The last area to be mapped in the United States - Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is the size of the state of Delaware, spanning across 1.87 million acres in Southern Utah. The rugged, remote beauty of this area is just beginning to be fully explored and includes slot canyons, natural bridges, arches and absolutely astonishing rock formations for those that choose to venture down the path less explored! Along it's roads and trails you will find complete solace and the area is beckoning to those who love adventure! If you have a couple days while traveling through Southern Utah, spend some time enjoying this beautiful place - here is how we spent a couple days exploring Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ESCALANTE PETRIFIED FOREST STATE PARK
If you're looking for a place to camp while visiting Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument then Escalante Petrified Forest State Park is a great base! We spent a couple nights here as we explored the area and loved staying at this campground! Located near the town of Escalante, just off of Utah's Scenic Hwy 12, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park is situated along the shores of Wide Hollow Reservoir. In addition to access to Wide Hollow Reservoir, the park also offers some great trails through the petrified forests providing some up close views to the unique petrified wood found in the area. To read more about visiting this park - Click Here.
BURR TRAIL ROAD
One of our favorite areas we explored within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was driving the Burr Trail Road. The Burr Trail Road connects Capitol Reef National Park to Boulder, Utah and is the MOST stunning road we have ever driven. The road encompasses parts of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park and is one of the most scenic drives found anywhere in Utah. From Escalante, follow Hwy 12 north for about 40 minutes to Boulder. The entire Burr Trail Road is about 66 miles long - but for this drive plan on driving about 35 miles where you will pass some highlights such as Long Canyon and the Burr Trail Switchbacks. Driving this stretch of road was a pure thrill - beautiful vistas everywhere you look, rugged colorful rock formations and some of the coolest switchbacks we have ever driven! As you reach the Burr Trail Switchbacks, you will find a steep set of switchbacks that quickly descend 800 feet in only half a mile and provides absolutely outstanding views. It is a true wonder as you think about the early Mormon settlers that first paved the way for this amazing road. Named for John Burr who established the town of Burrville in 1876, he first created these switchbacks in order to move cattle back and forth for summer and winter grazing. Do be aware that as you enter the portion of the road maintained by Capitol Reef National Park, the road is unpaved and may become impassable in heavy rains. From the Burr Trail Switchbacks, return back towards Escalanate to our next destination for the day - the Hole-in-the-Rock Road.
Located off Hwy 12 in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is the Hole-in-the-Rock Road. The 62 mile road runs from Escalante to the shores of Lake Powell within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and follows the route that was originally created by a group of Mormon settlers. The historical road was first built in 1879 and follows the Mormon wagon route that cut thru the rock to create a Hole-in-the-Rock where they could then reach the Colorado River below - the area now known as Lake Powell. Crossing this rugged terrain and then descending down along the sheer cliffs to the waters below was treacherous back then and continues to be a rough road even to this day - for most of the route driving this road is quite doable - but the end few miles that cut down to Lake Powell should only be attempted with a high clearance vehicle and when there is no chance of rain passing through - as rain will make the roads impassable. With time being an issue, we only drove about 30 miles down the road as we spend a large amount of time visiting Devil's Garden and hiking the Dry Fork Trailhead that are both found along Hole-in-the-Rock Road - both are definitely worth visiting!
About 12 miles down Hole-in-the-Rock Road you will come to Devils Garden. This is a must visit when visiting Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument as the area is simply awesome! Filled with hoodoos, arches, and all kinds of cool rock formations we loved visiting this area! There is no official trail here, but rather you can spend your time just wandering and exploring this amazing area - if you are traveling with kids, this place is a must do! The rocks here are easy to scramble and climb upon and we had a blast playing with our three year old son along the nooks and crannies of these wonderful rock formations. Plan on a good hour here but you could easily spend longer as there is so much to wander thru and explore in Devils Garden!
DRY FORK TRAILHEAD
For those wanting to experience some of Utah's famed slot canyons - the Dry Fork Trailhead is just the place! 26 miles down the Hole-in-the-Rock Road, follow the sign for Dry Fork. Along the Dry Fork Trailhead you have the opportunity to explore Dry Fork Narrows, and the Peekaboo and Spooky Slot Canyons. This 6 mile loop trail will take you out to each of these three canyons and you can hike all three or choose just one - the choice is yours. As we were hiking with a three year old at the time, we focused our time on hiking out to the Dry Fork Narrows - which is the easiest of the three slot canyons. Often overlooked for the more popular Peekaboo and Spooky Slot Canyons - we absolutely loved our time spent exploring thru Dry Fork Narrows. Walking thru this canyon was absolutely awesome and a great introduction to slot canyons - the colorful pink, red and orange hues of the canyon combined with the steep canyon walls was amazing! For those with a bit more experience in hiking thru slot canyons, continue on and spend some time exploring Peekaboo and Spooky Slot Canyons. Just to enter Peekaboo will require scrambling up a 10 foot wall and Spooky requires the use of a rope in some areas and is considered the most technical of three canyons - both Spooky and Peekaboo were just a bit beyond our capabilities with a three year old in tow. Maybe someday we can return and explore all three of these amazing looking canyons!
KODACHROME BASIN STATE PARK
Surrounded on three sides by Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is the stunning Kodachrome Basin State Park. In 1948, the National Geographic Society explored and photographed the area and named it Kodachrome Flat after Kodak film which was known for it's bright vibrant colors. In 1962, the area became a state park - and wow what a park this is! Kodachrome Basin State Park was utterly breathtaking and blew our minds with it's beauty! The park is dominated by 67 monolithic spires and offers numerous trails that wind their way thru this stunning landscape. We spent half a day taking in this beautiful area and recommend that anyone passing thru Southern Utah should make time for this lesser known gem! To read more about this amazing state park - Click Here.
After visiting Kodachrome Basin State Park - drive another 10 miles down an unpaved road and you will come to the spectacular Grosvenor Arch. Located within the boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the arch was named for Gilbert Grosvenor who was one of the Presidents of National Geographic Magazine. The arch itself is actually two different arches that tower 150 feet above the ground and are the truly jaw-dropping! For an up-close view of the arch, walk the quick paved 0.25 mile trail. Grosvenor Arch is one arch you will not soon forget and is worth the extra drive time down the bumpy dirt road!
Interested in planning your own trip to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument? Below is our summarized itinerary for you to follow or adjust to your own preferences. ENJOY!
Day 1: Camp at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. Spend the day exploring some of the best drives within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Start off the morning with an early drive north to the Burr Trail Road. Explore until reaching the Burr Trail Switchbacks before turning around. Drive south to Hole-in-the-Rock Road. Explore Devil's Garden. Hike to Dry Fork Narrows along the Dry Fork Trailhead.
Day 2: Drive down to Kodachrome Basin State Park, spend half a day here hiking and exploring the park. Continue driving past the state park into the boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to Grosvenor Arch.