Finding the Falls-Lower Calf Creek Falls in GSENM
By Abby McAllister
The hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls is really fabulous! It was a totally different experience from our other hikes in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) but equally as fun. The hike takes quite awhile in kid terms (5.5 miles round trip) but is well worth the time if you can take at least half a day to enjoy it. There is some elevation gain but it is gradual and spread out over most of the hike so it is barely noticeable.
The trail starts out in the campground of the same name. It is a small campground with all sites allocated on a first come, first served basis. There is also a larger parking area with bathrooms and trail maps (sometimes) just for hikers. The trail leaves from here. Find a parking spot and be sure to bring sunscreen, snacks, warm clothes (you’ll learn why) and plenty of water.
The trail will follow a winding riverbed for most of the way, although it won’t always be directly adjacent to the trail. You will begin by climbing a bit out of the scrub oak and up onto some sandstone rock ledges. The canyon here will be wide and feel very open, especially to your right side. The trail meanders along through brush and through open areas, the canyon narrowing imperceptibly all the way.
Although this meandering seems to go on for a long time, there is much to look at and do while you hike. If you were fortunate enough to find a trail guide at the parking lot area you will see that there are numbered posts along the way. Those numbers correspond to items of interest on the trail guide that include an explanation about them along the way. For example, the guide will tell you where to look to find pictographs and you might spot some trout in the pond made by beavers. Just looking for the next numbered post and wondering what it would tell us kept our kids going for quite awhile.
Another fun thing to do along the way is to watch the huge cliff walls for the dark lines and patches of “desert varnish,” a dark discoloration caused by bacteria on the rocks. We would see strangely shaped patches and try to guess what it looked like (sort of like the games kids play with clouds).
Eventually the trail will make a turn into a side canyon and you will know you are getting close. The river will come much closer to the trail and the willows on either side will begin to tower over you. The shade is a welcome relief on a hot day. Be sure to take time to allow kids to throw rocks in the creek if they are getting tired.
As you actually approach the falls you will feel the temperature take a drastic drop and you will feel the mist before you even get an up-close glimpse of the falls themselves. Eventually you will come out of the thick tree cover onto a sandy beach area with the falls cascading down in front of you. We were shocked at how cold we were as we sat down to eat our lunch! The falls create a mist and a breeze that go a bit beyond refreshing. Remember to bring some warm clothes to cover up with if you want to spend a comfortable time relaxing here.
The falls themselves are really stunning at 126 ft tall, and not just for their height. The color of the many algae which grow all along the rocks make for stunning photos and a sense of wonder. The day we were there we were amazed to see three men appear at the top of the falls, throw down some climbing ropes and repel down the falls! You never know what you might see when you are out exploring! If you are properly attired, this is a great place to spend some time, have a picnic and play in the shallows. Once you are ready to leave, just return down the trail the same way you came up.
When you go: Calf Creek Recreation Site and Campground is located along Utah Highway 12, 15 miles east of the Town of Escalante and 11 miles south of the town of Boulder. The trail leaves from the campground.