11.8 miles (plus 2.6 miles by bicycle)
day 1: 4 hours
day 2: 4 hours
1,015 ft. loss, 1,110 ft. gain
Forty Mile Ridge Trailhead (start): 4,675
Jacob Hamblin Arch Trailhead: 4,770 ft.
Escalante River: 3,660 ft.
The most challenging part of this hike is the
climb out of Coyote Gulch near Jacob Hamblin Arch.
The climb involves scrambling up a 100-foot pitch
of slickrock that ascends from the canyon floor
at an angle close to 45 degrees. A 100-foot length
of rope is useful here for raising backpacks.
A compass is also useful for the last part of
the hike, which involves a 2-mile cross-country
walk from the canyon rim back to Jacob Hamblin
Trailhead. Sneakers or other wettable shoes are
the most practical footwear inside the canyon,
as you will frequently be required to cross the
Spring, summer, fall, winter. This area is very
hot in the summertime and receives some snow in
the winter. The best seasons for the hike are
spring and fall. For current conditions call the
Escalante Interagency Visitor Center at (801)
Near the town of Escalante
Escalante River and its tributaries provide many
of the most interesting hikes into the desert
canyonlands of southern Utah. Unfortunately the
last 30 miles of the Escalante was flooded by
Lake Powell after the construction of the Glen
Canyon Dam in 1964, but enough attractions still
remain to make the Escalante drainage a very special
place for outdoor enthusiasts. Coyote Gulch, a
side canyon of the lower Escalante, is one of
the most popular hikes in the vicinity. With its
impressive natural bridge, two arches, and Anasazi
artifacts, it is a particularly good place to
sample the wonders of the Escalante drainage.
There are at least
five ways to get in and out of Coyote Gulch; hence
a number of variations of this hike are possible.
Most people begin and end their hike at either
Hurricane Wash Trailhead or Red Well Trailhead.
The hike down Coyote Gulch to the Escalante River
and back from either one of these trailheads makes
a very pleasant, if somewhat long, backpacking
trip for the whole family. If you are the adventurous
type, however, you will probably prefer the route
described here. It does require a modicum of rock
climbing ability, so if that makes you uncomfortable
I suggest you end your hike at Hurricane Wash
Trailhead rather than Jacob Hamblin Arch Trailhead.
The Forty Mile Ridge
Trailhead is located on the top of a small knoll
in the middle of a large sandy mesa. From there
a broad, well-used trail leads across the desert
in a northwesterly direction towards the Escalante
River. For the first half mile the sandy trail
is easy to follow, but soon the sand is gone and
you will find yourself walking on slickrock. There
are no footprints, of course, on the slickrock,
so you will be following rock cairns until you
reach the canyon rim. There are occasionally spaces
of several hundred feet between cairns, but the
route to the rim of Escalante Canyon is nearly
a straight line, so you shouldnt have any
difficulty finding the way. Nevertheless, pay
close attention to the cairns. If you dont
arrive at precisely the right point on the canyon
rim you wont be able to find your way down
the Navajo Sandstone.
Your access into
Escalante Canyon is through a narrow crack in
a boulder just below the last cairn on the Forty
Mile Ridge trail. The crack is about 18 inches
wide and fifty feet long. If you walk sideways
down through this crack you will emerge at the
top of an enormous pile of sand that extends nearly
all the way from Coyote Gulch to the top of the
Navajo Sandstone. Look down to the west and you
can see the confluence of Coyote Gulch and the
Escalante River about 0.6 mile away. The trail
is obvious and easy to follow now. It winds downward
over the sand for nearly a mile until it intersects
Coyote Gulch, about a half mile west of the Escalante.
As you descend a huge natural arch will soon come
into view above the confluence. This is Stevens
After you reach
the bottom of Coyote Gulch you will probably want
to drop your backpack and take a side trip to
see the Escalante River. It is only a 15-minute
walk down the canyon. If you have the time and
the inclination for more exploring it is also
usually possible to wade or walk along the banks
of the Escalante. The water is seldom more than
two feet deep (although if the level of Lake Powell
is higher than normal the water here may be much
deeper). Five hundred yards upstream from the
Coyote Gulch confluence there is another fine
view of Stevens Arch. The mouth of Stevens Canyon
is 1.4 miles above Coyote Gulch.
Continuing up Coyote
Gulch you will pass two or three small waterfalls,
and then as the streambed enters the Kayenta Formation
the valley becomes wider and ascends more gently.
Occasionally the trail will climb out of the streambed
to circumvent a waterfall, but it never strays
far up the side. After about an hour you will
see Cliff Arch coming into view high on the north
side of the canyon. As the name suggests, the
arch juts straight out from the sandstone cliff,
like a giant teacup handle. Slightly upstream
from Cliff Arch is a gorgeous waterfall. The drop
is only about fifteen feet, but the setting is
From Cliff Arch
to Jacob Hamblin Arch Coyote Gulch is at its best,
with plenty of scenery and nice camp sites. This
is about the halfway point in the hike, so you
may want to start thinking about a camp site as
you continue on.
or so after leaving Cliff Arch you should start
watching for a particularly fine Anasazi pictograph
panel on the north side of the canyon. It is located
1.6 miles beyond the Arch, about 100 feet above
the trail near the bottom of the Navajo Sandstone.
You will come to a small side canyon with a stream
entering Coyote Gulch on the right just before
you reach the site. Unfortunately, it is easier
to spot the panel if you are walking in the opposite
direction, so stop occasionally and look back.
When you reach it you will see an obvious spur
trail branching off to the right and climbing
up to the panel. There is also a small Indian
ruin near the pictographs. If you have sharp eyes
you may see a few pottery shards and small corn
cobs in the area. Please do not remove them, though.
These treasures belong to the canyon, and are
there for all to enjoy.
0.7 mile past the
pictographs the trail passes under Coyote Natural
Bridge, and 1.7 miles beyond that Jacob Hamblin
Arch will come into view. Jacob Hamblin is an
immense arch, cut through a fin of sandstone created
by a meander in the streambed. It probably would
not look so big were it on top of the mesa, but
being confronted with this enormous geological
sculpture in the narrow confines of the canyon
makes one feel as insignificant as an ant. There
are several nice camp sites near the arch, and
a good spring about a hundred yards downstream
on the north side of the canyon.
The route out of
Coyote Gulch is also near Jacob Hamblin Arch.
Walking downstream from the arch you will notice
that the streambed makes a long, sweeping turn
to the north as it curves around a sloping fin
of sandstone that comes down from the south rim.
The fin reaches the canyon floor about 150 yards
below the arch, and from there it is possible
to scramble up and out of the canyon. The difficult
part of the climb lasts for only 100 feet, and
if you can get up the first 20 feet you will have
no difficulty with the rest. Look carefully at
the stone face near the bottom and you will notice
depressions in the stone which you can use for
toe holds. You can thank the prehistoric Indians
for these toe holds. They were chipped out of
the stone at least a thousand years ago by canyon
dwellers who used this same route in and out of
the canyon. A hundred-foot length of rope will
come in very handy at this point for pulling up
backpacks and, perhaps, some of the less agile
members of your party. If you dont feel
comfortable with this route you can also exit
the canyon through Hurricane Wash which crosses
the road 7.8 miles further upcanyon.
Once you reach the
rim of the canyon walk due south for two miles
to intersect the road along Forty Mile Ridge.
The trailhead where you left your shuttle car
is on the top of a small knoll, and it should
come into view after about a mile.
provided by David
Day of utahtrails.com. Click here to order
his book Utah's
Favorite Hiking Trails.