Backpacking Coyote Gulch in Grand Staircase – Escalante, Utah

Sometimes Mom and Dad need a break! This weekend we were lucky to take the best kind of break – one that involved fresh air, sleeping in a tent, carrying everything you need for two nights on your back for 30 miles, and laughing with friends. Okay, not everyone can agree with the appeal of number two and three on that list but if you are reading this post you are at least intrigued. If you are considering backpacking or day hiking in Coyote Gulch, Utah, I’ve compiled planning and packing tips, as well as our route and experience. Coyote Gulch is a popular backpacking destination in Escalante because it has two arches, a natural bridge, waterfalls, winding semi-narrow canyon, beautiful water and red-rock features, trees, and overall feels like a desert oasis.

Coyote Gulch is located in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It’s Northeast of Lake Powell, and Southeast of the town of Escalante.  Get up to date information on alerts and park closures here

Text reads 2 Nights in Utah Backcountry in Coyote GUlch


Coyote Gulch has a few different entry points. The most popular access points are through the Red Well Trailhead, Fortymile Ridge Trailhead, or Hurricane Wash Trailhead. Fortymile Ridge looks like an interesting approach as we saw hikers climbing down a ~100 foot pitch of slick rock (with a rope) at about a 45 degree angle. While this is a faster, more direct way to get into the gulch, we opted for the longer but more straightforward out and back route starting at Hurricane Wash Trailhead.


Our itinerary (and stats below) include three days of hiking and two nights of camping. We hiked into the canyon on day 1 to our campsite at Jacob Hamblin Arch, then did an out and back day hike on day 2 to Cliff Arch and back to our campsite at Jacob Hamblin Arch, and finished with a hike out back to Hurricane Wash Trailhead on day 3. The mileage below reflects the full hike from Hurricane Wash Trailhead to our furthest destination of Cliff Arch and back.

  • Miles: I joke about 30 miles above, as our Strava did calculate 30 miles from Hurricane Wash to Cliff Arch (with some exploring around). However, we believe that Strava was having some difficulty tracking distance within the canyon walls as all of us had different numbers. I’ll trust the National Park Service and some estimation, which is closer to 20 miles total from Hurricane Wash Trailhead to Cliff Arch and back.
  • Elevation gain: Very minimal as Strava says 500 feet of gain on day 3 on the way out. Any other elevation was negligible and more from side scramble explorations.
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Type: Out and back
  • Time: We hiked for three days. On day 1 to get into Coyote Gulch, we hiked for 2 hours and 45 minutes of moving time.  On day 2 for our light day hike we hiked 4 and half hours of moving time. For day 3 to get back to our car, we hiked about 2 hours and 40 minutes of moving time.
  • Dog friendly: No
  • Campfires allowed: No
  • Bathrooms at trailhead: No
  • Cost & Reservations: Free, but self-issue permits needed, see more below in the tips

Map: As always, I recommend a good ole’ fashioned paper topo map! Here’s the Nat Geo Topographical Map for Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument. Here’s day one, two, and three on our Strava map.

Trail map day 1
Trail map picture
Trail map

To get to the Hurricane Wash trailhead, you take Hole in the Rock Road for 33 miles, with the road being rough, rocky, and sandy for this entire portion. We were lucky to have our 4-wheel drive vehicle but I did see some smaller 2 wheel drive cars in the parking lot.  Regardless, plan for a slow drive. When we arrived we were faced with our first obstacle as a rear tire had gone flat! We decided to change the flat before hiking so we wouldn’t be dreading it after the hike. Luckily, with 3 engineers in our group, they were able to change the tire quickly to our full size spare (thank goodness we had one as there is no cell service this far down the dirt road—be prepared!). While the tire was getting changed, I set my backpack on a red ant hill so obstacle number 2 was getting all of the ants off of my pack before we started hiking. The good news is we got our “obstacles” out of the way before the hike began!

Perhaps the third obstacle is the hike into the gulch. We were excited to be there, so the dusty hike in went by quickly.  But no amount of enthusiasm can mask the fact that this portion is brutal as it’s sandy, hot, dry, and has no shade. The only thing that this section has going for it is that it’s a gradual descent. But of course, that means a gradual ascent through the same hot and dry desert on the way back. Have I sold you yet on this hike? No? Keep reading.

Hiking near high canyon walls
Glen Canyon Recreation sign

After about 5 miles, we started seeing hints of the oasis ahead. The canyon walls started getting higher and the trail more lush.

Rocky and sand trail
Desert oasis

Once you get into the canyon walls, you can camp anywhere that you choose. There are many options containing easy access to water and flat, soft surfaces — the best among these include shade provided by the canyon walls. We had our hearts set on camping below Jacob Hamblin Arch, so we continued pressing on even though there were a few spots that were enticing. At around 7 miles, we made it to Jacob Hamblin Arch and were pleasantly surprised (more like giddy and shocked) that no one had snagged the iconic campsite below the arch yet.

Couple standing under arch
Jacob Hamblin Arch

We set up camp and spent the afternoon exploring the area. Jacob Hamblin Arch is the most popular feature of the Coyote Gulch area, so we felt very fortunate to call it home for the two nights. The arch is about 150 feet wide and 100 feet tall (so relatively small by Utah arch standards), but it is breathtaking squeezed into this narrow canyon. It’s also unique because the arch sits right at a bend in the stream and therefore can be seen from multiple angles. Once camp was set up, we scrambled up the rocks to see the view.

Campsite at Jacob Hamblin Arch in Coyote Gulch
View from Jacob Hamblin Arch

We were pretty gassed from the hot hike in, so we made dinner (Mountain House Lasagna for me as always!) and hung out at camp for the afternoon and into the evening. Not pictured below are the 8-10 bats that were constantly swarming, diving, and eating bugs right above our heads. Our group had too many “bat stories” for my comfort, but we were ultimately grateful for their presence as bugs were not a nuisance as expected in a campsite right on a stream. There are no campfires allowed in this recreation area so our string LED lights were a hit. Also, the coveted items were our lightweight backpacking camp chairs.

Night at camp
Arch after dark

The next morning, after a leisurely camp breakfast and coffee, we headed out on our day hike. The beauty of this area for hiking is that there isn’t a set destination that you have to reach. Our plan was to hike anywhere from 3 to 12 miles, just turning around whenever we wanted. Spoiler alert, we ended up hiking 13 miles. Don’t be fooled by Bryce’s big backpack below (or the mileage I just mentioned), this was indeed just a day hike! The one thing we forgot to add to our packing list was a small day hiking backpack.

Canyon walls in Coyote Gulch
Green trees and red canyon walls

About 2 miles from Jacob Hamlin Arch is the Coyote Natural Bridge. This was my favorite “arch” of the hike because the stream and trail continue right beneath it the 50 foot sandstone. 

Coyote Natural Bridge in Coyote Gulch
Coyote Gulch Cliff arch

The trail just continues to get more beautiful as you head deeper into Coyote Gulch. It’s such a unique experience hiking along and through the stream. The majority of our group opted for sandals like Chacos for the hike, and they performed well. Bryce wore these water sandals, which were a new replacement from his Crocs. They held up great for the full dayhike and made for convenient camp shoes and the butt of fashion jokes. Of course, I had to give him a hard time with the style, but at least he gets style points for his stream jumping below. One of our hikers preferred her trail runners, but I’m pretty sure she doubled our mileage that day trying to find crossings and trails beside the stream.

Man jumping across stream
Stream in Coyote Gulch

One of the more impressive aspects as we continued were the small falls and sculpted sandstone water features. Some of the pools were waist deep in areas, and the water was the perfect temperature for a cooling dip.

Balancing rock
pools in Coyote Gulch

We stopped for a snack break at a small waterfall which ended up having multiple waterfalls below that looked up at Cliff Arch (also known as Jug Handle Arch). We decided it made for the perfect “destination” so this would be the end of our trek. Or the halfway point if you consider the hike back.

Man backpacking in Utah
Cliff Arch

We spent some time having lunch, relaxing and taking photos. It was a great destination spot for us, but if you wanted to continue on, the trail continues to the confluence of the Escalante River that eventually meets up with Lake Powell.

Couple at Cliff Arch in Coyote Gulch
Woman standing in water at Cliff Arch
Man in front of waterfall

We lucked out with crowds on this hike, despite that it was a Saturday in what (I believe to be) the best season for backpacking in Utah. This stop was where most of the “crowds” congregated. Folks were sunbathing, cooling off in the waterfalls and pools, and taking a hike break like us. Bryce was a kid in a candy shop zooming around from waterfall to waterfall and even having a true Flashdance moment.

Cliff Arch from waterfall at Coyote Gulch
Waterfall at Cliff Arch in Coyote Gulch

After thoroughly enjoying our stop, we turned around and followed the same trail back “home” to the bat cave otherwise known as Jacob Hamblin Arch for the night.

Stream and arch
Swiss cheese falls

The next morning, we packed up our campsite (and our Wag Bags—more on this topic in my tips below). I had forgotten how much the hike was in the water, so I wore my La Sportiva trail runners, but I wish I had worn my sandals until we left the canyon walls.

Hiking in stream
Group backpacking in canyons

As we said goodbye to the slot canyons and the oasis, we were reminded of just how nice it was back there as we emerged back into the dry, exposed desert with thick sand to slow us down in the heat. I was pleasantly surprised that even hiking in the soft sand wasn’t too difficult since the incline was gradual. Or perhaps it was my intense training hiking in the sand the weekend prior.

Hiking in desert
Slot canyons


Text reads 10 Tips for Backpacking Coyote Gulch


We were stopped by fellow hikers multiple times asking which route we entered from and where a certain landmark was. Because there are different ways to approach this hike, it’s important to know which entry and exit you are using in and out of the canyon and orient yourself. We found the Nat Geo map to be helpful in navigating and we were able to find our location based on the bends and arches along the stream.


I have good news for you in light of the current state of affairs in which it seems that advanced reservations are needed for everything. If you haven’t planned 6 months in advance, you can still backpack Coyote Gulch! Permits are free and available at the trailhead. — no advanced reservation needed. This was one of our main draws to this hike as opposed to a National Park since we were planning this trip within 6 months of our visit and all the Canyonlands NP backcountry permits had already been reserved.


I cannot stress this one enough. Flash floods can be deadly and are not obviously seen from where you are hiking as they can build from a storm miles away. Be sure to watch the weather in surrounding areas, not just in Coyote Gulch. I recommend calling the Escalante Visitor Center at 435-826-5499 the day before your visit for the most up to date and accurate weather forecast. Don’t hesitate to leave a voicemail.  They were very helpful!


A major benefit (and beautiful feature) of this hike is the access to water. This was a treat given that the weekend prior when backpacking Great Sand Dunes, there was no water to be found and we had to carry all of our water on our backs! For Coyote Gulch, you do need to carry enough water to make it 5 miles through the dry, hot portion from the trailhead to canyon. At that point, the water is clear and plentiful! We brought our Sawyer filtration system and also our backup purification tablets in case our filter was not working or our pressure bag had a leak.


I hope you practice all Leave No Trace principles when in nature, but in order to follow the guidelines in this area, that means packing out ALL of your trash including human waste. So be prepared in advance with Wag Bags. This was my first experience needing to fully pack out potty content, and I would say it was not so bad! If I need to do this again, I would also bring a waterproof dry bag to stow the used, sealed wag bags in so as to minimize the stink on the hike out. Also, be aware that fires are prohibited in this area.


In addition to some of the items already listed above in these tips, we also brought our standard backpacking packing list. Below is a rough outline of our list in each of the essential categories:



  • Jet Boil
  • For dinner, we had freeze dried food, like my fave Mountain House lasagna. I was having dinner envy for the Mountain House chicken pad thai so I’ll definitely be trying that on a future backpacking trip—or at home when I just don’t feel like cooking. Just kidding, kinda.
  • For breakfast, we packed protein packed oatmeal. The Mountain House granola also looked good! The breakfast skillet had mixed reviews from the group, and I personally steer clear of freeze dried eggs.
  • For lunches, we brought trail mix, nuts galore, summer sausage and chorizo. We also stole some snacks from our kids’ typical day hike snacks.
  • To serve the food, we brought lightweight bowls and utensils (nothing fancy here—we just use plastic kid bowls from the toddler stage and Menchie’s spoons!), lightweight tin cups for coffee and adult beverages, and water bottles. We also brought a little container filled with Bronner’s soap for washing hands and dishes (away from the stream).

WHAT TO PACK – Comfort:

WHAT TO PACK – Safety:



We backpacked Coyote Gulch in the spring (second weekend in May) and the conditions were wonderful. I have seen pictures of the trees in autumn colors, so if you can time that right the fall would be a great time as well. I would not recommend summer due to the heat in the desert.


If you are going to cool off in the water or waterfalls, be sure to use reef friendly sunscreen (our favorites are Thinkbaby and Sun Bum) since the stream is a natural waterway. This area contains a fragile ecosystem and we saw fish and living organisms in the waterways.


Familiarize yourself with poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac as the trails in Coyote Gulch are overgrown in many areas and you will rub up with plant life. Be sure it’s not the kind that will send you home early!


While we didn’t take the kids on this backpacking trip, they would have loved exploring in the canyon and in the water! The approach from Hurricane Wash Trailhead would be tough for our little hikers as it is hot, dry, and is a portion you “just want to get through,” which usually doesn’t bode well for kids. If we did this with kids we would add one more day so we could camp right at the confluence of the Coyote Gulch with Hurricane Wash and then push deeper in on day two. We also talked about shortening the hike out by planting a car at the Fortymile Ridge Trailhead and climbing out of the gulch via the rope section. This is a shorter hike back and would make this more of a “loop” trail but I am sure a lot of parents wouldn’t feel comfortable with their kids navigating that section. I don’t feel comfortable coming down it with kids, but I am confident that my kids could climb up.

Hiking Coyote Gulch



  • Even with the long-distance, the hiking is flat and the exertion feels “casual.”
  • Unique landscape and experience—this was my first canyon hike and I was in awe!
  • Plenty of access to water and beautiful water features
  • Multiple options for access, depending on skill and desired distance
  • A lot of campsite platforms with soft sand available throughout the canyon
  • The town of Escalante is a charming access point. We enjoyed our post-hike meal at Escalante Outfitters. This area doesn’t have nearly the masses of tourists that towns like Moab have.


  • This hike can get crowded since advance permits aren’t required and it’s an iconic canyon hike in Utah. We were fortunate that we did not encounter too many hikers during our trip since we visited in the sweet spot between Spring and Summer Breaks.
  • The road to the trailhead is best accessed with 4WD and is bumpy and rocky (hence our flat tire upon arrival). The road can also become impassable after rains.
  • Dry, hot approach with no shade for the first 5 miles


Yes, absolutely! We had such a fantastic time, and it was a very manageable backpacking experience (even for beginners!).


Yes! I would love to take the kids to experience this area. Since there are multiple entries, we could try another route to change it up from our experience. I would also love to see it in the fall.


Is backpacking Coyote Gulch on your list? If you are seeking more non-National Park day hike options in Utah (or hikes that are better suited for kids and dogs!), check out my post on the Best Kid Hikes in Moab.

If I’ve convinced you and you are considering a visit to Coyote Gulch, be sure to save these pins to come back to this post! Happy hiking!

Coyote Gulch view
Balancing rock in Coyote Gulch
Hiking in slot canyons


  1. Misskorang

    coyote gulch is beautiful. What a fun adventure for you guys

    • raisinghikers_Kristin

      It was truly an adventure!

  2. Cindy Moore

    I keep seeing posts about Utah! It looks like an amazing state to spend time in, especially outdoors.

  3. Marianne

    That looks like such an amazing adventure! I would love to hike Coyote Gulch! Your photos are incredible too!

  4. Barbara

    Such an adventure! I love it! Sounds wonderful! Pleased to hear you respect the leave no trace rules!

  5. Kristen W Allred

    I’ve been to Lake Powell many times when I was growing up and this reminds me of the beautiful red rock there. What a beautiful hike!

  6. Elizabeth Preble

    I have never been to this area of Utah! I definitely need to visit and hike this trail!

  7. Tiffany

    Sounds like a fun trip! I’ll have to add it to my ever-growing list!

  8. Cindy

    This looks like another great hike! The scenery is stunning!

  9. Keirsten

    Wow you guys got some incredible photos on this adventure. I love those arches, they’re so cool.

  10. Sabrina DeWalt

    What a fantastic adventure! We love camping and have been in the habit of going one weekend a month (before we started traveling full-time). We do a lot of hiking but definitely not on this level.

  11. Stephanie

    Woohoo – Great trip and pictures! The Gulch has been on our list for a while. For some reason, I thought it did require an advanced permit. So nice to know that it does not. Also, I LOVE the string up LCD lights. Definitely going to order some of these for our upcoming trip to California where fires are not allowed.

  12. Lisa Manderino

    Going to Escalante is on my list but I don’t know if I could do a 20-30 miles hike. I would love to camp next to an arch though!

  13. Holly B

    What an amazing adventure! Great lust of things to make the trip memorable and fun!

  14. Sabrina

    This was enjoyable to read and the pictures were fantastic. I would certainly put this on my list of places to must-see. Thanks for sharing all the pros and cons as they helped make my decision easy about choosing this place to hike.

  15. Denise

    The pictures are amazing and thank you for all of your details, including the honest picture of the first 5 miles! I would love to get there and have that same amazing camping spot….beautiful!

  16. Tammy Horvath

    Your pictures are beautiful. I am adding this to my “must-see” list. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Alicia

    What a great bonding experience! And those views are amazing!

  18. Allison Peteet

    Very interesting! Although I am more of a Glamping Gal, this is exactly what my nephew loves to do. I plan to share with him. Happy Hiking!

  19. Terra Booth

    This looks like a stunning camping trip! Very thorough in what you need to bring along as well!

  20. Megan

    Haha ya I bet Strava has a hard time keeping up in those canyons! What an absolutely gorgeous hike. It’s like pictures meant for a coffee table book.


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