Top 5 Grand Staircase Escalante Hikes For First Timers

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument holds some of the most incredible and even secret hikes you’ll find in the entire state of Utah and while there are honestly over 100 to explore there, I want to share the top 5 most popular ones for first time visitors in this post (with the list sure to grow).

My history with exploring hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument:

When I first started exploring the state of Utah, I figured the best parts of it were only in The Mighty 5 National Parks and the state parks in general (and there are some truly beautiful places there).

But I was very wrong, because as soon I discovered one of the hikes on this list (Coyote Gulch) and that it was part of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument area, I quickly discovered that how large this whole region was and just how many more adventures it held.

And in exploring more of this area, I began seeing all the amazing hikes and adventures it held and decided to write this post, specifically for first time visitors to this area.

What is Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument?grand staircase escalante national monument map

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is basically a 1 million+ acre stretch of land in Utah that is uninhabited but has many areas you can explore within it.

The land in this area takes up about 5-10% of the entire state and that “small area” holds many opportunities for adventures.

The closest town to it is the town of Escalante and this region of Utah is not very well known to tourists who visit this state.

But is a very popular destination for explorers and hikers who live here (or have visited Utah enough to know about this region).

But despite that, this region of Utah has some of the most beautiful hikes you’ll ever find so if you’re planning on visiting Utah, I highly recommend adding an extra day or two to your stay there and taking the time to explore this area, specifically these 5 spots for starters.

In my case, I began exploring this region after seeing the most popular areas (The Mighty 5 National Parks there).

Here are the 5 hikes I recommend exploring at Grand Staircase Escalante:

  1. Golden Cathedral trail hike.grand staircase escalante hikes
  2. Coyote Gulch hike.
  3. Red breaks and Cosmic Ashtray hike.
  4. Zebra Slot Canyon hike.
  5. Peekaboo and Spooky Gulch hike.

The great thing about each of these hikes is that they are:

A) Fairly easy to access as they are close to the town of Escalante.

B) Most of them are reachable by car (at least the trailhead). But you will need an all wheel drive to reach the parking areas.

C) They are all beautiful and great exploratory hikes for first time visitors to this area (you do need to be in good physical shape to hike most of them).

D) Unlike the super popular parks in Utah which get tons of crowds, not many people know about the hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante, so you’ll often find few crowds or in many cases no one when you go (which is also a danger so be careful).

1) Golden Cathedral hike:

golden cathedral hike in grand staircase escalante

Length: A little over 9 miles (it’s an in and out trail).

Difficulty: Moderate.

Description: This is one of the top 3 hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante and is located off the popular Hole in Rock Road which also leads to numerous other hiking trails on this list by the way.

Anyway, the trail to the Golden Cathedral is marked by rocks and other signs, but this is not the general easy trail to navigate so you will have to use a map in addition to the markings to ensure you are on the right path as the trail in this region does intersect with others.

You will also pass through a river area before entering the Golden Cathedral region and witnessing the beauty of it.

2) Coyote Gulch hiking trail:

coyote gulch hike in grand staircase escalante

Length: 5-20 miles depending on which route you take.

Difficulty: Moderate to hard.

Description: Coyote Gulch is the reason I even heard of Grand Staircase Escalante in the first place and the original hike I discovered before exploring the region more.

There are 3 main ways to enter into Coyote Gulch, and one of them is through the Hurricane Wash trail which is normally for people staying overnight at Coyote Gulch.

The next 2 options are one day hikes which are known as the Sneaker Route (Water tank trail) which is an in and out trail and Crack in the Wall and back to the Water Tank trail (loop trail). See more details on hiking in Coyote Gulch.

3) Red Breaks and Cosmic Ashtray hike:

Red breaks and Cosmic Ashtray hike in grand staircase escalante

Length: 10-11 miles loop.

Difficulty: Moderate.

Description: Thanks to Alltrails.com, I was able to find out about the Red Breaks and Cosmic Ashtray hike and besides the trail itself, the main attraction is this giant hole with a rock in it with dirty water surrounding it. It looks very surreal during sundown and in general (as do most hikes in Utah).

4) Zebra Slot Canyon:

zebra slot canyon hike in grand staircase escalante

Length: 5+ miles.

Difficulty: Moderate (and dirty).

Description: The Zebra Slot Canyon is one of the most popular slot canyons you’ll find in all of Utah and it is also one of the first hiking opportunities you’ll see signs for when you enter Grand Staircase Escalante through the main Hole in The Rock road.

This isn’t exactly a clean hike but if you don’t mind dirty and very cold water, as well as the slot canyon experience where you’re in tight spaces, then this is going to be a very enjoyable hike for you.

5) Peekaboo and Spooky Gulch hike:

peekaboo and spooky gulch hike in grand staircase escalante

Length: A few miles (but very difficult terrain).

Difficulty: Moderate to hard.

Description: If you enjoy the Zebra Slot Canyon and want something a big more challenging and less wet, then these 2 slot canyons in Grand Staircase Escalante are for you.

Peekaboo slot canyon is a fun but tight slot canyon to explore, and the next, tougher one is Spooky Gulch where people with claustrophobia need not go, but if you don’t have that problem, then you’ll really enjoy this hike.

What other hikes are there to explore in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument?

As I said before, there are over 100 of them and if you’re curious about what other options are available, then see this Alltrails page on Grand Staircase Escalante for more details.

I will warn you though that most of the hikes in this region are extremely remote and you should not attempt them unless you’re a very experienced hiker. The ones I’ve listed are amazing sights to explore and great for beginners to this region to get a taste of what it has to show.

Nearby things to explore (close to Grand Staircase Escalante):

1) The scenic drives in Utah alone are worth exploring on their own.

2) The Mighty 5 National Parks are always a must if you’ve never seen them before.

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