Waterfall hikes are a treat in the rugged high desert of the American Southwest. On a visit to Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Alan and I discovered one of the best. The hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls is our favorite memory from a road trip along Scenic Byway 12, a designated All American Road at National Scenic Byways.
On our first day exploring the Grand Staircase region, we stop for breakfast in the town of Escalante. “What are the area’s must-sees? Alan asks our server. He replies, “I always send first-timers to Lower Calf Creek Falls. It’s spectacular.”
Back at the truck, Alan and I consult the Falcon Guide we brought along, Hiking Grand Staircase-Escalante & the Glen Canyon Region, for the hike’s particulars before heading east on scenic Byway 12 for the 15-mile-drive to Cave Creek Recreation area.
At the turn off, Alan negotiates a fairly steep road down into a parking area and campground—RV’ers should check for length requirements before attempting this road.
Arrive early to find a parking space and to escape the crowds. The trail to Lower Calf Creek Falls is very popular.
In the parking lot, Alan and I put on hiking shoes and hats. Of course we also need to protect ourselves from the sun (we’re prone to skin cancer) by slathering on waterproof sunscreen. A waterproof variety also minimizes water contamination, protecting the fragile aquatic ecosystem, just in case we go swimming at the falls. We’re also carrying plenty of water and a small snack to enjoy once reaching Lower Calf Creek Falls.
After visiting the restroom facilities—there are none on the trail—we pick up a trail guide and deposit the small day-use fee in a metal box near the campground. I grab my hiking poles and we’re ready to go.
The six-mile-round-trip Lower Calf Creek Falls trail alternates between undulating slickrock and lush creek bottom as the journey, with only minor elevation gains, travels in and out of the canyon floor. The trail brochure designates the hike as moderately strenuous due to the thick sand on many portions of the trail, but we findd it to be easily doable for most boomer hikers.
Pick up a trail brochure at the trailhead to follow the numbered viewpoints for a more informative hike.
Lower Calf Creek Trail Highlights
The entire Lower Calf Creek Trail is a pleasant, scenic hike but some features are worth stopping for a closer look.
If you peer closely at the canyon ledges across the canyon from Stop #5, you’ll find several granaries built by the Fremont Culture (AD 700 to AD 1300.)
At Stop #7 pause to view the dramatic vertical striping visible on walls on the far side of the canyon. Known as desert varnish, the stripes are actually caused by living microbes that oxidize iron and manganese found in clay minerals. The manganese rich black stripes are the result of humid conditions while orange stripes indicate arid conditions with low manganese content.
You’ll see Freemont-style petroglyphs at Stop #8, although Alan and I wish we had brought a pair of binoculars because we cannot find the drawings on the canyon wall. Painted with red pigment, the three large trapezoidal shape figures are located on the smooth wall near the bottom of the canyon across the canyon from the trail.
As the trail winds beside Calf Creek, look for trout or the evidence of busy beavers. Alan and I stop several times to photograph spring wildflowers or listen to bird calls. Birdwatchers will find an abundance of birds including hummingbirds, ravens, robins, peregrine falcons and spotted towhees.
According to the trail brochure, wildlife watchers should look for “lizards, mule deer, ground squirrels, coyote, porcupine and mountain lion.” But all was quiet on the wildlife front during our hike.
The premier reason for all of this effort, and the prize at the end of the trail, is located at Stop #14. Here, Lower Calf Creek Falls tumbles 126 ft. down the canyon walls creating a pool of water that would make a fun summer swimming hole. Although it’s too cool on our hike to go swimming, the mist from Lower Calf Creek Falls provides a welcome refresher.
Don’t hurry once you’ve arrived at this idyllic spot. Do like we did, take a seat on a fallen log near the sandy beach, enjoy a snack and take a bazillion photos.
Finding accommodations in the Grand Staircase-Escalante region can be tricky. Start your travel planning with our search engine to find hotels in Escalante.
Have you hiked to Lower Calf Creek Falls? Do you have other Grand Staircase-Escalante adventures to recommend? Join the conversation at the My Itchy Travel Feet page on Facebook or send us an email to ask a question or share your experience.
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Disclosure: We have included Amazon links to the Escalante hiking book and waterproof sunscreen for your convenience. However My Itchy Travel Feet receives a small fee at no extra cost to you.