Red Rock Canyons of Escalante, Utah

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14042A, Backpack


  • Hike through miles of red slickrock canyons that are coated with desert varnish
  • Explore magnificent Silver Falls and Choprock side canyons
  • Visit magical Neon Canyon with its unique reflecting pool


  • All cooking equipment
  • All meals
  • Guidance on the trails


DatesMay 17–23, 2014
Difficulty3 (out of 5)
StaffVincent Jones

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Trip Overview

The Trip

Located in arid southern Utah, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument encompasses 1.9 million acres of multicolored high plateaus, remote mountains, and a spectacular array of canyons. In addition to the area's isolated beauty, it also contains a wealth of archaeological, historical, geological, and biological treasures. The Escalante area, carved by millions of years of water and wind, features a 1,000-mile maze of interconnected canyons. This area contains natural bridges and arches, dramatic and colorful geologic features, and petroglyphs from native cultures.

The weather should be magnificent. We will explore unique scenic areas of the Escalante area that feature everything from slot canyons to broad vistas. During our moderate backpacking trip, we will visit numerous side canyons, view canyons from their rims, and gaze in the distance at the Henry Mountains and the Kaiparowits Plateau. This backpack trip also provides opportunity to view breathtaking rock formations and the expansive esplanade. We will be surrounded by sheer red rock walls as we camp on benches near the Escalante River and its side rivers. The area has a surprisingly rich variety of wildlife, including condors and golden or bald eagles soaring in the sky, canyon wrens offering their laughing call, coyotes and bobcats prowling at night, and more than 16 confirmed types of bats. This desert is teeming with more life than most people imagine.


Day 1: Our trip will begin when we meet at 8:00 a.m. in the parking lot of the Prospector Inn in the town of Escalante. We will have a short meeting, hand out the commissary gear, and then begin our car shuttle, placing cars at our exit point from the canyon. After getting our cars in place, we will begin our scenic adventure at the Calf Creek Recreational area. Not long after we leave our vehicles behind, our feet will cool off in the clear water of the Escalante River. We will follow the Escalante River downstream -- sometimes bushwhacking through dense brush, other times walking through the desert sand alongside the slick canyon walls -- but for certain our feet will be cool and wet from our many river crossings. We will explore Phipps Wash and view Phipps Arch, a huge natural arch on the Escalante esplanade. After returning from Phipps wash, we will continue downstream and find a cool deep pool to cool off in before making camp for the night just upriver from Boulder Creek.

Day 2: After breakfast, we will put our stream-crossing shoes back on and continue our scenic adventure alongside the Escalante River. Soon after our morning start, we will reach Boulder Creek and climb high onto the esplanade to view both the Escalante River and Boulder Creek below. With a little luck we may come across a mother turkey or two with her herd of young. As we continue downriver and walk along the canyon walls, we will take the opportunity to climb to the rim of the canyon and gaze across the slickrock esplanade with incredible views. While in the canyon we may see a real life cowboy or two searching for lost cattle in the side canyons.

Days 3-4: Our journey will continue downriver, taking plenty of time to cool off  in the crystal clear water of the Escalante River.  You will look forward to these cooling breaks after exploring the side canyons or climbing to the rim to see where we have come from and where we are going. At the end of day 4, we will set up camp in Silver Falls. There should be plenty of time to explore this splendid side canyon with many scenic views and potential for encountering natural canyon wildlife.

Day 5: When we start day 5, you will notice the river becoming more shallow -- often only ankle- or knee-deep. This will make our stream crossings easier, but the deep pools to cool off in will also be less common and harder to find. We will bushwhack our way downstream and know we have reached our camp for the night, Choprock Canyon, when we see the magnificent "Choprock" high above the canyon floor and our camp. We will have time to climb to Choprock for amazing and wondrous views of the Escalante River and side canyons far below.

Day 6: After breakfast, we will put our water-crossing shoes back on and continue our trek alongside the Escalante River. We will pass by Fence Canyon, our final route out of the canyon, and continue downriver to Neon Canyon. There will be plenty of time to view and explore Neon Canyon, one of the most spectacular sites along the Escalante River. We will make our camp for the night near Fence Canyon alongside the Escalante River.

Day 7: After  breakfast, we will cool our feet one last time in the Escalante River and begin our two-hour climb to the rim. As we climb out of the canyon, we will cross an esplanade. From there, we will see the white trail once carved into the rock by cattle as they were driven out of the canyon along the same route we will travel to reach the official end of the trip at Egypt. There are various travel options to return to our vehicles at the Calf Creek Recreation area that the leader will discuss with participants.



Getting There

The two nearest major airports are Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, both of which are about 275 miles from the town of Escalante. A rental car is needed to get from these major airports to Escalante.

Accommodations and Food

The accommodations are your own tent/tarp and sleeping bag. For specific equipment recommendations, see the Equipment section below. We'll spend all of our nights in the backcountry.

Our first trip meal will be lunch on day one and the last meal will be lunch on the final day. Trip meals will include some meat. You need to bring a cup/dish and spoon for your personal use. Bring enough water containers to carry one gallon of water. Group water will be purified with Micropur or boiling. We will provide Micropur tablets for purification of your personal water as well. We provide the cooking equipment. Trip participants share in meal preparation and clean up. We will try to share dinner at a local restaurant in Escalante after finishing the trip (not included in price of the trip). If we are lucky, they will still have some of their famous bumbleberry pie waiting for us.

The challenge is to bring enough gear and food while being mindful of the weight of gear and food. We try to bring enough food so everyone is satisfied. We also try to make the food tasty, but fairly simple to prepare. All participants share in the cooking chores, which should be pretty manageable. 

Trip Difficulty

This trip is rated moderate (M). Elevation changes will not be great, and daily distances should be less than eight miles. The difficult part is the actual walking.  Most of our hike will not be on maintained trails, but will rather be off trail. We will be bushwhacking, using the washes and Escalante River as our guide. When lucky, we will have game trails to follow. Many times when in the desert, adjacent to the red rock walls, we will be hiking in soft desert sand. We will frequently cross or hike in the river and often have to fight our way through thick Tamarisk bushes on the river banks. When crossing the Escalante River, we will frequently climb up or down six-foot banks of the river. Due to the frequent river crossings, your feet be wet most of the hiking day, so proper footwear (discussed in the Equipment section) is important.

All backpack trips are by their very nature strenuous undertakings, and participants should engage in a regular aerobic training program several weeks prior to our trip. Each participant should have some backpacking experience and be able to carry a fully loaded pack with his/her own gear, plus 12-15 pounds of group commissary.

Equipment and Clothing

You will have between 12 -15 pounds of group food and gear to carry in addition to your personal gear. The size of this group gear will vary, but it is about the size of two one-gallon milk jugs. Your backpack should have room to carry your personal gear and the 12-15 pounds of group gear. We won't let anyone bring a heavy pack. You need to try to get your pack and personal gear weight to approximately 20 pounds (this desired weight does not include your water or group commissary gear). We will weigh your pack at the trailhead. If your pack seems too heavy, we will ask you to remove unnecessary items.

We will send a complete equipment list to registered participants. If you have questions about how to reduce weight, or are planning on purchasing new equipment for this trip, please don't hesitate to contact the leader. It is recommended that you buy light or ultralight gear. 



A good map of the entire Escalante Canyon area is Canyons of the Escalante, by Trails Illustrated.

  • U.S.G.S. maps: Silver Falls Bench, Red Breaks and Egypt


  • Lambrechtse, Rudi, Hiking the Escalante.
  • Abbey, Edward, Desert Solitaire.

Each of the above items may be ordered from Escalante Outfitters at 435-826-4266.


The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was established in 1996 by President Clinton to protect 1.7 million acres of this beautiful and complex region from further development. The desert has too often been seen as wasteland to be exploited and abused. Over-grazing, off-road vehicles, development, and exploitation of energy have been seen as permissible in desert "wasteland." Our visit will help us experience firsthand how nothing here is wasted; how the health and survival of every living thing in this fragile desert ecosystem depends upon the well-being of every other. We plan to travel lightly over the land ourselves, always practicing Leave No Trace principles.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under permits from the Bureau of Land Management (Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument) and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.



Vince Jones has been leading Sierra Club trips in the Southwest for about 10 years and enjoys the splendors and adventure of the Southwest. He's led several trips in the Southwest, including trips from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to Thunder River, Deer Creek, Kanab, and North Bass. He has traveled this Escalante route five times in the past with his brother and Co-Leader Bill. Although Vince lives in Florida, he is a desert rat at heart. While he enjoys the physical demands of a backpack trip, he finds the beauty and tranquility of the wilderness and the camaraderie with other trip members especially rewarding.

Assistant Leader:

Bill Jones has lived in Phoenix, Arizona for about 20 years. His backpacking experience began more than 30 years ago as he and his brother explored many portions of the Appalachian Trail. More recently hiking in the Southwest is a true pleasure to him. Like Vince, he has been leading Southwest Sierra Club trips for about 10 years along the Escalante River and on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

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