Coyote Gulch in south central Utah has become increasingly popular in recent years because of social media. A spot which for a long time was only popular among locals and boy scouts is now a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts from around the world. What can be a very long extensive trek I’m going to explain in detail how to get to the most popular destination in the gulch with a lot less hiking.
Coyote Gulch is located within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The actual monument is massive, and something to keep in mind before heading out to Coyote Gulch is to get gas in Escalante. From Escalante the drive is just over 45 miles through unforgiving desert. This is the last place you want to be thinking about gas, water, or a flat tire so whatever you do come prepared because you don’t want to have to turn around on Hole in the Rock Road. Understandably there may not be much you can do about a flat tire being a tourist with a rental, but keep it in the back of your mind to go easy on this road. Hole in the Rock road can handle almost any vehicle to get to the Coyote Gulch beginning at the water tanks, but I do say that lightly. I’ve been on this road a few times, and just from experience not all sections are the most maintained so absolutely be careful especially on the last few hundred yards toward the parking lot. I remember having to do some careful navigating here. Aside from the road there are many trailheads to access Coyote Gulch, but I’m only going to talk about just one; the water tanks. Most hikers are come here to see the famous Jacob Hamblin Arch along with many other nearby arches as you make your way toward the Escalante River. Again, the desert is unforgiving that’s why I’m recommending the shortest possible route for the safety of your entire group.
Out of the 4 trailheads to access the gulch CHOOSE THE WATER TANKS. This trail is only 2 miles each way. I’m not even mentioning the other routes because our group actually got lost starting from the water tanks so when we finally made it back to the parking lot to decide our next move half of our group decided they couldn’t go search for the real trail because the desert heat took too much out of them. Being the case, if you are unfamiliar with Escalante there’s no reason to extend your hike. After making it back to the parking lot a returning hiker told us where we went wrong and where we should have gone. Beginning at the left of the water tanks take the obvious trail toward the two big rocks (you’ll know what I’m talking about when you’re here). This is where we went wrong the first time. The trails start to get a little faint and confusing as you make your way toward those rocks, but just remember KEEP LEFT. Our biggest mistake was going around the right side of the right big rock following a faint trail which is what got us lost for hours in the desert. This put us in very dangerous situations as we were trying to guess where the route down into the gulch was. When you make it to the left most rock whether on a trail or not you should start to see rock cairns leading you around the left side. Once you find the cairns you’re about half way until the decent. From here go around the left side of the left rock up and down a few hills following the cairns toward the gulch. The hiker in the parking lot told us to look for what looked like a white longhorn skull on the opposite side of the gulch, and that’s how you’ll know where the decent is. Again, you’ll know what I’m talking about once you’re there, but this guy was pretty spot on with his directions. Once you hit the decent it’s only a few hundred feet down until you’re at the bottom. It’s not terrible by any means, and almost any physically fit people should be able to climb down. It’s hard to say whether there will be rope/webbing there or not to help you climb down, but it is absolutely necessary for your safety to use one. We came prepared but didn’t actually need any because there was already some in place.
Once we finally made it to the bottom my friend Shirley and I who were the only ones still dedicated to make it headed straight for the amphitheater hoping to find a campsite. We were so late in the day getting down there after getting lost for most of the day, but to our surprise there was no one in the exact spot we wanted! I remember the countless smiles and cheering once we finally made it, and I know in the back of my mind that we had our full campsite set up as well as making dinner before our friends even made it the 45 mile drive back to Escalante. Pure joy! That’s the best way I can describe camping under the amphitheater because this had been a bucket list item for so long. The next morning Shirley and I made breakfast and started shooting countless photos. After breakfast we left our campsite to do some hiking toward the Escalante River to find one more arch we knew wouldn’t be too far away. The Natural Bridge that we were looking for was no more than a 25 minute walk from the Amphitheater. After countless more photos we headed back to pack up and begin our hike out because we had to meet up with our friends who decided to sit out. It also worked out because Shirley and I were able to stop in Bryce Canyon for sunset on our drive back to St. George.
To hike out we headed back the same way we hiked in. This time it was much more straight forward, but we were dealing with the brutal June heat the second we got out of the gulch. After the steep ascent there’s nothing more than following the same rock cairns around the big rock mentioned earlier until you can start to see the trails leading back to the water tanks. If you think you haven’t seen a cairn in a while it’s probably best to retrace your steps to find the right trail, but for the most part it’s pretty straight forward.
Things to Know
One of the main things to keep in mind before the hike that I haven’t mentioned yet is permits are required. They are free and can be obtained at the visitor center in Escalante or any visitor center for the monument. If you forget to get a permit at the visitor center you will still be okay because you can self fill one out at the trailhead. However, I highly recommend stopping at the visitor center for multiple reasons. The first being to get a map. There’s no cell phone service out there so either pre-download the maps on the Google Maps app or make sure you stop and get one. The second being for carrying out your human waste. It is illegal to leave solid waste down there so to help everyone out in the hiking community they really mean pack out what you pack in. Just do it! It helps everyone out, and it’s only two miles back to the parking lot if you do have to carry it out with you. You can get the proper bags elsewhere, but I found it easiest to get one at the visitor center. The third thing to know is that during certain weeks during the summer deer flies become a problem in the gulch. I was there in late June, and I think I just missed the majority of them hatching; however, I was already starting to notice a few. Next and it should be obvious is to pack a lot of water and bring sunscreen. I don’t need to say more, but the desert is brutal. Lastly bring a water filter with you. The stream looked extremely clean, but to help yourself out for the hike out you will definitely want one to reduce your pack weight on the hike in by carrying less water.
Other than staying hydrated and not hiking in the sun for too long there’s not a whole lot to say that I already haven’t. A hat and sunscreen is highly recommended, but maybe I’m just pushing for this because I hiked it midday in June. Shirley and I also heard rocks falling all of the time down there. I’m sure it’s highly unlikely to be struck, but keep it in mind because when they fall it echos and it is a little eerie. As always gulches can flash flood at any time so keep this in the back of your mind, and always check the weather before hiking. Depending on the time of year you are down there it may be more or less likely than others as goes with the river height after snowmelt. If you’ve made it this far on this post just know this is one of the coolest places I’ve ever seen, and I hope this helps you find this special place for yourself.
This blog is for information purposes only and I ACCEPT NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR ANY INJURY, LOST INDIVIDUALS, OR LEGAL TROUBLE ENCOUNTERED WHILE FOLLOWING THE INFORMATION POSTED HERE.