While roadtripping through southern Utah on Highway 12 Scenic Byway, Alan and I discovered an enchanting land of hoo-doos on a short hike through Devil’s Garden in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It’s a landscape for wandering and wondering in one of the best parks in Utah.
Come along as I show you how to make the most of this boomer travel adventure. It’s one of our favorite off-the-beaten-path national parks (okay, national monument) in Utah.
How to visit Devil’s Garden near Escalante, Utah
Tucked away down a bumpy dirt road in Southern Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the Devil’s Garden should be renamed something like “hoodoo playground” or “fun among the rocks.” Except for summer’s searing heat (I recommend visiting in spring or fall), there’s nothing evil about this wonderland of Navajo and Entrada sandstone refashioned by erosion into arches and hoodoos.
Alan and I explored Devil’s Garden for a few fun hours on a spring afternoon. Hole in the Rock Road, the beginning of our journey is located off Highway 12 about five miles east of Escalante, Utah. Thirteen miles of washboard later, we turned off to the right for the 1.5-mile drive to Devil’s Garden Recreation Area parking lot.
Hole in the Rock Road is wide so save your vehicle’s suspension by going slow. There’s plenty of room to move over for faster drivers. Also be aware of the Escalante weather, rain can turn this road into an impassable, muddy mess.
Hiking in a Devil’s Garden
Weaving our way past the picnic area—yes, they have barbecue grills, too—and a set of pit toilets; Alan and I followed the interconnected footpaths created by other travelers. While there are no marked trails through this stone playground, after a slight uphill walk at the beginning, the exploring is easy.
The guidebook we brought along, Falcon Guide’s Hiking Grand Staircase-Escalante & Glen Canyon Region, recommends allotting 30 minutes to an hour to explore Metate Arch, Mano Arch and a variety of hoodoos dating back to the early Jurassic period—that’s about 170 million years ago during the time the dinosaurs roamed southern Utah.
Photographers will enjoy spending more time here, as there are plenty of interesting formations to photograph. Alan made a note to plan our next visit to coincide with sunrise or sunset for better lighting.
More things to do in Grand Staircase-Escalante
You could spend months exploring this region of southern Utah. Here are a few ideas to include in your trip.
On the way to Devil’s Garden, we passed by the unofficial trail to Zebra and Tunnel slot canyons. A local had told us about them at breakfast.
There was no time for hiking to the relatively easy slot canyons on this trip. But we’ve added them to our list for next trip to Utah, along with viewing dinosaur tracks at the Twentymile Wash Megatrackway and exploring Peek-a-boo and Spooky gulches, which are also located off Hole in the Rock Road.
Hole in the Rock
Also, if you keep on driving for about 34 miles beyond Devil’s Garden, you’ll reach the end of the road at Hole in the Rock at Lake Powell. But that would be one very long, bumpy ride.
However the ride couldn’t be any bumpier than the one Mormon settlers experienced as they negotiated wagons and people down the steep, boulder-strewn path to the waiting ferry on the river (now Lake Powell). Their ultimate goal was a settlement on the San Juan River now known as Bluff, Utah.
Best waterfall in Utah
In my opinion the hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls is one of the best waterfall hikes in Utah. It definitely deserves a spot on your Highway 12 Scenic Byway itinerary. Be sure to arrive at the parking area early so that you don’t get aced out of a spot.
If the road to Hole in the Rock sounds too adventurous for you, driving the easy portion of Burr Trail (some of it is paved) provides a drive through a gorgeous red rock canyon, along with access to a small slot canyon. We highly recommend it!
Where to stay
Lodging choices are sparse. And they book up quickly, especially on holidays like Memorial Day. Alan and I stayed in Escalante. But next time, we’ll book early enough to stay close to Boulder at Boulder Mountain Lodge or Boulder Mountain Guest Ranch.