I love visiting Grand Escalante National Monument in Southern Utah! There is so much variety from arches and interesting rock formations to slot canyons, toadstools, waterfalls, etc. The options for exploration are endless. Unlike many of the national parks in the vicinity, Escalante is much less trafficked but still just as stunning. In this article, I’ll discuss Coyote Gulch – one of the most photographic spots in Escalante. If you have the time, I recommend doing it as a backpacking trip so you can really enjoy it. However, it can also be done as a long day-hike for those with limited time. Since the most impressive scenery is from Jacob Hamblin Arch down to the confluence, you’ll see the best parts during the day hike.
Since our time was limited, we decided to do the out-and-back day hike option starting at the Jacob Hamblin Arch trailhead. To get there, drive on Hole-in-the-Rock Road for 36 miles and take a left at the signed turnoff. Travel for 4.3 miles until you reach a side road on the left leading to a water tank and corral. The hike starts here. We started just before sunrise and were soon treated to some wonderful warm light as we made our way towards the gulch.
Arriving at the gulch, there is a moderately steep section of downclimbing to get to the bottom. It’s not hard to find good handholds so you don’t need ropes. However, I do not advise going this way if you are afraid of heights or are not confident in your abilities. Once you’re in the gulch, it’s like a whole different world. Everything is lush and green, the birds are singing, and the temperature is quite a bit cooler. You’re surrounded by very high sandstone walls that echo and amplify the sounds. A clear-running stream cuts through the middle and is the perfect temperature for wading. From here, you’ll see the mammoth Jacob Hamblin Arch. I didn’t end up taking any pictures of it because it’s just too big to convey well with photos. Plus, the light wasn’t very good. Instead, we quickly made our way up to what is called Swiss Cheese Falls as we wanted to photograph it before sunlight starting entering the canyon.
Swiss Cheese Falls is one of the more photogenic places I’ve visited. To get the shot above, I used a polarizer coupled with a neutral density filter to really get a long shutter speed. Reflected light from adjacent canyon walls made the sandstone just glow. There are also some nice cracks in the rock near the falls that are fun to photograph. The shot below shows the fast flowing creek through one of these cracks.
Before long, we took our hiking boots off and just started walking barefoot down the creek. The soft sand-lined bottom made it very comfortable. In fact, this is probably the longest hike I’ve done barefoot! It was especially beautiful with all the green plants lining the edge of the creek. We did the hike in early June. The temperatures were still great for hiking and there weren’t many bugs to contend with. It wasn’t long before we reached Coyote Natural Bridge. What an impressive sight! You’ll definitely want to stop and take a few pictures here.
As you continue hiking, watch for an opening in the gulch to your left. There is a faint trail heading off in that direction. This area is known as the Hidden Pools. The stagnant water isn’t good for swimming, but you’ll see all kinds of interesting animal life here. In the mucky water we saw several strange bugs that we’ve never seen before! I even managed to get a decent shot of a dragonfly against the dark cliff walls.
Continuing downstream, you’ll pass several waterfalls. What a great way to cool off during the heat of the day.
As we got closer to the confluence, we soon came to a spring flowing right over the canyon wall. The water tasted great although we got pretty wet waiting for the bottles to fill up!
Near the spring, we photographed this small waterfall using a 10-stop ND filter. This allowed us to get the soft water effect even during midday light. I really liked the small swirl we captured at the base of the falls.
Most people will end up exiting the gulch just before the confluence and ascending up the route known as Crack in the Rock. However, we enjoyed the gulch so much that we ended up returning the same way we came. Although it was a little bit longer, it was totally worth it since we got to see parts of the canyon in different light. Once the direct light left the canyon, we stopped several times to photograph the dramatic and colorful alcoves and rock walls.
There’s little doubt why Coyote Gulch is considered a world-class hiking destination. It’s a beautiful, refreshing oasis in the middle of the desert and makes the perfect getaway. I hope to return here soon and when I do, I’ll backpack in and spend at least a couple nights. Happy exploring!
Grand Escalante – Coyote Gulch