Exploring Grand Staircase-Escalante

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of April 10-16, 1997
Exploring Grand Staircase-Escalante
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Exploring Grand Staircase-Escalante
Question: My wife and I would like to take a trip out west in late May or the first week in June. We have heard that mountain trails are usually still snow-packed and somewhat cold for beginning campers like ourselves this early in the summer. Where could we go in the Colorado/Wyoming/Montana region that would have more moderate conditions during that time of year?

Steve Estes
DeKalb, IL
[email protected]

Avoid the snow and chilly temperatures
by heading to Utah in late May

Adventure Adviser: Heading to Colorado/Wyoming/Montana to hike in late May/early June after a banner snow year isn't recommended. On May 15 last year, I was biking through thigh-deep snow near Durango, in southern Colorado, and hating life — there's nothing more insanity-producing than hiking or biking through mud and snow in high altitude. I'd save your trip to the northern Rockies for July or August, and instead buy a road map and follow it to Utah and northern Arizona.

The biggest news in Utah these days is the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument nestled between Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, and Dixie National Forest. You won't find snow, but you will find 1.7 million acres of hoodoos, slot canyons, arches, and mesas. But don't let the lack of snow lull you into a false sense of security; the GSENM can be a nasty expanse of nowhere. For a full briefing on the GSENM, call the BLM field office in Kanab at 801-644-2672.

And don't forget that if you tire of the expansive beauty, there's a ribbon of scenic byway connecting you to Zion National Park in the west, Canyonlands and Moab to the east, and Lake Powell to the south. Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park is practically a stone's throw from the GSENM. If you haven't been to the Grand Canyon, go. Your life will have new meaning after you've experienced the golden orb of the sun sinking over the western rim, and your thighs will have new definition after they've hiked up from the Canyon floor.

If you're coming from Utah, the North Rim is closer and much less crowded. You'll want to call in advance to make sure the North Rim's mid-May opening date is correct and to secure reservations at the North Rim Campground ($15 per night, 800-365-2267). If you're planning to stay overnight in the backcountry, you need to secure a permit by writing to Backcountry Office, P.O. Box 129, Grand Canyon, AZ 86023.

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