Great Hikes: Lower Calf Creek Falls, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah

Difficulty: moderate—though relatively flat, it’s sandy in sections.
Distance: 6 miles roundtrip
Location: Off Rte. 12, 15 miles east of Escalante, Utah. Park in the Calf Creek Campground.
Note: It’s $2.00 per vehicle, and fees are deposited in a dropbox at the campsite. Be sure to pick up the interpretive brochure at the trailhead.

Southern Utah is one of my favorite places. With Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands and Capital Reef National Parks all lined up across the bottom edge of the state, there is no shortage of natural beauty.

If you were you look at this area on Google Maps, you’d see an enormous grey blob bordering Bryce and Capital Reef that dwarfs all of these parks combined.

What’s with the giant grey blob?

This blob is Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, 1.7 million acres of cliffs, canyons, rock formations, and utter, complete wilderness.

Views for miles over Grand-Staircase Escalante.

If you want to feel tiny, this is the place to go. (You can read more about it here, including why it has that crazy name. )

We had plans to hike some of the remote slot canyons of the interior, accessible only by rough, dirt roads. But the threat of rain—and therefore flash floods—washed out those plans. Instead we headed to the trailhead for Lower Calf Creek Falls, just east of the rustic town of Escalante.

It’s a popular trail, but in comparison to the crowds you’ll find at the national parks, it’s relatively quiet.

Fraggle rock!

Something I wish every trail offered is the interpretive brochure you’ll find at this trailhead. As hikers cover the three miles to Lower Calf Creek Falls, they can pause at the numbered placards along the way and refer to the brochure to learn a little something about the geology, flora and fauna, or anthropologic history of the area.

This was surprisingly cool. Normally, I’m all about the scenery and not so much about the learning, but without the brochure, we never would have known where to look to see the pictographs left behind by the Fremont people.

There they are, they’re over there!

We wouldn’t have found the 800-year-old granary the Fremont built in the vertical side of a canyon wall.  (Apparently they were deft climbers.)

And we wouldn’t have learned that farmers used to maintain a watermelon farm along Calf Creek.

Watermelons in the desert? Almost as weird as a 126-ft waterfall in the desert.

The trail follows the creek until you reach the base of this fall, where the temperature drops significantly—a welcome feeling if you’re hiking in the summer, but somewhat chilly in early October, when we hiked it.

After your hike, head east on Rt 12 to the desert oasis that is Kiva Koffeehouse. With miles and miles of nothing, this amazing, handcrafted building appears out of nowhere, offering stunning views and, more importantly, coffee.