Explore Empty Slot Canyons

Hike Utah’s Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument

    Photo: Excursions of Escalante

This 1.9-million-acre stone wilderness is so undeveloped that the hardest thing about hiking there can be finding the trailhead. And the hiking is hardly easy—there are dozens of twisted slot canyons requiring wading and ropework, and miles of blank slickrock that demand solid map-and-compass skills to navigate. The rewards are clear running streams in precipitous red canyons, camping under sandstone alcoves, and days of plumbing labyrinths without ever seeing another soul.

About those trailheads: Bring a four-wheel drive rig with plenty of clearance, and stop in to guide service Utah Canyons in the town of Escalante for some valuable advice. Owner Mark Saunto would be happy to guide you through classics like the Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch, which traverses three consecutive slot canyons Peek-a-boo, Spooky, and Brimstone. Most turn back after the first two, but be sure to continue six miles further to Spooky slot, the narrowest of the three.

For an overnight, have Saunto drop you at the Boulder Airport Trailhead for the start of the 16-mile Boulder Mail Trail, an old pack-mule route that traverses the Navajo sandstone plateau and drops into three separate canyons, Sand Creek, Death Hollow, and Maime Creek, each a classic. Basecamp for two nights in Death Hollow to explore, but beware of flash flooding. Wash the dust off after your hikes at the newly renovated Circle-D Motel ($50)

STAY: Five days
PAY: $200-$300

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