Calf Creek
(Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument)

excerpts from the book
Utah's Incredible Backcountry Trails
by David Day

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Distance: 5.4 miles (round trip)

Walking time: 3 hours

Elevations: 170 ft. gain/loss
     Calf Creek Trailhead (start): 5,340 ft.
     Lower Calf Creek Falls: 5,510 ft.

Trail: Popular, well maintained trail. A trail guide is usually available at the trailhead.

Season: Spring, summer, fall, winter. The trail is very hot in the summer, with temperatures often exceeding 100 degrees F. 

Vicinity: Near Escalante and Boulder

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Calf Creek Trail is the highlight of Calf Creek Recreation Area, a delightful desert oasis maintained by the Bureau of Land Management. The canyon is a haven for birds, beaver, and other wildlife, and it was also once inhabited by the Fremont and Anasazi Indians. Take a booklet with you from the trailhead to help you spot some of the Indian pictographs and two granaries that were constructed by the Indians some 800-1000 years ago. Also, be sure to take a swimming suit with you for use in the pool at the bottom of Lower Calf Creek Falls.

The Calf Creek Trail winds along the west side of Calf Creek, a small desert stream surrounded by vertical walls of white and pink Navajo Sandstone. Not surprisingly, much of the trail is covered with loose sand. As the cliffs erode, the ancient beds of sand from which the Navajo Sandstone was originally made are slowly being returned to the canyon floor. The dominant trees in the canyon are pinion and juniper, although cottonwoods and box elders can also be found along the stream. Many of the latter species show damage from beaver; you can scarcely walk a hundred yards along the stream without seeing a beaver dam.

About 0.9 mile from the trailhead a small stone structure can be seen near the top of the cliffs across the river. This is the remains of a granary built by the Fremont or Anasazi Indians around 1100 A.D. to store the grain they grew on the canyon floor. Another half mile upstream, closer to the canyon floor, the Fremont Indians painted three large ceremonial human figures in red. The coloring of these pictographs is remarkably well preserved despite centuries of exposure to the sun and rain. Still more pictographs and another granary are visible in a small side canyon west of the creek about 1.6 miles from the trailhead.

Calf Creek Canyon was also briefly settled by white settlers in the early 1900s, and at one time there was a fence across a narrow part of the canyon where the homesteaders weaned their calves. A part of the fence can still be seen from the trail, and it was this early ranching activity that gave the canyon its name. Calf Creek was also locally famous for the tasty watermelons its farmers produced. Today, however, the farms and ranches have been long abandoned and very little evidence remains of the early homesteading activity.

Finally, after 2.7 miles, Calf Creek Canyon abruptly dead ends against a 130-foot-high vertical wall of Navajo Sandstone, making it obvious that the end of the hike has been reached. Here the creek emanates from the base of the Lower Calf Creek Waterfall. The setting is beautiful, with a sandy shore, large shade trees, and a clear pool below the fall. Most hikers stay awhile for a swim before heading back.



The book includes more text, more photographs, and trail maps.

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If you are interested in a supplemental map of the Calf Creek area, we recommend:
Canyons of the Escalante (Trails Illustrated, map #710)

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