Trip Reports: 8 Dayhikes In The Canyons Of Utah - Escalante & Capitol Reef - April 2013

In mid-April we spent about 10 days car camping and doing some fantastic day hikes in the canyons of Utah - Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park in particular.

Metate Arch, Devil's Garden, Escalante National Monument, Utah, April, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, photo

Metate Arch in the Devil's Garden, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

We started in Escalante National Monument, probably my favorite canyon region in all of Utah.

Red Breaks, slot, Escalante, Utah, hiking, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, photo

Hiking in a narrow slot canyon in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Our first hike was through a seldom visited and very narrow slot canyon. Although the guides I read called this a “non technical” canyon, it ended up being a very challenging slot canyon, with numerous puzzling chokestones that had to be climbed over. Some of these chokestones required sketchy exposed moves or chimney maneuvers to pass, and we became a bit worried after we had climbed over enough of these that turning back would not have been a safe option, yet each successive chokestone became more and more difficult.

Red Breaks, slot, Escalante, Utah, hiking, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, photo

Hiking in a deep and narrow slot canyon.

Not only were the chokestones challenging, but in some areas the slot was so narrow that we could barely squeeze through while pulling our backpacks behind us. Although I'm not usually claustrophobic, I was happy to finally exit this one!

cosmic ashtray, escalante, utah, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, photo

A bizarre and fascinating sandstone formation, filled with orange sand, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

After exiting the narrows we hiked cross country over slickrock slabs and valleys to a fascinating sandstone formation called “The Cosmic Ashtray”. This is one of the more curious and mystifying geologic formations I’ve seen, and I have no idea how such a thing could have formed. It’s difficult to comprehend the scale in the photo above, but suffice it say, it’s enormous! We stayed until sunset and hiked back to the truck in the dark… all in all, a 12 hour day of hiking! Not too shabby for the first of eight days in a row of hiking!

slot canyon, Zebra, Escalante National Monument, Utah, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, photo

The famous Zebra Slot - not very deep or long, but one of the most photogenic slot canyons in Utah. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Our second hike was to the famous Zebra slot. The slot itself is actually very short and not very deep, but it has these beautiful striations and embedded moki ball stones which make it very photogenic. Photogenic, that is, if you don’t care about taking the same photograph that every other photographer takes, more or less.

Little Death Hollow, Escalante National Monument, Utah, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, photo

Hiking through little deathly narrows in, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

After Zebra, we drove around to the eastern side of the Escalante River drainage via the incredible Burr Trail Road which leads east from the town of Boulder through jaw-dropping canyon scenery. I’m not sure if I’ve ever driven a more scenic drive in the desert! Our destination was another slot canyon tributary of the Escalante.

Little Death Hollow, Escalante National Monument, Utah, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, photo

Hiking through some glowing narrows in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

This one isn't an especially deep slot canyon, but it goes on for quite a long way and makes for a great hike – especially around midday when the sunlight is bouncing around between the canyon walls.

Little Death Hollow, Escalante National Monument, Utah, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, photo

Hiking through glowing narrows.

Halls Creek, Capitol Reef, Utah, hiking, reflection, april, photo

Hiking through a grand hall of sandstone in Capitol Reef National Park.

The next day, we continued east on the Burr Trail Road, as spectacular as ever as it winds down through the colorful Waterpocket Fold on the lower end of Capitol Reef National Park.

Halls Creek, narrows, Capitol Reef, Utah, hiking, April, photo

Hiking in an enormous sandstone hallway.

Towards the southern end of Capitol Reef National Park is a canyon that cuts three miles through the tallest and purest sheer sandstone walls I’ve ever seen! Very impressive. The hike itself is also quite adventurous since it requires wading about half the time. After messing around barefoot and with flip-flops (both of which don’t work for this), we finally decided to just barge right through the water in our boots and socks! Neoprene socks with trail runners are the way to do it properly, but we worked with what we had.

Surprise Canyon, Capitol Reef, hiking, April, photo

Hiking through Surprise Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park.

By our fifth day we were feeling pretty lazy and worn out, so we just did a short hike into Surprise Canyon, a deep groove in the Waterpocket Fold.

Capitol Reef, Cohab Canyon, Utah, hiking, photo

Hiking from Cohab Canyon towards Grand Wash.

Heading north in Capitol Reef National Park, we spent a night in Torrey to clean up and charge batteries, then spent the next day on a wonderful hike up Cohab Canyon and down the Grand Wash. This hike could be THE classic Capitol Reef hike since it samples the best of both worlds in Capitol Reef – first you go up a high ridge where you have expansive views of the multi-colored landscapes, then you descend into and through another deep and impressive sandstone canyon.

Grand Wash, Capitol Reef, Utah, hiking, april, photo

Hiking through Grand Wash, Capitol Reef National Park.

Spring Canyon, Capitol Reef, Utah, hiking, april, photo

Hiking through lower Spring Canyon, Capitol Reef National Park.

Our seventh hike in a row was another one that I’ve been wanting to do for years – a one way hike from Chimney Rock Canyon through lower Spring Canyon. After seeing so many amazing canyons during the last week, perhaps I had become a bit immune to the scenery because I found this hike to be not quite so impressive. Maybe it was the dull overcast light that day, or maybe my heart just wasn’t in it so much anymore. Maybe I’d had my fill of canyons and reached my desert threshold. Anyhow, it really was a nice hike though, and after fording the Fremont River we caught a quick ride back to our truck.

Great Gallery, Horseshoe Canyon, Canyonlands National Park, Utah, pictographs, photo

The Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon is known as the premiere ancient pictograph panel in North America. The pictographs are estimated to have been painted around 3-4,000 years old, about the same time that the pyramids in Egypt were built!

Our final hike of the road trip was into Horseshoe Canyon to view the Great Gallery pictographs. Pretty fascinating place, and it was a pleasure to find a volunteer ranger at the site who explained to us the history and details about the pictographs.

All in all, another great spring trip in the desert!