(Glen Canyon National Recreation Area)
Utah's Incredible Backcountry Trails
by David Day
Distance: 11.8 miles (plus 2.6 miles by bicycle)
Elevations: 1,015 ft. loss, 1,110 ft. gain
Trail: The most challenging part of this hike is the climb out of Coyote Gulch near Jacob Hamblin Arch. The climb involves scrambling up a 100-foot pitch of slickrock that ascends from the canyon floor at an angle close to 45 degrees. A 100-foot length of rope is useful here for raising backpacks. A compass is also useful for the last part of the hike, which involves a 2-mile cross-country walk from the canyon rim back to Jacob Hamblin Trailhead. Sneakers or other wettable shoes are the most practical footwear inside the canyon, as you will frequently be required to cross the stream bed.
Season: Spring, summer, fall, winter. This area is very hot in the summertime and receives some snow in the winter. The best seasons for the hike are spring and fall. For current conditions call the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center at (435) 826-5499.
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The Escalante River and its tributaries provide many of the most interesting hikes into the desert canyonlands of Southern Utah. Unfortunately the last 30 miles of the Escalante were flooded by Lake Powell after the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam in 1964, but enough attractions still remain to make the Escalante drainage a very special place for outdoor enthusiasts. Coyote Gulch, a side canyon of the lower Escalante, is one of the most popular hikes in the vicinity. With its impressive natural bridge, two arches, and Indian artifacts, it is a particularly good place to sample the wonders of the Escalante drainage.
There are at least five ways to get in and out of Coyote Gulch; hence a number of variations of this hike are possible. Most people begin and end their hike at either Hurricane Wash Trailhead or Red Well Trailhead. The hike down Coyote Gulch to the Escalante River and back from either one of these trailheads makes a very pleasant, if somewhat long, backpacking trip for the whole family. If you are the adventurous type, however, you will probably prefer the route described here. It does require a modicum of rock climbing ability, so if that makes you uncomfortable I suggest you end your hike at Hurricane Wash Trailhead rather than Jacob Hamblin Arch Trailhead.
Day 1 (6.8 miles)
Your access into Escalante Canyon is through a narrow crack in a boulder just below the last cairn on the Forty Mile Ridge Trail. The crack is about 18 inches wide and fifty feet long. If you walk sideways down through this crack you will emerge at the top of an enormous pile of sand that extends nearly all the way from Coyote Gulch to the top of the Navajo Sandstone. Look down to the west and you can see the confluence of Coyote Gulch and the Escalante River about 0.6 mile away. The trail is obvious and easy to follow now. It winds downward over the sand for nearly a mile until it intersects Coyote Gulch, about a half-mile west of the Escalante. As you descend a huge natural arch will soon come into view above the confluence. This is Stevens Arch.
After you reach the bottom of Coyote Gulch you will probably want to drop your backpack and take a side trip to see the Escalante River. It is only a 15-minute walk down the canyon. If you have the time and the inclination for more exploring it is also usually possible to wade or walk along the banks of the Escalante. The water is seldom more than two feet deep (although if the level of Lake Powell is higher than normal the water here may be much deeper). Two hundred yards upstream from the Coyote Gulch confluence there is another fine view of Stevens Arch. The mouth of Stevens Canyon is 1.4 miles above Coyote Gulch.
Continuing up Coyote Gulch you will pass two or three small waterfalls, and then as the streambed enters the Kayenta Formation the valley becomes wider and ascends more gently. Occasionally the trail climbs out of the streambed to circumvent a waterfall, but it never strays far up the side of the drainage. After about an hour you will see Cliff Arch coming into view high on the north side of the canyon. As the name suggests, the arch juts straight out from the sandstone cliff like a giant teacup handle. Slightly upstream from Cliff Arch is a gorgeous waterfall. The drop is only about fifteen feet, but the setting is magnificent.
From Cliff Arch to Jacob Hamblin Arch Coyote Gulch is at its best, with plenty of scenery and nice camp sites. This is about the halfway point of the hike, so you may want to start thinking about a camp site as you continue on.
Day 2 (5.0 miles)
A hundred yards before reaching the Fremont pictograph panel the trail passes the mouth of a small heavily vegetated side canyon on the right that is also worth stopping to explore. An intermittent stream occasionally flows out of the small canyon, and there is a dense growth of joint weed at its mouth. Look carefully and you can see a primitive hiker-made trail that leads through the joint weed into the canyon. After only five minutes the trail ends beneath a large alcove at the back of the canyon. There is a spring here and water seeps prodigiously from the porous sandstone to fill a small pond called the Black Lagoon. The pond is 30 feet across and looks to be about 5-10 feet deep at its deepest point. The Indians who lived in the canyon before 1300 AD must have visited the Black Lagoon often, because a line of toe holds has been chipped into the sandstone above the pond at the end of the trail. The steps don't appear to lead anywhere now, but perhaps there was once a granary on the bench above the water.
0.7 mile past the pictographs the trail passes under Coyote Natural Bridge, a 50-foot span of sandstone that arcs directly across the path. There is also another Indian ruins site in an alcove on the north side of Coyote Bridge. One of the dwellings can easily be seen from the upstream side of the bridge about 150 yards north of the trail.
Jacob Hamblin Arch, the last and most impressive of Coyote Gulch's sandstone arches comes into view 1.7 miles above Coyote Natural Bridge. This arch is very imposing. The actual opening is only about 150 feet wide by 100 feet high-not extremely large as Utah's arches go. But the sandstone columns that support the arch are enormous, and the rock above the arch is at least 150 feet thick. It probably would not look so intimidating if it were located on the top of the mesa, but being confronted with this massive geological sculpture in the narrow confines of the canyon makes one feel as insignificant as an ant.
On the south side of Jacob Hamblin Arch, where the stream bends around the obstacle, the flowing water has scooped out an undercut in the canyon that is 500 feet wide, 300 feet high, and at least 200 feet deep. The acoustics in the center of this alcove are incredible. If you stand it the center of the concave opening and strike two rocks together you can hear at least a dozen echoes that together sound like rolling thunder.
There are several nice camp sites in the vicinity of Jacob Hamblin Arch, and there is an excellent spring on the north side of the canyon 200 feet below the arch. This area is very popular with campers, and in an effort to keep the canyon clean the Park Service has constructed a pit toilet 200 feet below the spring on the south side of the canyon
The route out of Coyote Gulch begins 20 feet west of the path to the toilet. From there it is possible to scramble up a long toe of sandstone that descends into the canyon from the south rim. The climb is not difficult, but it does require a small amount of rock climbing ability. The difficult part of the scramble lasts for about 100 feet; the amount of exposure is minimal and if you can get up the first 30 feet you should have no difficulty with the rest. Look carefully at the stone face near the bottom and you will notice several eroded depressions in the rock that can be used for toe holds. These holes were chipped out of the rock centuries ago by ancient canyon dwellers that used this same route in and out of the gorge. A 120-foot length of rope will come in very handy at this point for pulling up backpacks and perhaps some of the less agile members of your party. If you donít feel comfortable with the climb you can also exit the canyon through Hurricane Wash which crosses the road 7.8 miles further upcanyon.
Once you reach the rim of the canyon walk due south for two miles to intersect the road along Forty Mile Ridge. The trailhead where you left your shuttle car is on the top of a small knoll that will come into view after about a mile.
If you are interested in a supplemental map of the
Coyote Gulch area, we recommend:
Canyons of the Escalante (Trails Illustrated, map #710)