They say that getting there can be half the fun. It can also be a drag for the unprepared. The backcountry roads around Escalante can be notoriously bad. Knowing the roads, their condition, and the weather all play a part in delivering you to the trail head and back. Take your time, plan ahead and be prepared.
One of the essential pieces of equipment is a map. Most of the trail heads are located on spur roads off of the main road. Many of these roads are poorly marked and there are countless old ranching roads that really go nowhere. The best map for overall navigation in the area is Trails Illustrated: Canyons of the Escalante. This map shows all of the major roads, trail heads, and geographic features of the land.
Hole in the Rock Road meets Hwy 12 approximately five miles east of Escalante. There are many side roads off of Hole In The Rock which lead out to the trail heads. Some are good and some are not. Here is a listing of the major side roads and what to expect.
HARRIS WASH ROAD
Harris Wash is generally in good shape and passable by car, however, as the road drops down into Harris Wash there are a couple of wash crossings that could be trouble if the weather has been wet. These crossings are about one mile from the trail head. There are some great places to camp close to the trail head.
EGYPT TRAILHEAD SPUR ROAD
The road out to the Egypt Trail Head can be trouble at times and is not recommended for low clearance vehicles. About two miles in, you cross Twenty-Five Mile Wash which is a major drainage and is often not passable after a rain. About six miles in, the road skirts around the head of Egypt 2 Canyon and is rocky and steep. Nine miles in, the road forks. Stay to the right to go to the Egypt Trail Head. The left fork heads out to Allen Dump and an alternate access point into Harris Wash (cross country navigation, only for the experienced).
EARLY WEED BENCH SPUR ROAD
This road gets little use and even less maintenance. The first two miles are the roughest. Great views from the trail head looking down into the Escalante River. Recommended for high clearance vehicles only.
DRY FORK TRAILHEAD SPUR ROAD
A short road that gets lots of use. Usually passable by low clearance vehicles in good weather. Watch the ruts. There is a fork about halfway out, stay left.
RED WELL SPUR ROAD
This short road is OK for low clearance vehicles.
FORTY MILE RIDGE SPUR ROAD
The first four miles to the water tanks is passable for low clearance vehicles. The remaining three miles to the trail head encounter deep sand and four wheel drive is recommended. Be careful at the cattle guard, this one can cause damage to the unsuspecting.
THE BURR TRAIL
The Burr Trail is a spectacular road. Driving out to the top of the Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef National Park is a wonderful escape into the heart of the canyon country. The Burr Trail is paved all the way to the boundary of Capitol Reef National Park (31.2 miles) and is passable by any vehicle. Besides being an incredibly scenic drive, the Burr Trail also allows access to remote and less traveled canyons that drain into the Escalante River from the east. These trail heads can be found along the Wolverine Loop, an unpaved 20 mile loop through some incredible country.
WOLVERINE LOOP ROAD
As the name implies, the Wolverine Loop is a 20 mile side road off of the Burr Trail. It is unpaved and is recommended for high clearance vehicles. Be prepared if venturing out on the Wolverine Loop as it becomes impassable when wet. Take plenty of water, a shovel, and some extra food... you could get caught out there for a day or two longer than expected if the weather turns nasty. Most of the road is in pretty good shape, but it does have its moments. There are numerous wash crossings and possible wash outs (that's where the shovel comes in handy). Inquire locally in Boulder for the latest conditions.
HELL'S BACKBONE ROAD
Hell's Backbone Road is a completely different experience from the other roads mentioned here. This isn't a desert road, but instead takes off into the high country of the Aquarius Plateau. The road was built during the Great Depression Era of the 1930's by the Civilian Conservation Corps as an alternative route between Escalante and Boulder. From Escalante, the road climbs along the Pine Creek Drainage skirting around the heads of The Box and Death Hollow and reaching an elevation of over 9,000 feet above sea level. The road climaxes at the Hell's Backbone Bridge which spans a deep chasm where the heads of Death Hollow and Sand Creek cut deeply into the Navajo Sandstone. From the bridge, the road descends into picturesque farming community of Salt Gulch and intersects Highway 12 about four miles west of Boulder. Hell's Backbone Road provides access to several popular trail heads. The Lower Box and Upper Box access points and trail heads are located on the road and are well signed, as is the Death Hollow Trail Head two miles west of the bridge. There is one of our favorite campgrounds at Blue Spruce just past (east) the Upper Box Trail Head. Sweet.
SMOKEY MOUNTAIN ROAD
Smokey Mountain Road takes you deep into some of the most remote country in the Lower 48 through the Kaiparowits Plateau. From Escalante, Smokey Mountain Road heads south 78 miles to Big Water and Highway 89 near Lake Powell. Driving this high clearance track is no simple undertaking, it is rough and wild! The road is impassable when wet and during the winter months due to snow. The road crosses numerous washes that can strand a vehicle for days after a rain. Be prepared. Carry several gallons of water, extra food, at least one good spare (two are better), and make sure your vehicle is in good working order.
From Escalante, head south on 500 West between the Canyons of Escalante RV Park and the Garkane Power building. After a few turns, this street eventually becomes Smokey Mountain Road. After three miles, the road enters Alvey Wash Canyon. The canyon is spectacular, with high cliffs and wooded benches. Many side canyons join the main canyon and each are worth exploring. This is seldom visited country and when off of the road you are on your own. Archaeology and paleontology abound.
A great backcountry drive can be made by heading south on Smokey Mountain Road about 30 miles to Big Sage Junction. There are some old cowboy shacks and trailers at the junction. Head east to Collet Top and proceed down the south fork of Left-Hand Collet into this deep canyon. Follow the canyon out approximately 15 miles out to Hole In The Rock Road and back north to Highway 12. Always check current conditions of this road before heading out by checking the 'Road Report' on the BLM's new monument website here.
Venturing out onto the backcountry roads around Escalante can be dangerous for the unprepared. Each year scores of vehicles get stuck in sand, stranded by high water, or worse yet, roll off of the road. Many people make the dangerous decision to walk out. Always stay with your vehicle. It provides shelter and is much easier for rescuers to find.
The things that will help you while you are traveling in this wild country are a shovel, some old carpet remnants or small rectangular pieces of plywood ( about 12" by 18"), extra gas, lots of extra water, and some blankets and snacks that can be left in your vehicle for a few days' time. We recommend the plywood or carpeting for extra wheel traction should you find yourself digging out of deep mud or sand. Cell phones often do not work in this part of the world, but if you are in view of Navajo Mountain, it may work. However, don't depend on it.
Do you need a shuttle? Personalized maps? Want to explore somewhere else?
Come see us, we can help. Send us an email or call 435-826-4967.