Do you know what area of the United States is the newest national monument? The 1.7 million acres of southern Utah desert called Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
This epic sight earned national park status in 1996. Because of its proximity to Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, and Arches National Parks, plus Lake Powell National Recreation Area, you might overlook Grand Escalante National Monument. However, trust us–you’ll want to take a second look.
This beautiful, rugged terrain is worth a visit. Let’s look at why you should visit Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.
Where Is the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument?
This striking National Monument is between a small southern Utah town called Escalante and Kanab, UT. It’s right in the middle of several national parks like Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Glen Canyon.
Although there are no official entrances, you can visit the monument as you travel along Scenic Byway 12 or Highway 89 in Utah. The Escalante Interagency Visitor Center is at 755 West Main Street in Escalante, Utah. Likewise, you can find the Kanab Visitor Center on the west side at 745 East Highway 89 in Kanab, Utah.
About Grand Staircase Escalante
In September 2021, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument celebrated its 25th anniversary. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, it spans right under two million acres in southern Utah. It’s known for its rugged landscape of cliffs, plateaus, and canyons and is rich with fossils and sites for paleontological study.
The Grand Staircase is in a more remote area than other national monuments. Due to this, there are few paved roads leading to trailheads, and some of the dirt roads end in turnarounds. For this reason, you should use 4WD vehicles and drive with caution in the area once you leave paved highways.
Still, these back roads offer striking scenic views, so it’s definitely worth the effort to travel them!
Grand Staircase-Escalante Restored
Back in 2017, President Trump reduced the size by over 860,000 acres. Subsequently, in October 2021, President Biden issued a proclamation modifying the boundaries and restoring the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument to its original size.
The restoration document states that the National Monument “is an object of historic and scientific interest requiring protection under the Antiquities Act.”
So, when you visit the national monument now, there’s even more public land to love.
Pro Tip: Need a place to stay after visiting Grand Staircase Escalante National Park? Check out these 6 Best Kanab RV Parks for Visiting Utah National Parks.
Why You Should Visit: 7 Things to Do and See
This part of Southern Utah is worth your time. You could spend days, weeks, or months exploring Grand Staircase Escalante and the surrounding areas like Bryce Canyon and Glen Canyon.
When you visit, here are seven things worth doing and seeing here.
1. Scenic Drives
Cottonwood Canyon Road is 47 miles long, connecting Kanab to Kodachrome Basin State Park near Scenic Byway 12. On this drive, you’ll see the rugged landscape that Grand Staircase Escalante is known for. In addition, you can take in views of the Paria River valley. You can also park and visit the Grosvenor Arch, an impressive sandstone double arch.
Hole-in-the-Rock is another scenic drive worth checking out. It’s a one-way dirt road excursion for 62 miles through the national monument featuring Devil’s Garden, Peek-a-boo Gulch, and Spooky Gulch along the way. This road is more desolate and remote than Cottonwood Canyon Road, so you wouldn’t want to drive a 2WD vehicle on a rainy day. The Peek-a-boo and Spooky slot canyons are great for hiking.
Scenic Byway 12 is 124 miles of sandstone beauty. The colors and formations are simply breathtaking. You’ll drive through public and private lands, rural communities, three national parks, and three state parks if you drive the entire distance. Powell Point and the Blues rock formation are two of the most popular stops.
2. Lower Calf Creek Falls Hike
There are two waterfalls along Calf Creek – an upper and a lower. The lower is more accessible, easier, and more popular. It’s a six-mile out-and-back trek off Scenic Byway 12.
The beautiful 126-ft waterfall also has a swimming area for visitors. There are numerous other points of interest like beaver dams, a pictograph, and granaries.
There’s a $5 day-use fee charged per vehicle.
3. The Instagram-Worthy Toadstools
One of the most memorable aspects of visiting Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is the toadstools. These rock formations look like mushrooms and present awesome photo ops. The hike is about 1.5 miles roundtrip and also offers stunning views of the Paria River valley.
You can access the trailhead off Highway 89. There are no fees and the trail is dog-friendly. Spring and fall are the best times to visit because it gets very hot during the summer.
Pro Tip: Has the national park bug bit you? If it has, you have to stop at The Best Utah National Parks.
4. Explore the Peekaboo Gulch Slot Canyon
About 26 miles south of Escalante proper is the Peek-a-boo Gulch slot canyon. Traversing through the gulch isn’t physically demanding. However, keep in mind thanks to the various twists and chutes, it does require some skill. Kids especially enjoy meandering through the rock formations.
You can reach Peek-a-boo Gulch from Hole-in-the-Rock Road to Dry Fork Road. Firstly explore Peek-a-book Gulch. Then, you can combine this hike with Spooky Gulch for a total loop of about 3.5 miles.
5. Meander Through Devil’s Garden
Devil’s Garden is also off Hole-in-the-Rock Road. Here, you’ll see hoodoos and the famous Metate Arch. Hoodoos are tall, thin spires of rock and are common in this area of the United States.
There isn’t a hiking trail in Devil’s Garden, but you can leisurely meander through the rock formations and enjoy the scenery. It’s a must-do when visiting Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.
6. Visit Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
Outdoor adventure abounds at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. Enjoy hiking, paddleboarding, kayaking, camping, and more as you visit.
The Petrified Forest Trail is a one-mile loop featuring stunning lava flows and petrified wood. However, don’t take home any pieces of the petrified wood–the only things you should take with you are photos and memories.
7. Visit Coyote Gulch
At Coyote Gulch, you’ll traverse through the famous “Crack-in-the-Wall” fissure, where you’ll probably have to turn sideways to get to the other side. You’ll be able to see the Escalante River and Stevens Arch off in the distance.
The journey to the bottom of the canyon is a little less than three miles. You’ll notice hanging gardens along the canyon walls and see Jacob Hamblin Arch on your way out.
The Coyote Gulch trail is a more strenuous hike of about 11.5 miles.
Is Grand Staircase-Escalante Worth Seeing?
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is absolutely an area worth visiting when you’re near southern Utah.
It’s a beautifully rugged region that differs in landscape from the Sierra Mountains of New Mexico or the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The cliffs, canyons, hoodoos, and arches offer colorful displays of rock formations and tell about millions of years of history.
Which stop is on your must-see list when going to Grand Staircase Escalante? Drop a comment below!
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