Coyote Gulch—The Quickest Way In

Updated on September 11, 2018
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Molly is an avid hiker and camper based out of Salt Lake City, Utah. She aims to give a glimpse at some of the best kept secrets in Utah.

While there are hundreds of trails to explore in Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument, Coyote Gulch is something special. A tributary of the Escalante River, Coyote Gulch is a deep canyon surrounded by three-to-four-hundred-foot red sandstone walls. A lazy river winds through the canyon floor below massive arches and shimmering trees, guiding your way from one beautiful destination to the next.

In Coyote Gulch, the desolate desert atmosphere meets the vitality of water-- something those of us from the eastern half of the country seek out as much as possible, especially in the hot Utah summer months.

Down in the gulch, the playful river pushes through the desert floor spilling into waterfalls and pools, winding through bushes and trees. You'll see red rock, sand and succulents, but you'll also see water and trees and wildlife. If you are looking for a little bit of everything, Coyote Gulch is your spot.

Getting There

There are four access points to Coyote Gulch, but the quickest entry is via the water tanks.


BLM 270 approaching the water tanks
BLM 270 approaching the water tanks

From the town of Escalante, the drive to the water tanks is 45 miles on improved dirt roads. From Escalante, take Hole-In-The-Rock Road (BLM200) just out of town about 36 miles to the BLM270 turn off. This can be a bit hard to find, so keep an eye on your odometer.

The remaining four miles will lead you down BLM270 to the water tanks. This whole section of road is unimproved with deep ruts, so high clearance/4x4 is recommended if not necessary. You will leave your car here, sign in on the backcountry log, and head due north to the top of the canyon. This is where a compass could come in handy.

As you approach the canyon, you should be able to see Jacob Hamblin Arch on your left and cairns marking the entry into the canyon.

Marker on bottom left: water tanks parking; red marker on right: confluence of Coyote Gulch & Escalante River
Marker on bottom left: water tanks parking; red marker on right: confluence of Coyote Gulch & Escalante River
Top of the canyon wall
Top of the canyon wall

Entering the Canyon

Now for the tricky part.

The quickest way into the canyon is definitely not the easiest way in, so if you are a beginner or not comfortable on steep slick-rock, then this route is not for you. Luckily, you have three other ways in, so you can still get to Coyote Gulch!

It's a good idea to bring rope (which you should always have with you in the backcountry and in situations like this) to help scale the rock wall, but it is not a necessity.

Once you are at the top of the canyon wall just above and slightly to the right of Jacob Hamblin Arch, there is about a two-to-three hundred foot descent where you will need to scale slick-rock to get to the canyon floor.



Admiring the view on top of the canyon
Admiring the view on top of the canyon
Working our way down the canyon wall
Working our way down the canyon wall
Me on top of the canyon wall, taken from halfway down the wall
Me on top of the canyon wall, taken from halfway down the wall

Scaling this part of the wall was difficult for me because my pack was too heavy for what I could handle on a 45 degree grade. I also majorly underestimated the steepness of the canyon, so I had to make a mental readjustment before I could march onward.

All things considered, we made it to the bottom, with a crowd of onlookers nonetheless!

Getting ready to scale the canyon wall!
Getting ready to scale the canyon wall!

Exploring the Canyon

Once you are in the canyon, you can choose to hike upstream or downstream. We opted to hike upstream to Jacob Hamblin Arch first-- a stop well worth the five minute hike to see the famous arch. Here we saw several tents and tens of hammocks strewn along the foliage next to the giant arch.

If you make the decision to hike all the way in to Coyote Gulch, you have to make a stop at Jacob Hamblin Arch.


Jacob Hamblin Arch
Jacob Hamblin Arch

Hiking to the Confluence- Coyote Gulch & Escalante River

We made this hike a full-day trip, starting from our campsite about a mile downstream from Jacob Hamblin Arch, and ending at the confluence of Coyote Gulch and the Escalante River.

Along the way to the confluence you will see Cliff Arch, several waterfalls, and springs draining down cliffs--all a part of a natural adventure course winding along disappearing sand-walls and slippery slick-rock.


Hiking along the wall to the confluence
Hiking along the wall to the confluence
Cliff Arch
Cliff Arch
Waterfall near Cliff Arch
Waterfall near Cliff Arch
Path less-traveled
Path less-traveled
Shoes off, toes in the ice cold water
Shoes off, toes in the ice cold water

River Meets River

After a day of hiking through the heat on hot rock and sand, it was a well-earned treat to jump into the rushing Escalante river. The cold water was just the refresher we needed to turn around and do the hike all over again back to our campsite.


Refreshing rinse-off where Coyote Gulch meets the Escalante River
Refreshing rinse-off where Coyote Gulch meets the Escalante River
The view from the confluence
The view from the confluence

Camping in Coyote

We found a campsite just downstream from our entry point at Jacob Hamblin Arch under a natural amphitheater that we affectionately named Moon Dome.

We pitched our tent in the back of the cove, and in the evening, the moon rose and hung right beneath the arched wall of our amphitheater.

Campsite at Moon Dome
Campsite at Moon Dome
View from natural balcony off campsite over the gulch
View from natural balcony off campsite over the gulch

Water Filter Needed

The great thing about camping down in the gulch is that there is plenty of water-- All you need is a water filter to make it drinkable.

I recommend bringing enough water to last the hike in, and filtering the rest for the remainder of your trip. This way, you are minimizing weight for the technical hike in.


Grabbing some fresh, cold water to run through my filter
Grabbing some fresh, cold water to run through my filter
Breakfast of champions at the campsite
Breakfast of champions at the campsite

Camp along Forty Mile Ridge Road on Your Way Home

While it's hard to leave Coyote Gulch, you can't stay down there forever.

Keep in mind that after a tiring hike out, you are still 50 miles from civilization. Depending on what your next day looks like, it might be a good idea to camp at one of the many public dispersed camp areas along Forty Mile Ridge Road.

Unexpectedly, this vast, free-range land was one of my favorite campsites. With nothing but scattered sage brush and red rock in the distance, the wide-open deserted land made for a peaceful camp spot to rest before making the long trek home.

The only campers as far as the eye can see
The only campers as far as the eye can see
Only other dweller on Forty Mile Ridge Road
Only other dweller on Forty Mile Ridge Road

A Trip You Won't Forget

Of all the desert trips I have done, Coyote Gulch remains the most magical.

All it takes is a five hour drive from Salt Lake City to Escalante, two hours of driving along a dirt road, a two mile hike to the canyon, and scaling a several hundred foot wall to get there.

Okay, maybe it's not the easiest to get to, but I guarantee it will be worth the trip.

As always, getting there is half the battle and worth all of the wonder to come.

Running through Coyote Gulch
Running through Coyote Gulch

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