Things To Do In Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
My partner, Keith and I decided to head down to Grand Staircase-Escalante this last weekend for Memorial Day when two days prior I had somehow found a reservable campground in Kodachrome Basin State Park! If you’ve read any of my journals before you know I am not usually one to stay in campgrounds because of how crowded they can feel, generators running at all hours, and how expensive they are. However, stumbling on this reservable night meant that we could a) drive my little baby Hyundai Elantra down and not worry about having to find a 2wd passable road on a holiday weekend b) save on gas money!
So we headed out under stormy skies Friday after Keith finished with work and headed to some BLM land outside of Capitol Reef National Park. I knew I wanted to hike Calf Creek Falls, which is between Capitol Reef and Kodachrome Basin, but also higher elevation which meant colder (did I mention that it was 60 highs and 30 lows?). So we settled on a popular OHV area that I had always wanted to explore and set up camp. We waited out the rain, catching up on the newest season of Riverdale, before we decided that it was safe to set up camp. As the sun set, we ran around the endless hills, at one point stripping down to our birthday suits because I had a photo in my mind that I wanted to create. It was a lot of fun racing against the setting sun, getting the drone up and figuring out how to place our bodies amongst the still wet dirt from the weeks previous rains. Unfortunately we weren’t as far off as the road as I thought because despite not having seen more than 2 or 3 cars the couple of hours we had been there, we were flat out lying naked on a hill when another car drove by and it was too late for us to do anything.
The following morning we packed up while the sun rose on the Henry mountains, and drove off through Capitol Reef to make our way down to the National Monument.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was comprised of 1,880,000+ acres before its reduction in 2017. It’s home to slot canyons, arches, dinosaurs fossils, and was home to the Fremont and Ancestral Puebloan people before being designated a national monument in 1996. Unlike many other National Monuments, Grand Staircase-Escalante is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (or BLM). While previously, the BLM had approached land management for extractive uses such as oil, mining, and logging. Eventually congress began to see the importance of protecting many of the watersheds, and habitats that exist in these places - and “In 1996, President Clinton underscored non-extractive priorities on BLM lands when he established the first national monument to be administered by the BLM—the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah. With this and several similar designations, a new focus emerged that would become part of how the agency looks at the land it manages: the protection of special areas where conservation and restoration of the landscape and its biological or cultural resources is the overriding objective.”
We made our way to one of my favorite trailheads in all of Utah, Lower Calf Creek Falls. It’s a flat 6 mile hike that takes you to a 126 foot perennial waterfall. I’d hiked to Calf Creek a few years earlier and it was just as amazing as I remember it, and I was so stoked to be there with Keith. He ended up jumping in, but I (can’t believe I’m saying this) thought it was too cold. And as someone who has swam under a glacier, you know its cold when I won’t get in. The hike is very popular so I would 1000% recommend that if you go, you go early. Like sunrise. We got to the trailhead around 930am, passed no one on our way out to the falls, but had to stop no less than 30 times to let people pass on the trail back. It was one of the busiest trails I’ve ever been on, and to see cars parked from the trailhead back to the highway we drove in on, was insane. But it made it no less worth it!
After Calf Creek we headed to our campground at Kodachrome Basin State Park. We made a lunch of bbq tacos before spending the evening exploring the area. One of the craziest things about Kodachrome Basin State Park is the showers. Yes, the showers. Because while I don’t stay in campgrounds often, I have never stayed at a campground with a free rainfall shower. So after rinsing off the sweat and heat from the day, we spent the day relaxing and enjoying all that we had seen and done in the 15 hours of sunlight. The rest of the weekend was spent hiking the trails in Kodachrome, and making our way over to Bryce Canyon National Park which is situated about 45 minutes northwest of Kodachrome.
On our last day, we woke up to rain, rain, thunderstorms, and more rain. We eventually decided to pack up, a decision reinforced when the iPad with the predownloaded Netflix movies died. There was so much rain that there was now a river in the little walkway area to the car, but thankfully the area underneath our tent stayed dry thanks to a handy tarp I bought last week for the styled shoot some friends and I did in Moab! As we drove out of the park, we rounded the corner of Kodachrome Basin where you can see Bryce Canyon to the west and there was this one little pocket of the canyon where the clouds had cleared with sunlight just beaming on it and I FREAKED. Because there was snow.
Friends, I have wanted to see Bryce Canyon covered in snow FOREVER. And I honestly never thought it would happen because it is a not-so-casual 5 hours away from Grand Junction, and seeing as how it only snows in winter, me + winter camping + sunset at 4pm don’t really mix. So to be in the area on Memorial Day, late May, and for there to be a full on snow storm, was seriously the coolest thing ever. I cried. I still cannot believe it happened. And when I say snow storm, I mean snow storm. We ended up driving around to the different view points before coming back from Rainbow Viewpoint, the furthest away from the entrance, when the fog finally began clearing. After standing in awe of the snow dusted hoodoos and the visitors who seemed extremely well prepared for the snow, we headed just outside of the park to the Ruby Inn, to grab a delicious breakfast, before heading home.
Some of my favorite hikes in Grand Staircase-Escalante aren’t pictured because I’ve either done them before, or haven’t actually done them BUT i’ve done a ton of research so check them out anyway!! Just make sure you do your own research on slot canyons, and how dangerous it is to be in them if there is a threat of rain anywhere near you (or even not near you) as water travels through the canyons quickly!
In Grand Staircase-Escalante:
Lower Calf Creek Falls, 6 miles RT, flat
Coyote Gulch Loop, 10.6 miles RT, 1,840 feet elevation change
Escalante Natural Bridge, 4.4 miles RT, 291 ft elevation change
Zebra and Tunnel slots off of Hole-in-the-Rock Road, 6.6 miles RT, 442 ft elevation change
Peek-a-Boo and Spooky Slot Canyon off Hole-in-the-Rock Road, 4.4 miles RT, 479 ft elevation change
In Kodachrome Basin State Park:
Angel’s Palace Trail, 1.4 mi RT, 226 ft
Panorama Trail Long Loop, 5.8 mi RT, 574 ft or you can take the shorter trail
Panorama Trail, 2.9 mi RT, 262 ft
Shakespeare Arch and Sentinel Trail, 1.6 mi RT, 318 ft (the arch has fallen but the trail is still gorgeous!)
In Bryce Canyon National Park:
Peekaboo Loop Trail, 5.2 miles, 1,453 feet elevation change
Navajo Loop and Queens Garden, 2.6 miles, 623 feet elevation change (I would recommend leaving very early for this one, as the Navajo trail gets quite busy)
Mossy Cave Turret Arch and Little Windows, 1.0 mile, 118 feet (a great place to cool off as the hike is right along a man made wash that enters Tropic Canyon)
Check out the rest of the photos from the whole trip below! Including a bunch of selfies of us because I’ve come to realize that we never take photos together, and even when people offer to take our picture I always politely decline. One thing I would really like to be more conscious of is getting out the tripod to take more photos of us together, like the second photo below. They always end up being some of my favorite photos from our trips! If you and your boo would like photos of you in the magical places you explore, reach out! You don’t have to be engaged or getting married to have photos taken with your partner!