Grand Staircase Adventure Route

Updated: Jul 11

Those that relish the pioneer spirit and wide open spaces of the west, will quickly grow fond of Grand Staircase-Escalante and all it has to offer. This is canyon country, and if you enjoy exploring slot canyons, look no further.


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Route Overview


Adventure Rating: Epic

Trip Length: 246 miles, 4-6 days.

Season: March - November. Spring and fall are the optimal season, as the desert heat often reach triple digits during summer. As with most desert trails, avoid after heavy rains.

Technical Rating: Mostly green. However, certain roads within the national monument are susceptible to erosion from heavy rainfall. Check with BLM regarding conditions.

Typical Terrain: A variety of dirt roads, many of which are graded on an annual basis. Left Hand Collet Canyon does have some rockier sections, but nothing technical.

Recommended Vehicle: 4x4 with all terrain tires.

Adventure Vans: Sprinter 4x4s should be able to manage the entire route. Check with BLM regarding trail conditions, as extreme erosion may make passage impossible.

Alternative Routes: Yes. See the bottom of the route guide for more details.


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Route Details

At nearly 1 million acres, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument embodies the frontier spirit of the West. The Kaiparowits Plateau is a massive area of uplifted rock within the park that was also one of the last locations to be mapped in the contiguous United States. Grand Staircase-Escalante's monoliths, slot canyons, arches, and mosaic badlands present a cornucopia of geological wonders for its visitors. The park contains everything from low-lying desert plans to higher elevation coniferous forests, and is famous for its dinosaur excavations. If you're lucky, you may even be able to locate the fossilized dinosaur footprint along Left Hand Collet Canyon Road. Grand Staircase-Escalante has earned its nickname "the Science Monument", from the discovery of countless fossils and a variety of previously unknown dinosaurs. The route begins in the town of Escalante and follows loop in clock-wise direction, although the route can be run in either direction. From town, take highway 12 heading east until you reach the Hole in the Rock Road, a well maintained dirt road. This is one of the most visited areas within the national monument, as it's the main road to reach some of the park's most popular sites like Zebra canyon and Jacob Hamblin Arch. Zebra Canyon (DP1) is just one of the dozens slot canyons that can be accessed within the park (a 5 mile out-and-back hike), and is famous for the varied colored lines in the rock that give it its name. Not far from the Zebra Canyon trailhead sits your second discovery point, Devil's Garden. This unique geological wonder contains a number of strange rock outcroppings, including Dancehall rock, Mono arch, and Metate arch. From Devil's Garden continue south until you reach Left Hand Collet Canyon, and swing a right. For the most part, this is an easy going jeep road with some mild off-camber and rocky sections that provides spectacular views of the surrounding canyon walls. The trail does have a history of deteriorating conditions during years of heavy rainfall (we recommend checking with BLM on conditions). If you're lucky, you might even be able to track down the old dinosaur footprint or locate one of the ancient granaries along the trail. As you reach the top of the canyon, turn left onto Croton Road (road 340). For the most part, Croton Road is a sandy and dusty road with not a whole lot to see en route to Lake Powell and Alstrom Point (DP4). Once the hills give way to a flattened plateau, you'll have reached Sit Down Bench, that sits above Lake Powell. Continue on the route until you reach road 264, which leads to Alstrom Point. Alstrom Point provides for an otherworldly experience. Overlooking Lake Powell, the surrounding terrain looks more like an alien landscape than our own planet. With its exquisite sunsets, sunrises, and full moons, Alstrom Point is a favorite shooting location among professional photographers. Perhaps, best of all, you can camp right at Alstrom Point. When you're ready to depart the exquisite vistas of Alstrom Point, head back the same way you came, and then swing a left onto Road 230, which will bring you to Smoky Mountain Road (turn right). Smoky Mountain Road is a graded dirt road with views of the surrounding mesas. You'll notice the road disappears into the what appears to be a cliff-- this is Kelly Grady, which abruptly climbs 1,200' to the top of the mesa. Be sure to take advantage of the infinite photo opportunities going up Kelly Grade, and at the overlook. Smoky Mountain gets its name from the coal fissures (which you can visit, DP6) that release smoke and pungent odors deep from within the earth. Swing a left onto Smoky Hollow Road (Road 330), which drops you into the canyonlands at the base of the mesas above. Within these canyons you'll come across a number of interesting rock formations and buttes that were shaped through erosion over the eons. When you reach Road 325 (Tibbet Canyon), swing a left. Tibbet Canyon climbs to the top of Nipple Bench. For the most part, Smoky Hollow and Tibbet Canyon are mild dirt roads, without any sort of technical feature (both are susceptible to erosion damage). Keep an eye out for the Nipple Bench badlands (DP7) with its brilliant display of colors across the eroding sedimentary rock. See if you can spot Nipple Butte along the way (hint, it'll be on your left). Once you pass Nipple Butte, the route swings left into Nipple Creek Canyon (Road 327), another interesting canyon filled with a myriad of interesting rock formations. If you dig hoodoos and don't mind a bit of a hike, the Wahweap hoodoos (8 mile round trip) are definitely worth checking out. Soon you'll come to the tiny town of Big Water, which provides the opportunity to stock up on fuel and/or food. Follow the route across highway 89, and continue along the series of dirt roads managed by BLM. As you drop back down to highway 89, consider making the 2 minute trip down to the Toodstool hood0os. The 1.5 mile out-and-back hike leads to an abundance of balancing rock formations that one could easily mistake for a prehistoric mushroom farm. The route continues to the north side of highway 89, onto Cottonwood Valley Road, a graded dirt road. The first discovery point along this leg of the route, is the townsite of Paria, an old ghost town where many western movies were filmed. As you pass the Paria Box trailhead, keep a close eye on the hogs back rock formations on your left, and then on your route. These strange geological formations are known simply as the Cockscomb, and stretch northward for several miles along he canyon's floor. More slot canyons await including Hackberry canyon (DP10) and the Cottonwood Narrows (DP12), which is the more popular of the two. When you reach Road 440 (Four Mile Bench Road), swing a right. Grosvenor arch is one of the more majestic rock formations within Grand-Staircase Escalante (DP13). The final leg of the journey traverses Horse Mountain Road (Road 313) and Death Ridge Road (Road 310). Both are relatively tame trails, but conditions may vary depending on recent weather events and the last time the trails was graded. This portion of the route leaves the desert landscape behind as it climbs to over 7,500' elevation into a coniferous where ponderosa pines thrive. Death ridge descends the highlands until it meets Smoky Mountain Road (Road 300). Smoky Mountain Road continues north to your final destination, the town of Escalante.


Alternative Routes

Coyote Canyon provides access to some of the most awe inspiring geological features within Grand Staircase-Escalante. Jacob Hamblin Arch is an impressively spectacular arch that is worth visiting if you're not pressed for time. Unlike most of the national monument, Hole in the Rock Road does see quite a bit of traffic along the road, and the surrounding trails. The road to the trailhead at Jacob Hamblin is a 55 mile out-and-back event. The best hike in the area is a 12 mile round trip starting at Water Tank trailhead (see All Trails for more info on this hike).



Camping Recommendations

Dispersed camping is permitted in much of the national monument. Backcountry permits are required for all overnight camping in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Permits are free. Contact a Grand Staircase Visitor Center for permits. Some areas restrict camping within the national monument, please check with the Cisitor Center.



Discovery Points

  • DP1 - Zebra Slot Canyon hike

  • DP2 - Metate & Mono Arches

  • DP3 - Left Hand Collet Canyon

  • DP4 - Alstrom Point

  • DP5 - Kelly Grade Overlook

  • DP6 - Big Smokey Coal Fissures

  • DP7 - Nipple Bench Badlands

  • DP8 - Mushroom Rock

  • DP9 - Toadstool Hoodoos

  • DP10 - Hackberry Canyon

  • DP11 - Paria Ghost town

  • DP12 - The Cockscomb

  • DP13 - Cottonwood Narrows Slot Canyon

  • DP14 - Grosvenor Arch


Maps + Navigation


>> Always check with local land managers for road closures and conditions.


Recommended Maps

  • Google Maps

  • Gaia GPS (Nat Geo Trails Illustrated layer, Gaia base layer)

Download GPX file


TIP: To expose alternative routes and points of interest in Google Maps, open the sidebar and select the desired layer.




Resources


Land Managers


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Terms of Use: Should you decide to travel a route that is published on Overlandtrailguides.com, you do so at your own risk. Always take the appropriate precautions when planning and traveling, including checking the current local weather, permit requirements, trail/road conditions, and land/road closures. While traveling, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, and carry the appropriate safety, recovery, and navigational equipment. The information found on this site is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by Overland Trail Guides, the route accuracy and current conditions of roads and trails cannot be guaranteed.



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Northern California