Molly is an avid hiker and backcountry camper based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She is a former Yellowstone NP employee.
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.
There are four access points to Coyote Gulch, but the quickest entry is via 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: I am hoping to hike the Coyote Gulch from March 28th to April 2nd. Have you completed the entire hike?
Answer: I have not done the 10-mile portion, but I have heard good things! It is definitely a much easier, relaxed way of doing the hike. Just make sure you bring tons of water and a filter. That weekend should be great weather.