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Posts tagged “Utah Highway 12”.

Lower Calf Creek Falls, Utah

The Ten Best Hikes in Utah.”

“Utah’s 15 Most Scenic Trails”

“20 Hikes You Shouldn’t Miss in Utah”

Lots of these “authoritative” lists turn up whenever you Google any permutation of “best hikes Utah.” And it’s all click bait: fluff masquerading as useful, meaningful information.

Sure, the showcased hikes are goods ones. But they’re obvious choices: widely known, popular, crowded. No actual hiking, and no genuine research was necessary to cobble together these lists. “Content” like this is quickly, easily skimmed from other, equally shallow, online sources. That’s why there’s so little beyond the photos. It’s superficial, unreliable, lacking in critical detail, and poorly written.

Of the hikes in Grand Staircase—Escalante National Monument, near the towns of Boulder and Escalante, Utah, two trails that always appear on such lists are Lower Calf Creek Falls, and Upper Calf Creek Falls. Try it. Google “Best Hiking Trails Escalante, Utah” or “escalante utah hiking trails. These two hikes will always be among the first-page results. But before you enshrine these hikes in your trip itinerary, here’s what you need to know…

As recently as five years ago, the Lower Calf Creek Falls trailhead was rarely full of vehicles. You could almost always find space to park, or an empty site at the creekside campground. Then came a trumpet-blast of publicity. Utah’s Mighty 5 advertising campaign urged the world to visit the state’s five national parks and recommended driving Highway 12 between Bryce and Capitol Reef parks, passing Calf Creek along the way. Meanwhile, various publications named Highway 12 among the most spectacular roads in the world.

Calf Creek visitation, and Highway 12 traffic, soon exploded. Above is a photo—taken on a 90°F day in June—showing the Calf Creek Recreation Area parking lot overflowing. When the weather is cooler, and the hiking conditions more desirable, Calf Creek is even more crowded than this. Parked cars spill out onto the highway. Airborne dust on the Lower Calf Creek Falls trail never settles, because the hiker traffic is nearly constant.

If you need a constructed, defined trail to feel comfortable hiking in Grand Staircase—Escalante National Monument, this six-mile-round-trip path to Lower Calf Creek Falls is one of your few choices. The scenery is superb the entire way. The canyon walls are sheer and colorful. The waterall drops 126 feet into a pool within a sculpted bowl graced with profuse greenery. You’ll even glimpse native rock-art along while you hike. That’s why we included Lower Calf Creek Falls in our book, Hiking from Here to WOW: Utah Canyon Country.

Our book also includes the nearby, 35-minute route descending 660 feet—among black boulders scattered across rippling, cream-colored Navajo sandstone—to 50-foot Upper Calf Creek Falls. This isn’t a trail, but the route is well-cairned. And the upper falls is a beautiful, refreshing sight. Water bursting forth in the desert, creating a lush sanctuary, seems a miracle. But Upper Calf, like Lower Calf, is now high on the to-do list of every hiker who passes this way. It’s common to see a dozen cars at the trailhead, unless you’re there mid-summer or mid-winter, when it’s either too hot or too cold to hike comfortably, and hypothermia or steep ice could pose serious risks.

But there’s vastly more to Grand Staircase—Escalante National Monument than Lower and Upper Calf Creek Falls. Most of the five-star hiking here is difficult or impossible for visitors to experience on their own, because it’s undocumented, unpublicized, largely unknown. The monument’s best dayhikes not described in guidebooks or indicated on maps. That’s because there are very few actual trails in this 1.8 million-acre wilderness. The best hiking is on cross-country routes too complex for most hikers to decrypt without a local guide.

Intrigued? With our help, the time you spend hiking in Utah near Escalante and Boulder will be among the most vividly memorable experiences of your life. We’re Craig & Skye Copeland, and Adam Harmon. We’re the Utah Slickrock Guides. We invite you to get in touch with us, even on short notice. Contact  nomads@hikingcamping.com  – (435) 335-7544. Describe your interests, experience and ability. Knowing all that, we can ensure you don’t waste your time in Utah canyon-country.

Want to hike only a few hours? All day? Several days during a week? Let’s do it. Our routes vary from four to eight hours. Compared to hiking a trail, you’ll find cross-country hiking with us is way more flexible and exciting. Compared to hiking in a forest, you’ll find hiking on slickrock elicits childlike joy. And compared to anywhere else on our planet, you’ll find the Boulder / Escalante region is slickrock-hiking central.

Surrounding Utah Highway 12 is a remote, serene, sunny wilderness fissured with chasms, crusted with slickrock, studded with domes, reefs, buttes and pinnacles, and infused with the mystery of an ancient culture. Come explore it with us.

After he and his family hiked an eight-hour day with us, here’s what one of our clients recently said:  That was the best hike I’ve done in years, far exceeding my expectations.”

Join us—in person, or in print:

Escalante Utah hiking trails

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“Escalante Utah hiking trails” or “hiking trails near Boulder Utah” are short phrases with vast meaning. It covers a lot more ground than simply the hiking trails near Escalante Utah.

Many hikers familiar with Escalante assume “Escalante Utah hiking trails” refers to the hiking opportunities accessed via the Hole in the Rock Road, which departs Utah Highway 12 just east of the town of Escalante and probes Grand Staircase—Escalante National Monument.

All the hiking trails near Escalante Utah are detailed in our guidebook titled Hiking from Here to WOW: Utah Canyon Country. These trails or cairned routes include Neon Canyon and Golden Cathedral, Hurricane Wash & Coyote Gulch, Willow and Fortymile Gulches, Peek-A-Boo and Spooky slot canyons. Directly off Utah Highway 12, our book describes the 15-mile one-way hike, from Escalante town to the confluence with Calf Creek, through the Escalante River Canyon. WOW Utah also describes the popular hiking trails near Boulder Utah: the 3-mile, one-way trail to Lower Calf Creek Falls, and the 40-minute route to Upper Calf Creek Falls.

But Utah’s five-star, high-desert hiking extends far beyond Escalante, the Hole in the Rock Road, and even our guidebook.

That’s because there are actually very few trails in Grand Staircase—Escalante National Monument. Most of the hiking here is cross-country. Much of it requires complex route finding. And a lot of it is undocumented, unpublicized, unknown. You won’t find it described in any guidebook or indicated on any map. So it’s difficult or impossible for visitors to experience on their own. The only way for most hikers to decrypt these routes is with the help of Escalante Utah hiking guides. And we can confidently recommend three of them: us — Adam Harmon, Skye and Craig Copeland.

Together we have decades of combined hiking experience in Utah canyon country. We’re among the few who hold a permit issued by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to guide in GSENM. And all of us have completed Wilderness Emergency First Responder training.

The routes we guide are cross-country. They’re known to only a handful of locals. They’d be extremely difficult for others to find—even if they knew what to look for and where, which they don’t.

Contact us a day before, or weeks before: nomads@hikingcamping.com.  

The scenery you’ll witness with us ranges from sublime to bizarre, from intimate to immense. The physical challenge you’ll face with us depends on your experience and ability, as well as your interests, preferences and goals.

When we guide, it’s not about setting a pace and pushing people to keep up. We can hightail it, and you’re welcome to do so with us. But we don’t expect you to. We believe guiding is about creating the optimal experience for our guests.

If you want your day hiking near Boulder Utah to be at a leisurely pace, we can and will. If you want to stop frequently for photography, we’ll do so, and we’ll help you find optimal vantage points and lighting opportunities. If you want to gaze, absorb, meditate, we’ll do it with you.

Guiding entails leading, of course. But that shouldn’t mean you’re relegated only to following. Before setting out, we’ll ask you questions and listen to your answers. Then we’ll do our best to ensure our day together unfolds according to your expectations as well as ours.

What distinguishes us as Escalante Utah hiking guides, however, is…

  • We believe constantly trying to entertain and inform you is a distraction. Sure, we enjoy people. We want to get to know you. We’re easy to be with, and we have fun. But unlike many guides, who regale you with stories and factoids you’ll soon forget, we’re comfortable with silence.  

The grandeur of canyon country speaks eloquently for itself. Too much information or perpetual chitchat prevents hikers from being fully present: seeing, hearing, feeling. If you can quiet your mind, the power of this mystical place will touch you profoundly and resonate with you forever.

  • We can do much more than lead you on easy, short, scenic walks. We can guide truly adventurous dayhikes. Ambitious, athletic, accomplished hikers will find a day with us is challenging, exciting, and gratifying.

Some of the routes we guide allow variation: you can follow your bliss and still tag all the waypoints. But several of our routes link obscure passages that can be pierced only by navigating with surgical precision. And a few of our routes are long, spanning rough terrain, with substantial elevation gain and loss, so they’re physically demanding.

Finding our routes is the result of years of hiking. Tuning these routes required dogged reconnaissance. The on-foot tweezing-out of secrets hidden in a topo map demands patience, tenacity, curiosity, and love for the land. It’s an art. And our fellow guide Adam Harmon is an artist. His medium is sandstone. He’s the art director for our group of Escalante Utah hiking guides.

The three of us—Adam, Skye and Craig—invite you to journey with us to the inner realm of Utah canyon country: far beyond the well-known hiking trails near Escalante Utah.

Peruse the accompanying details, then send your questions to us: nomads@hikingcamping.com. Or, if you’re in our area, and you’re keen to hike soon, phone us: (435) 335-7544.

Join us—in person, or in print:

Utah State Highway 12 between Escalante and Boulder

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Utah State Highway 12 between Escalante and Boulder is among the most impressive lengths of paved road ever constructed. It’s in the northeast corner of Grand Staircase—Escalante National Monument, and this area is the slickrock-hiking capitol of Planet Earth. After a bit of history about this road linking ranching communities, we’ll get back to the hiking possibilities.

Mormon pioneers first rode on horseback, from Escalante to Head of the Rocks, creating a couple astonishing routes into the river canyon where it meets Calf Creek. In 1895, Amasa Lyman and his three sons were the first to get a wagon down (by dismantling it in places) to Calf Creek, then up over a sharp ridge of volcanic rock across New Home Bench, across Boulder Creek, and into the Boulder community.

In 1935, the Civilian Conservation Corps (established across the country by Roosevelt during the Depression) started building a road from the flat lands ending at Head of the Rocks. A dug way was blasted along 2 miles of sandstone rock face to carry the road into Calf Creek canyon. Up it went over a narrow strip of land (now locally known as “the Hogsback”) and dropping sharply off both sides into dramatic tributary canyons of the Escalante River Canyon.

By June 1940, Boulder could finally be reached via a year-round, all-weather road. This magnificent road is recognized asthe premier project of the CCC’s skills. It’s a testimony to the hard-working men who did not have engineering degrees, but who had practical judgment, resourcefulness, and perseverance.

If you’re a hiker, and you’re reading this as a result of Googling the phrase “best hikes utah highway 12,” you’ve zeroed in on much more than the best hikes near Utah Highway 12. You’ve pinpointed what we consider the most fascinating hiking anywhere.

Sure, you’ll find a few of the best hikes off Highway 12 in the guidebook Kathy and Craig wrote. It’s titled Hiking from Here to WOW: Utah Canyon Country. Our book describes the 3-mile, one-way trail you’ll share with hordes of people walking through a stunning red-rock canyon to Lower Calf Creek Falls. For experienced and very fit hikers, tackle the 15-mile Boulder Mail Trail that crosses extraordinary Death Hollow. The elevation change is a 3320-ft loss and a 2500-ft gain.

Most of the five-star hiking accessed from Highway 12, however, is difficult or impossible for visitors to experience on their own. It’s undocumented, unpublicized, largely unknown. That’s because there are very few actual trails in Grand Staircase—Escalante National Monument. The best hiking here is on cross-country routes too complex for most hikers to decrypt without a local guide.

Intrigued? With our help, you can sample the “best hikes utah highway 12.” We’re Craig and Kathy Copeland, and Adam Harmon. We’re the Utah Slickrock Guides. We invite you to get in touch with us, even on short notice. nomads@hikingcamping.com (435) 335-7544

Tell us your interests, preferences, and goals. Describe your experience and ability. Knowing all that, we can spice your Utah Highway 12 drive with a big, bold, mundane-existence-shredding accomplishment on foot. And we’ll leave the crowds behind.

Want to hike only a few hours? All day? Every day for a week?

Let’s do it. Our routes vary from four to eight hours. We can dial the physical challenge up or down, as you wish. Compared to hiking a trail, you’ll find cross-country hiking with us is way more flexible and exciting.

Surrounding Utah Highway 12 is a remote, serene, sunny wilderness fissured with chasms, crusted with slickrock, studded with domes, reefs, buttes and pinnacles, and infused with the mystery of an ancient culture. Come explore it with us.

“Do big things, or little things will do you.” 

—Utah Slickrock Guides

Join us—in person, or in print:

Cycling Mt. Lemmon, Tucson, Arizona

A Paved Road So Compelling, We Asked Ourselves “Why Hike When We Can Ride?”

Though hiking is our focus in life, we occasionally take a break from the backcountry to go road cycling. Riding is an effective way to stay fit when trails are snow covered but paved roads remain dry.

Choose the right road, and cycling can be just as scenic as hiking—perhaps more so, if you factor in how far you can ride in a day and how much scenery that distance allows you to appreciate compared to a day on foot.

During our recent foray to Tucson, Arizona, we brought our road bikes. Sure, winter hiking is superb there. But while driving to trailheads in the Santa Catalina Mountains last winter, we realized the highway climbing from Tucson up 9157-ft (2792-m) Mt. Lemmon is a world-class road ride on par in every respect with Mont Ventoux, of Tour de France fame. We had to try it.

Lemmon is the highest and largest massif of the four sky-island mountains surrounding Tucson. Sky Island means an island of forest in a sea of desert. Lemmon towers over Tucson, and the highway (skyway, is more like it) affords views of other, prominent sky-islands including Tanque Verde Mtn (nearby SE), Rincon Peak (distant SE), and Mt. Wrightson (SE).

The road has many names. Most people call it the “Mt. Lemmon Hwy.” Some call it the “Catalina Hwy.” And it’s now officially the “Sky Island Scenic Byway.” The mountain was named in honor of botanist Sarah Lemmon, who in 1881 was led to the summit by Native American guides.

The ride is spectacular, exhilarating, challenging. It’s a constant, serpentine, cliff-side ascent above canyons, beneath hoodoo pinnacles, ultimately into a grand forest. It climbs from sand to ice, from saguaro cacti to ponderosa pines, from snakes to bears. Views are frequent, often panoramic. And the pavement is perfection: smooth, with a slender-but-adequate shoulder providing a margin of safety. In all of North America, very few roads offer such magnificent cycling.

As for vehicle traffic, cyclists can relax on the Mt. Lemmon Hwy. The road is so sinuous, it’s difficult for motorists to drive dangerously fast. If you ride here midweek, you’ll encounter only light vehicle traffic. And if you ride here on a weekend, when vehicle traffic increases markedly, you’ll be among many other cyclists strung out along the entire route, so motorists will be alert to your presence. Plus, Tucson is a bike-friendly city where—generally—cyclists are expected and accepted. In that regard, Tucson is refreshingly European.*

The Mt. Lemmon Hwy was completed in 1950 after 17 years of construction. It was awarded the Arizona Engineering Excellence Grand Award for Context Sensitive Design in 2005, because it deftly preserved the tumultuous terrain and delicate environment.

We’ve cycled Hwy 1 along California’s Big Sur Coast, the Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rockies, and Utah’s Hwy 12 from Escalante to Capitol Reef National Park via Boulder and Torrey. All are premier rides. But Mt. Lemmon is our favorite.

In December, 2009, Team Radioshack trained for the 2010 Tour de France on Mt. Lemmon. No wonder. Winter weather here is so consistently sunny and warm that you can usually ride in shorts and short sleeves. Only if it gets windy higher on the mountain might you need tights and a wind shell.

Our first day on Mt. Lemmon, we cycled 14 miles (22.5 km), gaining 3,500 ft (1067 m) from elevation 3050 ft (930 m), to Windy Point Vista, at 6560 ft (2000 m). Pedaling at our loping, “scenery first” pace, it took us about one hour and 40 minutes, plus 20 minutes for stretching and refueling. Bear in mind, we stopped and gawked at all the vista pullouts. We recommend you do, too, even though your bike already grants you a vastly better view than is possible from a car.

Going that slow was a joy. We were constantly captivated by the views and astonished by the highway itself. In some places, only if you tilt your head way back will you see the highway almost directly above you. Yet only a few, brief sections of pavement qualify as “steep.” Languorous switchbacks keep the ascent mercifully gradual.

The 14-mile, downhill blast is ecstatic. From Windy Point Vista, we probably pedaled no more than a dozen crank revolutions (in the vicinity of Green Mtn trailhead). We arrived at our parked car within 35 minutes.

We were back on Mt. Lemmon a week later. This time we covered 20 miles (32.2 km), gaining 4895 ft (1492 m) to the Palisade Visitor Center at 7945 ft (2422 m). The 20-mile, downhill blast: 50 minutes. Emotional effect: a strong, lasting desire to return to Tucson and ride Mt. Lemmon again and again.

You’re a hiker who rides? Mt. Lemmon is one of those rare places where you might prefer a bike beneath your bum instead of a pack on your back.

Getting There

Drive to the junction of Sabino Canyon Road and Tanque Verde Road. This is in NE Tucson. Udall Park is on the SE corner. Reset your trip odometer to zero here, then proceed E on Tanque Verde.

1.2 mi (0.75 km) Bear left on Tanque Verde Road, where right leads to Wrightstown and Pantano Road.

4 mi (2.5 km) Turn left onto Mt. Lemmon Hwy.

7.3 mi (4.5 km) Park on the right, just beyond milepost 1, at 3050 ft (930 m).

The Ride

0 mi (0 km) Milepost 1, at 3050 ft (930 m).

5.7 mi (9.2 km) Molino Basin rest area, at 4370 ft (1332 m).

9 mi (14.5 km) Thimble Peak Vista, at 5320 ft (1622 m). Here you can peer W, across Bear Canyon—the largest drainage in the Santa Catalina Mtns. Seven Cataracts Vista is shortly beyond, followed by three long switchbacks. Soon enter a forested canyon. Beside you is a creek drainage harboring sycamore trees.

12 mi (19.3 km) General Hitchcock campground, at 5920 ft (1805 m). It’s closed (gated) during winter.

14 mi (22.5 km) Windy Point Vista, at 6560 ft (2000 m). A spectacular vantage. Public toilets. In the next couple miles, you’ll pass Geology and Hoodoo vistas.

17.6 mi (28.3 km) San Pedro Vista. The Galiuro Mtns are visible E.

20 mi (32.2 km) Palisades Visitor Center, 7945 ft (2422 m). Pass a water faucet and public toilets on the right, just before arriving.

25 mi (40.25 km) Village of Summerhaven, 8080 ft (2463 m).

*Here’s another, exceptional ride in Tucson. Drive to the East section of Saguaro National Park. From the visitor center, cycle the 8-mi (13-km) Cactus Loop. Do it twice. The scenery is good, the pavement smooth, and the midweek vehicle traffic is nil.


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Hiking and camping in the wilderness can be dangerous. Experience and preparation reduce risk but will never eliminate it.

Information published in a book or on a website—regardless how authoritative—is not a substitute for common sense or sound judgment. Your safety is your responsibility. The unique details of your specific situation and the decisions you make at that time will determine the outcome.

When hiking, threats to your wellbeing are unpredictable; you must always be aware. In the backcountry, risk is subjective; you must gauge it for yourself. Away from civilization, small mistakes can have severe consequences; you must vigilantly prevent injury and avoid becoming disoriented.

Never hike alone. Before setting out, check the weather forecast and current trail conditions; adjust your plans accordingly. Always carry a map and compass, a first-aid kit, extra clothing, a personal locator beacon, plus enough food and water to survive an emergency.

If you doubt your ability to negotiate rough terrain, respond to wild animals, or handle sudden, extreme weather changes, hike only in a group led by a competent, licensed guide.

The authors and the publisher disclaim liability for any loss or injury incurred by anyone using information published on this website or in the books presented on this website.