What makes it hard

It is fairly wet so you have to get to the arch before you can set up camp. This makes the trail a little bit more difficult because you can’t just stop when you get tired. Additionally, there are some portions of the hike that are through rapidly moving water. No one other than me had any issues with this, but I’m not a huge fan of water, so I found it a little intimidating.

Overall

I guess overall I would recommend that you do some research before going on this trip, make sure your knees are in good shape, and that you feel comfortable in water. Otherwise, I think it would be a great experience for someone with little to moderate backpacking experience.

 

For more trip ideas check out our Instagram page @muchhiking. We can post a lot faster on Instagram then we can on the blog, so make sure to follow us for as many hiking reviews as possible!

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