Kayaking Utah's Escalante River

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of January 1-8, 1996

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Kayaking Utah's Escalante River

Kayaking Utah's Escalante River
Q: I am interested in kayaking the Escalante River in Utah. Can you give me information about trip specifics?
Clark Jensen
Salt Lake City
[email protected]

A: With its rugged slick rock walls and eerie petrified wood formations, Escalante Canyon is one of the wildest areas in the Southwest. It's no surprise, then, that paddling the nearly inaccessible Escalante River from the town of Escalante to Lake Powell requires a lot of advance planning, not to mention some steep climbing with your gear.

The most important thing you should know about the Escalante is that, with the exception of an easy put-in at Highway 112 about 15 miles downriver from Escalante, there is no direct access to the 70-plus-mile river until it empties into Lake Powell. If you can't arrange a boat pick-up on Lake Powell, however, you may want to consider taking out at Coyote Gulch, about 40 miles downstream from the Highway 112 put-in. You'll have a strenuous five-mile hike out to Forty Mile Ridge, just off Hole in the Rock Road, which parallels the river along a high bluff. Even if you've arranged ahead of time for a shuttle pick-up or have a second car parked there, you'll still need to schlepp all your gear up from the river. It's worthwhile, then, to consider using an inflatable kayak, which makes for easier transport as well as easier paddling in low water, which is often the case on the Escalante.

Plan your trip during spring runoff--late April or May--but be aware that if it's been a light snow year, there may not be enough water; at its highest, the Escalante is a moderately challenging Class III river. As for camping, you can pitch your tent anywhere along the banks, but you'll need to call ahead to the Escalante Inter-Agency for a free backcountry permit (801-826-5499). They'll also send you an information packet with additional details. If you're interested in arranging shuttle service between the trailhead at Highway 112 and Forty Mile Ridge, contact Howard Miller at 801-826-4329.

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