March 2018

Coyote Gulch, Utah

10

A 'gulch' is a deep V-shaped valley larger than a gully but smaller than a canyon or gorge. Coyote Gulch is a popular such gulch in southern Utah. Wall-to-wall with stunning arches, natural bridges, waterfalls and slot canyons, the hike into Coyote Gulch is a popular trek which draws plenty of visitors but still retains a sense of the untouched and of adventure.

 

This walk can be anywhere between 13 and 22 miles and is usually completed either as a day hike or an overnight. There are multiple access points so you can effectively tailor your route depending on the time you have available, the vehicle you are driving and your appetite for adventure. I chose to spend a night in the Gulch and would definitely recommend doing the same. Given its remote location and the drive-time to get to the trailheads, making it in and out in one day would involve quite a long day's walk and a rapid pace. And this hike is not one to rush. While the scenery is pretty stunning, it's not about spectacular views or big sights. The real pleasure here is just spending time in the Gulch, soaking in the atmosphere and taking in the sheer remoteness of the place. The best way to do that is to take your time, spend a night under the stars and let yourself be transported by this pretty special part of the world. 

Practicalities:

The upper sections of Coyote Gulch lie within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument while its lower sections are located in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The gulch eventually meets the Escalante River above Lake Powell. The nearest town is Escalante, to the north, where you can also find the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center.

There are multiple trailheads to access the Gulch. To reach any of the trailheads you need to drive south along the unpaved Hole-in-the-Rock Road, which starts about 5 miles east of Escalante off Utah Scenic Byway 12. Highway 12 itself is an extremely scenic road and it's well worth incorporating a drive into your trip: travelling east you cross over the mountain at Boulder to Fruita within Capitol Reef National Park, a truly spectacular part of red red country. 

The Hole-in-the-Rock Road is signposted from Highway 12 and easy to find. You will need to drive at least 1.5/2 hours along the road and it gets quite bumpy in places (my max speed was 30mph). A 4WD is not really necessary but I was much more comfortable making the drive in an SUV and would probably not advise making the drive in a passenger car (at least not a rental one). Also be sure to check the weather before you head off as the road can quickly become difficult or even impossible to navigate after heavy rain.

The best place to check on the road conditions, weather forecast, and to obtain a permit (required for overnight stays in the Gulch) is the Interagency Visitor Center in Escalante. They also have detailed topographical maps of the route which you can either buy or just take photos of (which is clearly the cheaper option!). Don't forget, Coyote Gulch is a narrow canyon and prone to flash flooding. Make sure you check the weather and don't hike if a storm is coming.

There are four trailheads into Coyote Gulch:

 

Red Well

This is the first trail from Escalante. It starts from a dirt road signposted around 30 miles along the Hole-in-the-Rock Road. It actually follows the dry wash of Coyote Wash all the way into the steeper part of the canyon and meets the Hurricane Wash trail at the Coyote Wash / Hurricane Wash confluence.

Hurricane Wash

This is the easiest (and therefore most popular) way to enter and exit the Gulch. There is a pretty large parking area around 33 miles along the Hole-in-the-Rock Road. From here, the trail follows the dry wash east for around 6 miles before it enters the canyon. For the first few miles the walk is straightforward and pretty dull. It is also unshaded for the most part. However, it is the best option if you don't want to push your vehicle too hard and want an easy route in. 

Jacob Hamblin Arch-  the 'sneaker route'

Around 36 miles along Hole-in-the-Rock you reach a turn off, the Fortymile Ridge Road. Take this road and drive for another 4.4 miles to some water tanks, where there is a small parking area. The trail reaches Jacob Hamblin Arch after only a few miles, from where it descends quite steeply along a broad rock face. Apparently some people take ropes and it can be quite tricky to get down. I couldn't actually see the route when I was passing Jacob Hamblin in the gulch so not able to judge for myself. 

Crack-in-the-Rock

This is the farthest access point to the Gulch. It starts a few more miles along Fortymile Ridge Road from the water tanks. From here, you can either hike northwest to Jacob Hamblin Arch or northeast to Crack-in-the-Wall, a narrow crack in a large rock near the Escalante River confluence. To get into the gulch, you need to squeeze through this tight gap and pull your backpack through after. It's only really possible to reach this trailhead with a 4WD: the last couple miles of Forty Mile Ridge Road can be sanded. But if you do have a 4WD, this could be a good option because you make a loop hike, which would probably be done best in an anti-clockwise direction (as you would then save the best scenery at the Escalante River confluence to the end).


 

I chose to enter and exit the Gulch by Hurricane Wash, mainly because I didn't want to put any more stress on my rental vehicle. If you are driving your own vehicle and/or have a 4WD I would certainly suggest trying one of the further trailheads (e.g. the Water Tanks or maybe even Crack-in-the-Rock) as the first few miles of the Hurricane Wash hike are fairly dull. The scenery only starts to pick up once you are in the gulch, in particular from Jacob Hamblin Arch onward. 

 

In terms of water, there are a number of springs at various spots by the walls of the gulch, but they aren't necessarily easy to spot. I carried 2.5 litres and filled up on the return walk at a spring by Jacob Hamblin. I would probably suggest taking a good amount of water (and certainly more than 2 litres in summer). 

 

I camped by some waterfalls just before Cliff Arch, a beautiful section which I imagine is a popular camping spot during peak season. Luckily, when I was hiking in March I had the entire area to myself and enjoyed a night of silence and the stars. 
 

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Jacob Hamblin Arch, around 

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