A Wondrous Place
A lot of people drive Utah’s Highway 12 Scenic Byway (often referred to as the All American Road) and perhaps you have too. The iconic route stretches from Torrey, Utah and Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon National Park. And along the way, it winds through one of the greatest expanses of wilderness in Utah – the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This monument is a vast tract of sandstone mesas, impressive canyons, and beautiful, hidden greenery. However, most visitors never really stop to enjoy the wonders of the Grand Staircase, they just drive straight through. So, allow us at the Lodge to suggest some locations for you to check out, the next time you drive through this wondrous place.
Lower Calf Creek
This is the first, and much more accessible, section of Calf Creek. It’s probably the most famous feature in the Grand Staircase, and for good reason. The trail for the lower section of the creek is short and flat, if a bit sandy. It’s only six-miles, in and back, and it leads to an amazing 120-foot waterfall and a wide pool – the perfect place for a swim to escape the summer heat. In addition to the falls, there are some other cool features that you can discover as you hike, like some ancient petroglyphs.
Upper Calf Creek
This part of Calf Creek is located above the dramatic falls. It’s a much steeper climb but it leads to some very cool pools and some amazing overlooks. It’s also a bit harder to find the trailhead, since it’s located just off the main highway, and the signage is easy to miss. Here’s a link to help you find the turn off. If you’re looking for a fun workout, with a cliff-jumping, water-splashing reward at the end, then Upper Calf Creek is for you.
Note: For those who want to hike both Upper and Lower Calf Creek, you can stay the night at the Calf Creek Recreational Area campsite. But get there early, space is limited. As of this writing, the camping fee is ten dollars.
If you want to see more of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, but aren’t really in the mood to do any serious hiking, consider driving Hell’s Backbone. It’s a short, 38-mile detour that leads you over a very impressive, one-lane bridge that spans a 1,500-foot drop. Plus Hell’s Backbone allows you to access the Box-Hollow Wilderness Area. There’s a great hike up the box canyon, if you change your mind and decide that you do want to tackle a strenuous, unmaintained, nine-mile trail.
Only about half of this fantastic road is technically in the Grand Staircase, the rest is in Capitol Reef National Park. But it’s one of our favorite sections of both the national monument and the national park. We might have mentioned it before, once or twice. But only because it really is a great drive. If you have a vehicle that can handle tough terrain, stop by the Strike Valley Overlook. It’s one of the best overlooks in Capitol Reef.
The Escalante Petrified Forest State Park is located just outside of the town of Escalante. (Which incidentally, is the same Escalante as the Escalante in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. In case you were curious.) There is a fun, easy trail that will lead you past some of best specimens of ancient, petrified remains. It’s also a great place to camp, with a nice, little campground near the Wide Hollow Reservoir, where you might want to stay if you’re exploring the Grand Staircase over several days. Here’s the link to the official site.