The name “Grand Staircase” refers to a series of cliffs and plateaus that rise from the Grand Canyon, beyond Bryce Canyon National Park to the Aquarius Plateau. The rugged deep maze of canyons, plains, and plateaus is located along Scenic Byway 12. Services are located along Scenic Byway 12 in Cannonville, Escalante, and Boulder. Please note that there are no services in the national monument area. Visitors need to make sure that they have plenty of gasoline, food, water, and emergency supplies in stock when they leave Scenic Byway 12. Most of the unpaved roads here are only suitable for travel during dry weather, as they are made of clay, dirt, or gravel. Changes in the weather can cause driving conditions to change quickly.
The Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is a great area for year-round recreational activities like camping, riding ATVs, wildlife viewing, biking, and hiking. Many enjoy cross country skiing and snowmobiling in nearby mountains during the winter. There is so much to see and do that it is impossible to see everything in one trip. The Escalante River offers side canyons and slot canyons, and even swimming holes fed by cascading waterfalls. Jacob Hamblin Arch in Coyote Gulch, near Escalante, presents various challenges, such as a 100-foot inclined stretch of slick-rock. Hurricane Wash, Red Well, and Jacob Hamblin are some of the many trails that traverse Coyote Gulch. Egypt Canyon is a very narrow passageway that requires some climbing. One of the shorter hikes is Willis Creek Slot Canyon, a 4 mile round trip hike that takes about 2 hours. This hike is easy, with a nice mix of sun and shade, and best in summer, when the water is warmer. Willis Creek Slot Canyon is home to towering slick rock canyon walls, a flat stony streambed path to walk through, and small waterfalls. A longer hike is the Lick Wash Slot Canyon, about 9 miles roundtrip, and takes around 5 hours to finish. The difficulty rating of this hike is moderate, because you have to chimney into the slot canyon and hike up steep slick rock. Faint petroglyphs can be seen in the short canyon about half a mile down the trail, and once the wash widens you can see Twisted Pine Arch, which is pointed like an arrowhead just to the left of a twisted pine tree high up on the cliff. Explore the many holes and crevices, or look for the Lost Spire Hoodoo and chimney your way through a skinny side slot canyon.
Looking for a beautiful scenic drive? Highway 12 is one of the best. Starting at Highway 24 near Torrey, the byway runs south and west for 122 miles to Highway 89, just south of Panguitch. The route enters the Grand Staircase just past the town of Boulder, and passes through breathtaking red rock scenery as it heads west towards Bryce Canyon National Park. The Johnson Canyon / Alton Ampitheater drive goes through the southwestern corner of the Grand Staircase National Monument near Kanab and takes about 3 hours (35 miles one way). The road is drivable year-round, and features beautiful canyons and views of the magnificent cliffs in the area. Another gorgeous scenic drive is Burr Trail, which starts in Boulder, crosses the north easternmost portion of the Grand Staircase, crosses Capitol Reef, and then joins Notum Road and continues south to Bull Frog Marina on Lake Powell. The most spectacular part is the 25 miles from Boulder to the Notum Road, where you pass by colorful narrow canyons and dazzling red rock views. The drive is about 70 miles and takes 4-5 hours. It is hard-surfaced for 31 miles until it reaches Capitol Reef National Park. It then turns to graded dirt, with rocky and sandy stretches. It is not recommended when wet.
The Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is surrounded by recreational adventure opportunities. Glen Canyon Recreational Area/Lake Powell is a scenic drive away. Calf Creek Recreation Area is one of the most popular spots in the monument. It is near Scenic Byway 12, a short hike to a gorgeous 126-foot waterfall and grotto. There are deep slot canyons, refreshing watering holes, and streambeds that trickle off scenic byway 12. Many roads are treacherous during wet weather and some are unpaved, so please check the weather before you set out.
Fossils found at the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument tell us that the area was not always an arid desert, and that there may have been an ancient lake or possibly an ocean. 70 million year old fossils of fish, turtles, sharks, and plant life show that the area was much different than it is today. Many paleontologists say that the area has one of the highest concentrations of dinosaur fossils in the whole world!
Two different Native American tribes lived here for hundreds of years, the Anasazi and the Fremont. Artifacts, pictographs, and petroglyphs have been found scattered throughout the canyons of the monument. You can find more information about the history of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument at the Anasazi State Park Museum/Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument visitors center near Boulder.
The Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument consists of five steps that rise 5500′ and start with the bottom step (made up of limestone) at the North Rim Grand Canyon and stretch through Zion National Park to Bryce Canyon. The steps are usually described by their colors: chocolate, vermilion, white, gray and pink. The monument is riddled with slot canyons, watering holes, streambeds, towering walls of rock stretch as high as you can see.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is rich with wildlife. An extremely diverse habitat causes an estimated 300 species of animals that call the monument home, including about 200 species of birds and about 46 species of reptiles and amphibians. Mammals include elk, mountain lions, mule deer, cottontail rabbits, cougars, black bears, antelope, and the desert bighorn sheep, among others. The birds are more plentiful, including songbirds, Gambel’s quail, band-tail pigeons, blue grouse, mourning doves, chukar, quail, bald eagle, Lewis’s woodpecker and the western and mountain bluebirds. Many species of endangered and threatened birds live on the monument too. Just a few are the endangered California Condor, Peregrine Falcon, the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher as well as the threatened Bald Eagle, the Burrowing Owl, Long-billed Curlew, Northern Goshawk, Blue Grosbeak Ferruginous and Swainson’s Hawk. Reptiles and amphibials are also found throughout the Grand Staircase and include the California kingsnake, the plateau striped whiptail, the endangered desert tortoise, the tiger salamander and the red spotted toad.
Because the Grand Staircase stretches so far and includes both high and low elevations, the plant and tree community thrive abundantly. The flora survives in specific climates, so you find that some plants and trees only grow on parts of the monument and not in any others. Some of the trees you will find are the pinion-juniper, ponderosa pine, cottonwood, Douglas fir and the spruce. Desert shrubs grow wild, but it is interesting to note that according to the East Zion Tourism Council, there are 125 species of plants that are only found in Utah or the Colorado Plateau and 11 species are found no where else. It is estimated that 84% of the flora in Utah is found in the Grand Staircase.
For questions or more information on visiting the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, call their Visitor Information line at (435) 644-4680.
We do not offer recommendations on any roads or activities. We do recommend that you check road conditions if you choose to set out for any scenic drive or hike by contacting the corresponding visitor center, state tourism office or the BLM. Roads may be slippery when wet, and weather may call for extra water, food, clothing or appropriate camping gear. Do not touch or attempt to feed any wildlife you come across, and ask federal or state officials before removing any fossils or artifacts, because in some areas a hefty fine can be imposed. Please be prepared for any emergency. Many of these areas are quite remote and cell phone service is limited. Have a safe and fun journey!