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Toadstools Trailhead Hike in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Updated on October 13, 2017
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Chuck enjoys traveling and over the years has had the opportunity to visit many places in the U.S. and the world.

Large Toadstool Rock Formation

Large toadstool rock formation that is main draw for visitors stopping for a quick tour of this box canyon.
Large toadstool rock formation that is main draw for visitors stopping for a quick tour of this box canyon. | Source

Driving from Page, Arizona to Zion National Park

It was Monday, the fourth day of our late September mini-vacation exploring National Parks and other outdoor sites along the Northern Arizona-Southern Utah border.

We had spent the night in Page, Arizona and were now heading west along U.S. Highway 89 heading for Zion National Park.

Page, AZ, is the site of the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River which created Lake Powell. Page is just west of the area known as Monument Valley, a high, sandstone plateau over which numerous buttes and other spectacular rock formations are scattered.

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As we first entered Utah the area was much like the area around Page except that the rock formations were more grey and whitish than the reddish sandstone formations found around Page.

As we continued west the outcroppings became fewer and the land mostly a high, flat plateau covered with grass and low desert shrubs. The mountains were still visible but more distant.

We passed a sign stating that we were entering the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, the huge, nearly 2 million acres of land in southern Utah created on September 18, 1996 with an Executive Order issued by then-President Bill Clinton during his campaign for a second term as President. However, except for a couple of signs pointing to roads leading to canyons in the distance on the right, the landscape changed little at the Monument boundary; it continued to be flat, high desert with mountains in the distance.

Caves Along Back Wall of Canyon

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Wanting to get to Zion National Park and hike part of the Narrows Trail through the Virgin River in Zion that afternoon, we ignored the signs and pushed on.

However, a few miles further we found ourselves passing a low band of eroded hills just to the right of the road and another sign pointing to Toadstools Trailhead. Unlike the other signs pointing to distant hiking sites, the small parking lot and gate at the trail entrance were clearly visible from the highway.

On impulse, we decided to slow down and turn into the parking lot with the intention of taking a short break to hike part of the trail and take pictures of what looked like a very interesting area.

My Wife Enjoying the View

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Our plans changed somewhat after parking and reading the information on the sign at the trail-head. Not only did the trail lead to a unique rock formation known as a toadstool, but the trail into the canyon to the toadstool was only eight tenths of a mile and the change in elevation between the beginning of the trail and the toadstool was only 100 feet.

Compared to other mountain hikes we had taken on the trip, which were much longer and involved greater change in elevation, this would be a cake walk. We would hike in quickly, take some pictures, hike back out and be back on the road in no time. The hike was short and easy but the spectacular scenery and photo opportunities ended up keeping us in the area for almost two hours.

Tea Party Formation in Rear of the Canyon

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At the beginning the trail was mostly flat and narrow making it easy to follow. It wound through sandstone rock and in some spots it was necessary to climb over some rocks. As we got into the canyon it became more rocky and harder to follow the trail. However the large Toadstool formation in the canyon was relatively easy to find.

In addition to the Toadstool there were other interesting formations to photograph. In order to get better views and camera angles it was necessary to climb on many of the small boulders that littered the area.

Some caution was needed when climbing on many of the small boulders as the wind and rain had eroded the boulders making them smooth, and also left many of them covered with a thin layer of tiny, loose grains of sand which made it easy to slip and fall if a person was not careful.

Another View of Main Toadstool Formation

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This is a box canyon with one way in and high walls at the rear and sides. In addition to the large toadstool rock formation in the canyon there are some smaller ones in the canyon as well as along the top of the back wall of the canyon.

This Area was Once Covered by a Giant Sea Connecting The Arctic Ocean With the Gulf of Mexico

From about 106 to 66 million years ago, during the last half of the Cretaceous Period of the Earth’s geologic history, the mid-section of North America consisted of a large inland sea, the North American Inland Sea among other names, that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean splitting the North American Continent in two.

At the end of the Cretaceous Period, some 66 million years ago, the land began rising and the waters of the sea slowly drained off into the Atlantic and Pacific oceans leaving behind the huge flat plateau that now comprises much of the land in the U.S. and Canada between the Appalachian Mountains on the east and Rocky Mountains in the west.

Section of National Park Service Sign Explaining Formation of Toadstools

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How the Toadstools Were Formed

Much of the land was sandstone, made mostly from sand on the floor of the North American Inland Sea that was compressed into rock while sitting for millions of years under the weight of the seawater above it - as much as 2,500 feet of water in its deepest parts. In the millions of years that followed the draining of the North American Inland Sea, wind and water (in the form of rain, melting snow, rivers & streams, etc) began to cut into and erode away the relatively soft sandstone exposing the harder rocks within the sandstone.

Some of the harder rock consisted of giant boulders which then tumbled down the eroded slopes and landed on the entrada sandstone below. The hard rock boulders then sheltered the sandstone directly beneath them from much of the erosion. In the eons that followed the sandstone surrounding the sandstone on which the boulders rested was eroded away leaving a thin column of sandstone holding up the boulder that protected it.

Ancient Boulder Sitting Atop a Column of Sandstone

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Traveling to Toadstools Trail-head

The Toadstools Trailhead is located in Utah on the north side of U.S. Highway 89 about 45 miles east of Kanab. There is a sign at the turnoff which is a short dirt driveway that leads to the small dirt parking lot.

There are no facilities and no fee station. However, this is a part of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and since many Federal lands (National Parks, National Monuments, Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management) charge fees and ticket vehicles not displaying an entry permit, so, to be safe, I displayed my National Park Pass on the dashboard while parked there.

Trail Leading Into Canyon

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© 2017 Chuck Nugent

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    • Chuck profile image
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      Chuck Nugent 2 weeks ago from Tucson, Arizona

      Peggy Woods - Thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the article and pictures.

      I suspect that you missed this on your trip is that,Ppior to the creation of the National Monument, the Toadstooles was probably a hike known only to locals and not promoted. The area is just a box canyon in what is otherwise mostly open range for cattle grazing. Except for the sign next to the highway pointing to the canyon entrance and the small dirt parking lot between the entrance and the road one could easily drive by it without noticing anything that much different that the rest of the scenery in the area.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 2 weeks ago from Houston, Texas

      I so enjoyed looking at your photos and reading your descriptions. We so enjoyed our two week vacation many years ago in Utah and saw many different national and state parks. But we did not get to see this. So thanks for writing this!