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Escalante, Utah: A Personal Guide to the Best Outdoor Adventures

Step into the vibrant world of Escalante, Utah, where adventure and natural splendor await at every turn. Our guide brings you the best things to do in Escalante, combining exciting outdoor activities with the town’s charming atmosphere. From navigating through breathtaking slot canyons to relaxing beside peaceful waterfalls and exploring the local life, we’ve curated a list of experiences that promise to enhance your visit. Prepare to uncover the hidden treasures of Escalante as we guide you through its most remarkable and scenic spots. Let’s begin this journey of exploration and wonder in Utah’s captivating landscape!

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One of the best things to do in Escalante, Utah is visiting Outfitters cafe and store.
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Introduction: Discovering Escalante’s Charm

Nestled in the heart of Southern Utah, Escalante is more than just a dot on the map—it’s a gateway to some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the American Southwest.

A small town with a population of just over 800, Escalante is one of our favorite Utah outdoor towns. It serves as a perfect base camp for adventurers seeking to explore the vast wilderness of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, encompassing over a million acres of rugged and untamed beauty.

In this guide, we’re diving deep into the heart of Escalante’s outdoor activities. From the intricate labyrinth of its slot canyons to the serene heights of surrounding Utah national parks, we’ll take you on a journey through each must-visit site. We share with you our personal list of the best things to do in Escalante to help you plan a perfect trip.

As experienced travelers and photographers who have personally traversed these paths, Chris and I will share not just the highlights but also the practical insights: the best times to visit, the level of difficulty of each trail, and tips to make the most of your adventure.

Welcome to Escalante 4th West pub sign.
Escalante Outfitters restaurant, cabins and gear.

While our guide primarily focuses on the captivating outdoor activities surrounding Escalante, the town itself offers a unique charm and a range of experiences that are worth exploring. In the last section of the article, we’ll highlight what you can enjoy within the town of Escalante. Use the table of contents for easier navigation.

But let’s start with the best outdoor adventures and activities in Escalante.

Our Tip: If you’re considering lodging options in the area, check out our article on the best places to stay in Escalante, Utah. We’ve compiled a list of top accommodations that cater to every traveler’s needs, ensuring your visit is comfortable and memorable.

The Magic of Slot Canyons near Escalante, Utah

One of the top things to do in Escalante is explore its canyons. Escalante is famous for its extraordinary slot canyons, carved over millennia by the forces of water and wind. These geological wonders offer more than just a trek. They are a passage into a different world, where light and shadow play on the narrow walls, creating a spectacle of nature.

Utah’s slot canyons, especially those near Escalante, are our favorite, surpassing the famous canyons in Arizona like Lower Antelope and Upper Antelope. The appeal of Escalante’s canyons extends beyond their visual splendor. It’s the freedom and accessibility they offer that truly sets them apart. In contrast to the slot canyons in Page, which necessitate guided tours with prices starting at $89 per person, Escalante’s canyons are open for you to explore on your own and free of charge or with a symbolic fee.

So, let’s check what are our favourite slot canyons near Escalante.

Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyon: A Thrilling Adventure

Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyons are among Escalante’s top attractions. They are 26 miles down Hole-in-the-Rock Road, and you should have 4WD for this drive. The hike is a 3.5-mile loop, taking 2-4 hours. It’s thrilling but manageable.

Peek-A-Boo Canyon starts the adventure. It has arches and wavy walls. This part is great for first-timers. Then, Spooky Canyon gets narrower. In places, it’s only 10 inches wide! This part is a bit challenging and not for the claustrophobic.

Both canyons offer unique sights. Peek-A-Boo is more open. Spooky is darker and more confined. The hike requires some climbing and squeezing through tight spots. It’s a must-do for adventurous spirits.

Remember, these canyons can be risky during rain. Flash floods are a danger. Always check the weather before you go. And bring plenty of water and snacks. This hike is an unforgettable part of Escalante’s magic.

Our Tip: Consider this local guided tour if you are unfamiliar with slot canyons.

Hole-in-the-Rock Road.
slot canyon.

Zebra Slot Canyon: Striped Walls and Narrow Paths

Zebra Slot Canyon is known for its stunning pink and white-striped walls. The hike is a 5.2-mile round trip from Hole-in-the-Rock Road. This canyon is narrower and shorter than others, but it’s a memorable experience.

We’ve learned from experience that Zebra can be unpredictable. Once, we had to turn back due to high water levels in the canyon. It’s crucial to check the weather before heading out. Flash floods can be a risk in slot canyons.

Fortunately, our last visit in early May was perfect. The canyon was completely dry, allowing us to explore fully. As we hiked the narrow canyon, Chris transformed into a human accordion, expertly compressing his belly to shimmy between the rock walls. The narrowness of Zebra makes for a bit of a claustrophobic experience, but it’s worth it. The canyon’s beauty is unlike any other, and navigating through it is an adventure in itself.

Chris Labanowski is hiking in Zebra Slot Canyon near Escalante.
Agnes Stabinska, the author, is hiking in Zebra Slot Canyon.

Willis Creek: Serenity in Stone

Within the realm of Escalante’s slot canyons, Willis Creek stands out for its tranquil beauty. This easily accessible canyon offers a gentle 4.8-mile round-trip hike, ideal for families and those looking for a peaceful nature walk. The path, adorned with shallow creek waters and softly sculpted walls, creates a serene atmosphere.

Photographers will find the interplay of light and shadow particularly enchanting. Accessible via Skutumpah Road, Willis Creek is a perfect spot for those seeking a calm and scenic slot canyon experience.

Willis Creek Slot Canyon near Escalante.

The Hidden Gems: Less Explored Canyons

For those seeking a path less traveled, the Escalante region has several lesser-known slot canyons that are just as enchanting. Dry Fork Narrows, a relatively easy hike with minimal elevation change, is a great option for beginners. For a more secluded experience, explore the twisting passages of Big Horn Canyon, accessible via a moderate 6-mile hike.

Each of these slot canyons holds its unique charm and challenges. They require different levels of physical fitness and preparation, so it’s important to assess your abilities and plan accordingly. Always check the weather forecast for flash flood warnings before setting out, as slot canyons can be dangerous in such conditions. With the right preparation, exploring Escalante’s slot canyons can be a safe and unforgettable adventure.

Backpacking and Hiking Escapades from Escalante, Utah

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument offers endless hiking possibilities. Escalante is a hiker’s paradise, offering trails that cater to all levels of experience. Here are three top hiking destinations that showcase the area’s diverse landscapes.

Coyote Gulch: A Backpacker’s Dream

Coyote Gulch is a standout for backpackers. This hike offers lush greenery, arches, and waterfalls. The trail varies between 6 and 27 miles, depending on your route. Highlights include the Jacob Hamblin Arch and several waterfalls. It’s best to visit in spring or fall. During these times, the weather is mild, and the streams are manageable. Always plan and follow local regulations. You should have at least 2 – 3 days for this backpacking adventure.

Lower Calf Creek Falls: Family-Friendly Hike

Lower Calf Creek Falls is perfect for families. The hike is a 6-mile round trip and starts at Calf Creek Campground. Along the way, you’ll see beaver dams, pictographs, and a 126-foot waterfall. It’s an easy trail, suitable for all ages. The waterfall at the end is a refreshing reward. The best time to visit is late spring through early fall.

Escalante River Trail: Nature’s Gallery

The Escalante River Trail is a scenic 16-mile trek. You can start at the trailhead off Highway 12. The trail offers multiple river crossings and varied landscapes. Key sights include the Escalante Natural Bridge and Phipps Arch. The trail is moderate in difficulty. It’s best to hike in late spring when the river is low. Always wear sturdy water shoes for the crossings.

These hikes in Escalante offer a mix of adventure, scenic beauty, and family-friendly options. They showcase the natural diversity of the area. Remember to check weather conditions, carry enough water, and respect the natural environment.

Hiking trails in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Canyoneering: Elevating the Adventure

Canyoneering in Escalante takes your outdoor adventure to new heights. It combines hiking, rappelling, and navigating through narrow canyons. This activity is perfect for those seeking an adrenaline rush in a spectacular natural setting.

Guided Canyoneering Tripsin Escalante: What to Expect

For first-timers or those looking for a safe experience, guided canyoneering trips are the way to go. Excursions of Escalante, the only local guide service, offers tours ranging from beginner to advanced. Prices range from $159.

Guides provide all necessary gear, including ropes and harnesses. They also teach you basic canyoneering techniques. The trips last about half a day, taking you through some of the most breathtaking canyons in the region.

Preparing for Canyoneering in Escalante

If you’re planning to go canyoneering, prepare for a physically demanding adventure. You should be comfortable with heights and tight spaces. Also, good physical fitness is a must. Always wear sturdy, closed-toe shoes and comfortable, flexible clothing. Bring plenty of water, snacks, and a first-aid kit. Even with a guide, it’s crucial to be prepared for the rugged terrain.

Day Trips Worth Taking from Escalante

Escalante serves as a perfect base for exploring the broader landscape of Southern Utah. Here are our favorite trip destinations that offer a unique contrast to the rugged beauty of Escalante.

Bryce Canyon National Park: A Landscape of Hoodoos

Just 45 minutes from Escalante, Bryce Canyon National Park is a must-visit. Famous for its hoodoos – spire-shaped rock formations – the park offers a surreal landscape. Trails like the Navajo Loop and the Fairyland Loop are perfect for a day’s hike. Each trail varies in difficulty and length, providing options for all skill levels. Don’t miss the sunrise at Sunrise Point; it’s a sight that truly captures the park’s magic. Remember, Bryce Canyon’s elevation means it can be cooler, so dress in layers.

Agnes Stabinska, the author is photographing Bryce Canyon National Park
Sunrise Point in Bryce Canyon.

Capitol Reef National Park: Off the Beaten Path

About two hours from Escalante, Capitol Reef National Park offers less crowded trails and diverse geological features. Popular trails include Cassidy Arch and Hickman Bridge. For those seeking more challenges, Rim Overlook and Navajo Knobs offer rewarding vistas.

Don’t miss Cathedral Valley Loop for its stunning monoliths. We highly recommend following our Capitol Reef itinerary and top activities guide for the best experience in this unique park.

Chris Labanoski and Agnes Stabinska during Cathedral Valley Loop in Capitol Reef.
Exploring Fruita in Capitol Reef National Park near Escalante.

Kodachrome Basin State Park: A Photographer’s Dream

An hour from Escalante, Kodachrome Basin State Park is a haven for photographers and nature enthusiasts. The park features colorful sandstone layers and towering formations. Additionally, the park boasts an amazing campground, making it an ideal spot for those who want to immerse themselves in nature.

Whether you’re hiking or camping, Kodachrome Basin’s vibrant landscape is a visual feast. The best hikes in Kodachrome Basin State Park are Panorama Trail, Angel’s Palace Trail, and Grand Parade Trail.

Kodachrome Basin State Park in Escalante.
Chris hiking in Kodachrome Basin State Park.

Water Activities and Relaxation in Escalante

Escalante isn’t just about rugged hikes and canyoneering; it also offers delightful water activities and spots for relaxation. Here are some top picks for those looking to cool off or unwind in and around Escalante.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park: A Lakeside Retreat

One of the best things to do in Escalante is explore Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. Located just a short drive from town, it is home to Wide Hollow Reservoir. This spot is ideal for a day of water activities. You can rent kayaks or paddleboards to explore the tranquil waters. The reservoir is also a great place for fishing or simply enjoying a peaceful afternoon by the water. The park’s petrified wood and hiking trails add to its charm, making it a perfect blend of relaxation and exploration.

We’ve camped at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park several times, drawn by its spectacular scenery and peaceful atmosphere. Evenings spent beside a campfire, watching the serene lake, are moments we treasure. The park’s tranquility makes it an ideal spot for unwinding and enjoying nature’s beauty.

Escalante Petrified Forest State Park.

Calf Creek Falls: Nature’s Swimming Pool

The Lower Calf Creek Falls, a highlight of a 6-mile round-trip hike, ends at a stunning 126-foot waterfall. The waterfall creates a natural pool, perfect for a refreshing swim after the hike. The area around the falls is lush and shaded, ideal for a relaxing picnic. Remember to bring water-friendly shoes and a swimsuit to enjoy this natural oasis fully.

To reach Calf Creek Falls, start from the Calf Creek Recreation Area, located about 15 miles east of Escalante along Highway 12. The well-marked trailhead and ample parking make it an easy-to-find starting point for the hike to the falls.

Floating the Escalante River: A Gentle Adventure

For a different kind of water experience, consider floating down the Escalante River. This activity is best during high water years in the spring. Pack rafts or inflatable kayaks are suitable for this gentle adventure. The river isn’t typically floatable during summer and fall due to lower water levels. It’s a unique way to experience the serene beauty of the Escalante landscape from a different perspective.

Cowboy Country Inn in Escalante.

Scenic Drives: Exploring Escalante’s Vistas

The area around Escalante offers some of the most breathtaking scenic drives in Utah, perfect for those who prefer to explore nature’s wonders from the comfort of their car.

The Enchanting Hell’s Backbone Road

Hell’s Backbone Road is a 38-mile journey that showcases diverse landscapes. Starting in Boulder, the road winds through pine forests and overlooks the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness. The highlight is the Hell’s Backbone Bridge, offering stunning views. This gravel road is narrow and winding, so drive carefully. It’s closed in winter due to snow.

The Picturesque Burr Trail

The Burr Trail starts in Boulder and stretches for about 69 miles. It offers a mix of paved and unpaved sections. The drive features striking rock formations and passes through parts of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park. The switchbacks near the Waterpocket Fold are a must-see. The road’s condition varies, so check it before heading out, especially if you plan to drive the unpaved sections.

Highway 12: A Route of Natural Splendor

Highway 12, a designated All-American Road, runs through some of Utah’s most scenic areas. It connects Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks. The drive includes the “Hogsback,” a narrow ridge with steep drops on either side. The route offers panoramic views of the surrounding desert, red rock formations, and alpine forests. There are several pull-offs along the way for photos and admiring the view.

Highway 12 scenic drive - one of the best activities near Escalante, Utah.

Best Things to Do in Escalante: Beyond the Trails

Escalante is not just a gateway to natural wonders; the town itself offers a variety of experiences that capture its unique charm.

Escalante Interagency Visitor Center: A Gateway to Knowledge

A visit to the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center is invaluable for both first-time visitors and seasoned adventurers. The center is not just a place for maps and trail advice; it’s also an educational resource with exhibits on the local environment and history. Their knowledgeable staff can provide tailored advice on making the most of your time in Escalante, whether you’re looking for easy day hikes, scenic drives, or information on the area’s unique geology.

Agnes Stabinska, the author is visiting the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center.

Culinary Delights: Savoring Local Flavors

For food enthusiasts, Escalante offers some delightful dining options. The Circle D Eatery is our favorite spot, known for its savory BBQ and comforting American fare. If you’re looking for a taste of local cuisine, try Escalante Outfitters Cafe, which serves up delicious pizzas and a selection of locally brewed beers. Make sure to visit 4 West Pub as well.

The Circle D Eatery: A Culinary Delight

Our experience at The Circle D Eatery was nothing short of fantastic. The restaurant’s inviting atmosphere and excellent service set the stage for a memorable meal. We indulged in some of their signature dishes – the BBQ ribs were tender and flavorful, falling off the bone, and the homemade cornbread was a delightful companion.

The Circle D Burger, loaded with fresh toppings, was another standout, satisfying and cooked to perfection. The warm and friendly service added to the overall enjoyable dining experience, making The Circle D Eatery a must-visit for anyone in Escalante.

4 West Pub: A Cozy Spot with Local Charm

4 West Pub in Escalante is a delightful find, offering a cozy ambiance that perfectly captures the town’s laid-back and friendly spirit. It’s a great place to unwind after a day of exploration, with a menu that features a variety of hearty dishes and local brews.

The pub has a welcoming atmosphere, making it a favorite among both locals and visitors. Whether you’re looking for a place to share stories of your day’s adventures or simply relax, 4 West Pub provides the perfect setting.

Escalante Outfitters Cafe: A Homely Culinary Experience

Escalante Outfitters Cafe is more than just a dining spot; it’s a homely experience nestled in the heart of Escalante. Our visit there was a highlight, marked by delicious meals and a warm, inviting atmosphere. The cafe is known for its exceptional pizzas, baked to perfection in a wood-fired oven.

Each pizza, with its crispy crust and fresh toppings, was a delight to our taste buds. We particularly enjoyed the Highway 12 pizza, topped with an array of local meats and veggies.

Apart from pizzas, their freshly brewed coffee and homemade pastries offered a comforting start to our mornings.

Shopping: Discovering Local Gems

Shopping in Escalante is a journey through local artistry and craftsmanship. Escalante Mercantile & Natural Grocery is a great spot for organic and locally sourced goods, perfect for stocking up on trail snacks or finding a unique food souvenir.

For outdoor gear and local crafts, head to High Adventure Rentals. They have everything from hiking equipment to souvenirs crafted by local artists. Outfitters Adventure Gear is another excellent choice for outdoor gear and local souvenirs.

gallery art and campground in Escalante.

Final Thoughts: Capturing the Spirit of Escalante

Our exploration of Escalante, Utah, concludes, enriching us with vivid memories and experiences. This town isn’t just a stop on the map; it’s a destination where every corner opens up to a new adventure.

Escalante has offered us exhilaration and peace, from the thrilling passage through Peek-A-Boo and Zebra Slot Canyons to the serene Lower Calf Creek Falls. Dining at Escalante Outfitters Cafe, with its delightful pizzas, and the homely atmosphere of The Circle D Eatery, where the BBQ ribs were a culinary delight, have been highlights of our gastronomic journey. Not to forget the scenic drives along Highway 12 and Hell’s Backbone Road, which presented stunning landscapes that seemed almost unreal.

We hope this guide helps you discover your favorites in Escalante. Escalante is a must-visit destination, whether it’s the adrenaline rush of canyoneering, the tranquility of the lakeside, or the charm of local hospitality.

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  1. Not sure how we could miss a spot with breathtaking slot canyons and peaceful waterfalls. Good to know that the slot canyons are much more impressive than the Lower and Upper Antelope canyons (which we also missed). We went past the sign for the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument but did not have time to stop. This looks like a great spot to plan a few days and explore from there. Saving this post for a return trip.

  2. Escalante looks so charming and is perfect for outdoor lovers and photographers. I love the look and sound of both the canyons and the creek, but I did feel quite claustrophobic looking at your photos 😀 I would do one of the easier hikes to begin and would leave the canyoneering to the more adventurous! From a photography point of view it would be a dream here. I love the look of the 4 West pub, it looks so rustic and the food sounds comforting too!

  3. I’m such a big city gyal, hence, all I visited in the US are the big cities like NYC, LA, Chicago, and the like. However, I’m well aware that the real and unique charm of the US is rather the vast hinterland, the endless roads, and the wilderness in all its shapes and forms. And I would love to experience it as I’m convinced they would blow me away. The problem is that I’m not driving and most of the truly mindblowing places are not accessible by public transport. Reading your posts really awakens in me a deep longing to see all these incredible places in nature. Because I know I would be moved to tears.

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