Exploring Slot Canyons in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

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Willis Creek Hike

Hidden among Utah’s big five national parks, you’ll find the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It’s easy to overlook this BLM park with Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches looming nearby. But don’t skip out on one of the greatest gems of the hiking world! Be sure to go exploring slot canyons in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Cottonwood Narrows Hike

Grand Staircase is a huge place to be sure. Although sadly it’s not as huge as it used to be. Donald Trump reduced our national monument by 47%, taking it from 1.8 million acres down to 1 million in 2017. Fortunately, we still have a lot of room to play though and the Staircase is one of the most remote areas in the United States. In fact, it was the last place in the contiguous to be mapped.

Grosvenor Arch

So how did this national monument get such a tongue-twisting name? A geologist coined the term referring to the “staircase” of sediment cliffs leading north out of the Grand Canyon. The cliffs from youngest to eldest are pink, grey, white, vermillion, and chocolate.

Because this monument is immense, we’ve narrowed it down for you by featuring 4 fantastic hikes.

Photo Credit: Google Maps

#1 Willis Creek

This hike is like going to Zion National Park without the crowds. Now this trail can be a little crowded in the beginning. But once you get out there a bit, it will thin out. You’ll have the place nearly to yourself. Prepare to get wet because the trail is sometimes in the creek.

You’ll be rewarded with a gorgeous slot canyon. This is an easy, out-and-back of about 3 miles total. You can go further if you like, but the slot ends after about 1.5 miles. Be sure to stop at the Cannonville Visitor Center before you go for important details on directions and road conditions.

For a map, click here.

#2 Cottonwood North Narrows

Wow! This hike is beau.ti.ful. If you can only do one hike at Grand Staircase, do this one! It is wonderfully scenic and solitary. From the Cottonwood North Narrows parking lot, the trail dumps directly into a narrow canyon.

This hike continues down a hugely tall canyon. It is rocky and sandy but not difficult. You could make this into a loop by walking back on the road, but we chose to make it an out and back so that we could stay in the canyon the whole hike.

I’m not exactly sure the total length, but I would say in the neighborhood of 4 miles roundtrip. Hiking southbound, you will come to a fork where you can turn right to head up a slot canyon. For us, this was a great place to end the hike before turning back. Be sure to stop at the Cannonville Visitor Center before you go for important details on directions and road conditions.

For a map, click here.

#3 Dry Fork Narrows

The Dry Fork Narrows is an excellent introduction to exploring slot canyons in Grand Staircase. This hike is moderate. Getting down to the slot is the hardest (steepest) part. If you don’t have an offroad vehicle, you could be forced to walk from the Dry Fork Road parking lot, which would be a couple of miles of boring road walk to get to the trailhead. It’s better to have the right vehicle here in Grand Staircase.

Once you get down to the wash bed, hang left to walk up the Dry Fork Narrows slot canyon. This is really excellent fun! You’ll get muddy for sure maybe even wet. The canyon gets pretty narrow in spots but nothing claustrophobic. You don’t need any ropes. The slot canyon is about 1 mile out and back. Be sure to stop at the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center before you go for important details on directions and road conditions.

If you want a step up from the Dry Fork Narrows, check out the other slot canyons in Coyote Gulch: Peek-a-Boo, Spooky, and Brimstone gulches.

For a map, click here.

#4 Lower Calf Creek Falls

Located in the Calf Creek Recreation Area, this hike is wonderfully scenic. You’ll hike along a wide canyon and above, strangely, wetland habitat. It culminates in a breathtaking waterfall. This is a 6-mile out and back. It is a moderate hike and can be crowded…especially in the small, paid parking lot. Be sure to stop at the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center before you go for important directions.

For a map, click here.

For a brochure, click here.

Hiker Tips:

  • Go to the visitor’s center.
  • Get a map, detailed directions, and info on road conditions.
  • It’s better to have an offroad vehicle.
  • Water. Sunscreen. Hat.

For other hiking destinations, click here.

Visit Hikerlore’s SmugMug account, click here.

Grosvenor Arch

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