Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

From the spectacular Grand Staircase with its cliffs and terraces, to the rugged Kaiparowits Plateau to the wonders of the Escalante River Gorges, the vast landscapes offer visitors to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument a variety of recreational opportunities. The National Monument is divided into three distinct areas: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons (gorges) of the Escalante. Despite their different topographies, these three sections share characteristics: long distances, extremely difficult terrain, and a remoteness rarely found in the United States outside of Alaska.

Grand Staircase
According to a2zcamerablog, the land rises from the south in broad, sloping terraces. They form the Grand Staircase. The multicolored cliffs glow in red, orange, white, gray and pink. Together, these steep slopes represent 200 million years of geological history. The Grand Staircase is made of bright red Moenkopi sandstone, which contains many fossils of fish and early Triassic dinosaurs.

A little further north, the White Cliffs are composed of younger, gray shale rock. From the time when the sea covered the land here, deposits of shells, shark teeth and braziers can be found. Imprints of marsh plants are also evidence of ancient marine life. The pink cliffs at the top of Grand Staircase are deposits from what was once a freshwater lake. The Paria River and its tributaries carved these “rock stairs”. It is also home to Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the world.

Kaiparowits Plateau
The highest part of the monument is the Kaiparowits Plateau. From the air, the plateau appears to fan out south of the town of Escalante into a vast gray-green scalene triangle that stretches far south to Lake Powell and the Paria Plateau. The more than 3,200 km² of the Kaiparowite form the wildest, driest and most remote part of the monument.

The fossil-rich rocks of the Kaiparowits Plateau contain probably “the best and most continuous record of late Cretaceous terrestrial life anywhere in the world.” The plateau has been described as a “stony, arid labyrinth of ravines” with a handful of streams. It is a land of great gorges, sheer cliffs and red hills of oxidized rock. They were created by underground coal fires and soils that are toxic to most plants. But it is also a land of wooded, level banks, thousand-year-old juniper trees and a rich variety of mammals and birds, including seventeen species of raptors.

Escalante Canyon’s 43-mile long straight cliffs mark the eastern rim of the plateau and culminate at Fiftymile Mountain in the southeast. Nowhere else do the words “wind, endless space, loneliness, silence and distance” apply better than here.

Canyons of the Escalante
The Canyons of the Escalante are made up of some of the most beautiful and scenic red rock formations in southern Utah. North of the Fiftymile Mountains is the Aquarius Plateau, dominated by the 11,300-foot (3,352 m) Boulder Mountain. To the east lies an expanse of light-colored Navajo sandstone carved by the Escalante River and its tributaries from the high plateau, a labyrinth of canyons.

The rocky country offers many surprises: deep in the gorges along the streams, lush shore worlds thrive: poplars, elders, willows, oaks and tamarisks often form an impenetrable thicket. Hanging gardens thrive above shady niches and rock caves. From the ledges high up on the cliff face you can hear the haunting song of the wren.

Access to the monument is via two paved roads: US 89 from the Kanab/Big Water area and US 12 from the Escalante/Boulder area. All other roads are very easy and hardly paved.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument information

Location and Size
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument covers 7,689 km² in southern Utah, from the city of Boulder in south-central Utah, along the foothills of the Boulder Mountains. At its widest point, it is nearly 90 miles (145 km) from Capitol Reef on the northeast boundary to Johnson Canyon near Kanab on the southwest rim. The monument includes the Grand Staircase in its western part, the Kaiparowits Plateau in the east, both enclosing the Escalante canyons. It was declared a National Monument in 1996 and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

by car
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is located in southern Utah, approximately 470 km (290 miles) south of Salt Lake City or 400 km (250 miles) east of Las Vegas. Two paved roads provide access to the monument: US-89 to the south and US-12 to the north. The monument is very remote, almost all of its north-south connections are primitive roads.

VUSA TIP: Do your research before venturing inside the monument. Be sure to take a very good, legible and understandable road map with you! Allow enough time, only drive a 4WD off-road vehicle. Consider your driving ability. Take plenty of water with you and make sure your vehicle is in good condition and has adequate provisions for emergencies.

Public Transport
There is no public transport to the monument.

Opening times and seasons
The monument is open 24 hours a day, all year round.

Visitor Centers
The BLM Information Centers are located on the periphery of the monument. BLM staff at the centers provide visitors with essential and detailed information, and also sell books and maps. All visitor centers are located in Utah. Utah is in the Mountain time zone and observes daylight saving time.

Paria Contact Station
The Paria Contact Station is open seven days a week from 08:00 to 16:30, March 15th to November 15th.

Kanab Visitor Center
The center is open daily from 08:00 to 16:30. 745 East Hwy 89, Kanab, UT 84741,
Tel: 435-644-4680

Escalante Interagency Visitor Center
The center is open daily from 08:00 to 16:30. 755 West Main, Escalante, UT 84726
Tel: 435-826-5499

Entrance Fees
There are no entrance fees to the monument.

Posy Lake
On the Hells Backbone road north of Escalante. Campgrounds, water, the lake is stocked with trout.

Blue Spruce Campground
A small campground on Hell’s Backbone road.

Calf Creek Recreation Area
Located off Highway 12, 26 km (16.3 miles) from Escalante. Campground with water, reservation required, 5 km (3 miles) hiking trail to Calf Creek Falls.

Deer Creek Campground
Located 10 km (6 miles) east of Boulder on the Burr Trail. Primitive campsite with toilets, no water available.

The climate in the Grand Staircase-Escalante is temperate and dry with an average annual rainfall of about 2,500 mm. From June to early September, thunderstorms roll in from the Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and Southern California. From October to June, storms can blow in from the northwest.
The highest amounts of precipitation can be expected from November to March. In summer, temperatures range between 15°C (lowest) and 32°C (highest). In winter, the temperature range is lows of -9°C and highs of 4°C. Average snowfall is 71 cm, it can snow from October or November to March or April.
The best time to visit the monument is from late March to June and from early September to October. Weather conditions and water temperatures are usually the most favorable during this period. It is impossible to predict long term weather in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Average temperatures in Escalante, Utah in °C
Month Jan Feb March Apr May June July Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Max 6 9 14 19 24 31 33 32 27 20 12 7
Min -8 -6 -2 1 6 9 13 13 8 2 -3 -8

Safety and Dangers
The typical dangers of a desert landscape lurk here. During the summer season, the sun is more intense and temperatures rise up to 38°C and more. The humidity is low. It is necessary to eat enough and drink at least 4 liters of water per day. For all activities you should always take enough water with you and wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing and a sun hat. Great importance should be attached to sun protection: Apply sunscreen with a high sun protection factor to all exposed areas of the skin. Strenuous activity should be done in the early morning or evening hours.

Trip Tips

Activities and Sightseeing
A vast expanse of rugged labyrinthine canyons and red cliffs characterize America’s newest national monument. Only really experienced hikers will be able to really enjoy this splendor. It’s not a place for RV vacationers or vacationers looking for a leisurely picnic. However, some spots in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are suitable for a day tour or picnic. This includes:

Devils Garden Natural Area
Located 19 km (12 miles) down Hole in the Rock Road off US 12. There are unusual rock formations here. If you love hikes in beautiful countryside and great photo opportunities, this is the place for you. It is particularly beautiful here at dusk.

Paria Movie Set
Originally built in the 1960s, the “frontier town” has played host to film legends such as John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and Gregory Peck. The area is located on a dirt road between Kanab and Big Water City, 8 km (5 miles) northeast of Highway 89. This road is impassable during or shortly after rain.

Grosvenor Arch
Can be accessed off Highway 12 on a dirt road about 15 km (9 miles) southeast of Kodachrome Basin State Park. Grosvenor Arch is a collection of delicate white and gold stone arches that tower high above the ground.

The Coxcombs
A series of sandstone outcrops in the northeastern part of the monument, 5 km (3 miles) south of Grosvenor Arch.

Routes by car

The scenic Utah Highway 12 in the northern portion of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument runs east from Bryce Canyon National Park via routes Utah 20 and US 89. Escalante is 170 km (106 miles) south of I-70 if traveling from the east at the Fremont Junction exit on Utah 72.

US Highway 89’s southern section between Kanab, Utah and Page, Arizona offers spectacular views of the Vermilion Cliffs and Grand Staircase. Kanab is 124 km (77 miles) east of the Cedar City exit off I-15 via Routes Utah 9 through Zion National Park and to US-89.

Major routes in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

There are several gravel roads that can be driven on with normal cars when the weather is nice. The great landscape and the leisure opportunities make the trip an experience.

Pahreah Townsite Road: The 8 km (5 mile) gravel road is passable in dry weather but extremely slippery in wet conditions. The trail is a short jaunt into the Paria River Valley with its multicolored Badlands landscape. It leads to the Pahreah Townsite and the Paria Movie Set Location.

Johnson Canyon / Skutumpah Road: This paved but dirt road runs 74 km (46 miles) between Johnson Canyon and Kodachrome Basin. It traverses some remarkable areas cut by streams and gorges. The upper section (35 km/22 miles) is impassable when wet. The route leads to the Bull Valley Gorge and some of the steps and terraces of the Grand Staircase.

Cottonwood Canyon Road: Much of this dusty gravel road is only passable in dry weather. The 74 km (46 mile) route follows the Cocks Ridge, a large bend in the earth’s crust that bisects the Grand Staircase and Kaiparowits Plateau. The route takes in Round Valley, Cockscomb, the Cottonwood Narrows, Grosvenor Arch and Kodachrome Basin State Park.

Hole-in-the-Rock Road: Hole-in-the-Rock Road is a dusty gravel road. The cul-de-sac ends 92 km (57 miles) at Lake Powell Overlook in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Cars with good ground clearance are usually sufficient – but the last 10 km (6 miles) are rough and require a 4×4 with high ground clearance. The road follows the historical route used by Mormon settlers in 1879-1880 on their journey across the Colorado River. It leads to Devil’s Garden, the trailhead of Escalante Canyon, Dance Hall Rock and offers views of Lake Powell from Hole in the Rock lookout.

Burr Trail: The Burr Trail runs south from Boulder, Utah. The first 50 km (31 miles) between Boulder and Capitol Reef National Park are paved. The rest is a dusty gravel road with some rocky and sandy stretches. Vehicles with high ground clearance are recommended when exploring the Burr Trail. Along the route are the Slickrock Canyons and you can enjoy sweeping views. The road leads to Deer Creek, The Gulch, Long Canyon, Wolverine Petrified Wood Area and the Circle Cliffs Region.

Hiking & Trekking
There are very few established hiking trails along the Escalante River and its tributaries. However, some paths have formed over the years through more frequent use. Most tours run along the main river canyon or side canyons and require wading in the creek bed, hiking across river banks and frequent water crossings. Some side canyons require wading through depths, scrambling over rocks and the occasional swim. Other side canyons may be dry.

Lower Calf Creek Falls
Located off Highway 12 between the towns of Escalante and Boulder. The 9km (return) trail is a nature trail that leads to a shaded pool at the foot of a 38m waterfall. A moderate hike that provides a good introduction to the Escalante Canyons.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

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