Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a 1.9 million-acre secret in southern Utah. Not quite sure how it’s remained so hidden but I’ve lived in Utah my entire life and barely knew about it. But within its vast borders are more slot canyons than you can swing a cat at. It has replaced Zion as my new favorite red rock area.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Zion but going there now feels like standing in line for Disneyland on the busier trails. While in Grand Staircase, there are plenty of places in the Park where there isn’t a footfall, let alone a line. There is only one maintained trail in the park and one campground, Lower Calf Creek Falls. Whatever you do, hit the Escalante Interagency Visitor center first. Here you can pick up maps, permits, and plenty of tips on where to go. Because once you hit the park, you’re on your own.
Whatever you do, don’t refer to any of the trails as “trails.” The rangers don’t much like this.
The ranger corrected me three times during our conversation when I used the word “trail” to talk about the pathway to a slot canyon I was searching for. He explained that the park doesn’t maintain any trails so whatever path I may find myself on may or may not lead anywhere. (He was right, learned that lesson for myself.) While I understand his concern, I think he’s fighting a losing battle keeping visitors from using the word trail.
The lack of established trails and campgrounds is a big part of why the monument is far off most people’s radar. All of the roads through the park are maintained gravel roads and most of the trails (excuse me, paths) are several miles off the paved road. I got lost on the way to the first slot I visited because I followed a beaten path to nowhere. Luckily, I had a map to get me back on track.
The closest slot I found to the highway ten miles down a gravel road. But you know what else I found there—no line of people heading down the path. Difficult to get to but the beauty and the wildness, so worthwhile.
Where it is: Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument is the size of Delaware. Where isn’t it, might be a more apt question. Highway 12 runs through the north side of the monument and is the most popular side. That might be because the south side borders Lake Powell so you’d need a boat. You may be familiar with this highway from visiting Bryce but don’t stop at Bryce, keeping going. The road between Bryce and Torrey is a road that should only exist in the imagination and even as you drive it, you question its existence.