Exploring the Park
There's little dispute that the Escalante Canyons are the primary reason people visit the monument. The river and its tributaries cut deep and winding slot canyons through massive slickrock formations, and hiking these canyon bottoms is an extremely popular adventure.
A multiday trek is a rite of passage for many devoted hikers, but you don't have to be a hardened backcountry trekker to enjoy this landscape: Two backcountry roads wind through the area, and some day hikes are possible.
The other districts offer less well-defined opportunities for adventure. Backcountry drivers and long-distance mountain bikers will find mile after mile of desert and canyon to explore. Grosvenor Arch, with its double windows, is a popular back-road destination. At the southern edge of the park, along the Arizona border, is another rugged canyon system that's popular with long-distance hikers. The Paria River Canyon is even more remote than the Escalante, and hiking these slot canyons requires experience and preparation.
There is currently no entrance fee for visiting the monument. Free permits are required for all overnight backcountry camping or backpacking. There is a fee to camp in the monument's three developed campgrounds.
The administrative headquarters of the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument is in Kanab (190 E. Center St., 435/644-4300, www.ut.blm.gov/monument, 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily Mar. 15-Nov. 15, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri. Nov. 15-Mar. 15), about 15 miles from the southwestern edge of the monument, but the regional visitor centers are the best places to contact for practical travel information.
Escalante Interagency Visitor Center (755 W. Main St., Escalante, 435/826-5499, 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. daily mid-Mar.-mid-Nov., 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri. mid-Nov.-mid-Mar.) is housed in a sprawling building at the west end of the town of Escalante. Staff here are very knowledgeable and helpful, and exhibits focus on the monument's ecology and biological diversity.
Kanab Visitor Center (745 E. U.S. 89, Kanab, 435/644-4680, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily ) is the place to stop if you're planning to drive Cottonwood or Johnson Canyon and Skutumpah Roads from the south. Staff can give you updates on the road conditions and suggest driving and hiking strategies. Exhibits at this visitor center concentrate on geology and archaeology.
Cannonville Visitor Center (10 Center St., Cannonville, 435/826-5640, 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily mid-Mar.-mid-Nov.) is an attractive building at the north end of Cottonwood and Johnson Canyon/Skutumpah Roads. Even if the office is closed, stop by to look at the outdoor exhibits, which depict the different cultures that have lived in the area.
Big Water Visitor Center (100 Upper Revolution Way, Big Water, 435/675-3200, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily Apr.-Oct. and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily Nov.-Mar.), a spiral-shaped building designed to resemble an ammonite, is home to a small but distinctive collection of dinosaur bones and a wild mural depicting Late Cretaceous life in the area. Stop here to learn about local paleontology.
Anasazi State Park (460 N. Highway 12, Boulder, 435/335-7382, www.stateparks.utah.gov, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily Apr.-Oct. and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat. Nov.-Mar., $5 per person park entry) has a ranger on duty at an information desk inside the museum. The museum itself is worth a visit, so don't be stingy with your five bucks!
Paria Contact Station (U.S. 89, 44 miles east of Kanab, no phone, 8:30 a.m.-4:15 p.m. daily Mar. 15-Nov. 15) is a small visitor center, but it's an important stop for anyone planning to hike Paria Canyon.
Tours and Outfitters
For guided tours of the Escalante canyons, contact Utah Canyons Outback Adventures (325 W. Main St., Escalante, 435/826-4967, www.utahcanyons.com). Trips focus on day hikes ($100 for a full day) with popular trips going to slot canyons and scenic Phipps Arch. They also offer hiker shuttles and run a good gear shop in the salmon-colored building in downtown Escalante.
The guides at Excursions of Escalante (125 E. Main St., Escalante, 800/839-7567, www.excursionsofescalante.com) lead trips into more remote canyons, including some that require some technical canyoneering to explore and some multiday backpacking trips. A day of basic canyoneering costs $145, including instruction.
Many local outfitters use pack animals. With Escape Goats (435/826-4652, www.utahpackgoats.com), you'll hike with goats (and a friendly, goat-loving human guide) into canyons. This is a good bet for families with kids. A variety of hikes are available; part day or evening hikes start at $40 per person.
Hike into the canyon backcountry (let horses pack your gear) and spend a few days exploring with Escalante Canyon Outfitters (888/326-4453 or 435/335-7311, www.ecohike.com). Four-day trips run about $1,200.
Red Rock 'n Llamas (877/955-2627 or 435/559-7325, www.redrocknllamas.com) offers a variety of fully outfitted hiking adventures in the Escalante area. Llamas will carry most of the gear, leaving you to explore in comfort. Most trips are for three or four nights and cost $900-1,000.
The Boulder-based Earth Tours (435/691-1241, www.earth-tours.com) offers half-day ($75 per person) to six-day (price varies according to number of guests) tours of the area. Most trips are led by a geologist with a wide-ranging interest in natural history; lodging for the longer trips is at the luxurious Boulder Mountain Lodge—no roughing it here.
Without a mountain bike or a pair of hiking boots, the best way to explore the backcountry of Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument is with a four-wheel-drive high-clearance vehicle; however, the scale of the monument, the primitive quality of many of the roads, and the extreme weather conditions common in the desert mean that you shouldn't head into the backcountry unless you are confident in your skills as a mechanic and driver.
Choose roads that match your vehicle's capacity and your driving ability, and you should be okay. Some roads that appear on maps are slowly going back to nature: Rather than close some roads, park officials are letting the desert reclaim them. Other roads are being closed, so it's best to check on access and road conditions before setting out.
Remember that many of the roads in the monument are very slow going. If you've got somewhere to be in a hurry, these corrugated, boulder-dodging roads may not get you there in time. Be sure to take plenty of water—not only for drinking, but also for overheated radiators. It's also wise to carry wooden planks or old carpet scraps for help in gaining traction should your wheels be mired in the sand.
© W.C. McRae and Judy Jewell from Moon Utah, 9th Edition