This 70 mile run is highly prized because of its incredible beauty and because of the rarity of decent boatable flows. In most years, flows will not get high enough for normal boating. In years where the snowpack is large enough for boating, the window of opportunity may only be a few weeks at best. The highest snowmelt flows are typically sometime in early to mid May to early June.
Countering the above wisdom is a report that this river can be floated and enjoyed, at extremely low flows, as long as one has a good attitude and shallow draft boats.
Permits: Backcountry permits are required by the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Stop at the Interagency Visitor Center in Escalante to get the free permit. Escalante permit information You can also study the master maps and emergency exit routes according to their website.
Put in: Highway 12 crosses the Escalante River about 10 miles east of the town of Escalante. Look for signs for trailhead parking. Parking is not allowed on the side of highway 12 and the trailhead parking areas are reported to be small. Elevation at the put in is 5200 feet.
Take out: There are two main take out options.
1) Paddle 85 miles from Highway 12 all the way to Lake Powell. Hire a boat from Bullfrog Marina to come and pick you up on a specified day and time. Paddlers will have to get far enough out into the Escalante arm of Lake Powell for a motorboat to reach them. In recent years this involves dragging boats for some distance across mud flats to get to deep lake water. The distance down to the lake varies with Lake Powell elevation. This option also requires a long car shuttle from Escalante to Bullfrog Marina.
2) Paddle 70 miles from Highway 12 to Coyote Gulch, then hike out approximately 3.5 miles up the Crack in the Wall trail to a dirt road on the rim. This is an arduous climb with 1000 feet of elevation gain. Ropes are needed to get boats and gear past the Crack in the Wall section. Part of the trail is up a 600 foot high sand dune. Although the Crack in the Wall trailhead is a relatively short 50 mile drive from Escalante, parts of the road are reported to be washboard hell. BLM recommends 4 wheel drive for the last few miles to the trail head, because of deep sand. Elevation at the Coyote Gulch confluence is about 3700 feet. Elevation of the parking area is 4678 feet.
Reports: Steven Bollock wrote: "The put-in is easy; the take-out is either an expensive tow or a fairly brutal hike. It requires a very flexible calendar to catch the usually very short window of opportunity (most commonly mid April to early May). I think its about 75-80 miles. We spent 8 nights last time and I'd do more this year if it happened. IK's are the ideal craft as one is in and out of the boat fairly frequently. There is an abundance of side canyon exploration. It is a very small river with mostly small camps and lends itself to small groups. In places the river is lined with nasty Russian Olive trees which have large thorns. Flimsy duckies are not recommended. I've heard various things about water levels. 50 cfs and rising would be minimally desirable. 300 cfs will have you up in the Russian Olives along the banks. I have been told it is really a drag to get stuck out there when the water disappears (i.e. the end of the season's flow). There is one easy portage; one runnable difficult rapid (easily lineable). It's a great trip with lots of pictographs and ruins to look for. If you find anyone who can provide a tow to Bullfrog Marina please let me know. When we went several years ago a tow was $600. A car shuttle from the put-in to the marina is $300 (2010 price). If one hikes out through "Crack-in-the wall" at Coyote Gulch (3 miles, one of which goes steeply up through sand) the shuttle costs are much less."
Alan Waltner reports,"I did this in 1983, with the first Hypalon IKs (Campways Cherokees) in a group of 10 boats. You need to do it in a high water year just at the right time, with a two or three week window at best. This means that your group needs to be very flexible and be ready to hit the road and get on the river as soon as it warms up and the snow begins to melt. Given the extended drought in the Colorado Basin, I don't think it has been runnable anytime in the last decade. The trip is absolutely gorgeous with slick rock formations that are some of the best in canyon country. The petroglyphs and ruins are phenomenal. We saw one ruin that was almost perfectly preserved, with the roof timbers still intact. (it was above about an 80 foot overhanging cliff so it was completely inaccessible which explained its good condition). Nearby there was a panel of petroglyphs about 3 feet high by 50 feet long, in almost pristine condition. There was one grotto where a stream was pouring in through the ceiling into a room about 60 feet in diameter. Make sure you figure out where to stop for the side hikes. The put-in is easy (you drive right up to the creek), but has little water until a fork comes in a mile or two down. We actually rubbed a hole through the thick hypalon floor of one of the brand-new boats (it had the kitchen box in it) over the first few miles, since at the flow we ran it (I think it was about 80 at the put in, increasing to about 300 at the fork, but my memory is hazy) we basically dragged over cobbles for the first several miles. I agree that cheap duckies are a bad idea. We had one along, and it survived, but unless you bring a spare the risk of being left without a boat half way down is something you don't want to contemplate. Durable IKs (such as Lynx 1 or 2s) are a must given the scraping. Rafts are out of the question because of the numerous tight spots, including the portage. Hard shell kayaks are also not preferred because of the scraping, but the one other group that we saw was in hardshells and they seemed to be doing OK. The take out is horrendous, unless you hire a boat on Lake Powell (which I would recommend giving serious consideration). Since the put-in is easy, it is tempting to load up the boats with things like tripods, chairs, etc. But at the takeout it is a 3 mile hike across sand, one part of which is very steep, with a spot near the bottom that requires lifting the boats and other gear up about 15 feet by rope (the boaters can scramble up a somewhat sketchy pitch). Be sure to bring backpack frames for the takeout. We needed to make either 2 or 3 trips each to get everything up to the vehicles. Two trips is 9 miles of hiking, three is 15. If you do decide to hike up Coyote Gulch, make sure you leave plenty of water in the take-out cars (we made the mistake of not doing this, so also had to carry water up the sand dune). By half way through this exercise you will be thinking that a hundred bucks each for a boat ride would have been a bargain. The main risk is having the water drop on you and leave you high and dry. If that happens in the wrong place you would be really SOL (i.e., a 40 mile hike out to the nearest dirt road). We ran it in a peak year (it was the year that Glen Canyon dam almost failed) and started just about at the perfect time, and our water still began to drop by the end of the trip. At least now there are satellite phones (you should definitely take one). Bottom line is that you want to time it exactly to the peak flow." - Alan
Other information sources: Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument BLM permit information USGS mileage and gage map pdfEscalante Calling - Canoe & Kayak magazineFLOATING THE ESCALANTE By Rich Henke Yak-Packing Utah’s Escalante River by Jeff WallachPackrafting Utah's Escalante River in Late March by Bill StadwiserWikipedia-Escalante
Books: River Runners Guide to Utah and Adjacent Areas, by Gary C. Nichols, 2002 University of Utah PressCanyon Country Paddles, by Verne Huser, 1978 Wasatch Publishers Inc.
Highway 12 crosses the Escalante at Calf Creek then follows Calf Creek upstream. Unload at the trailhead parking area.
Boulder Creek comes in from the left with a large flow. Records indicate that this creek can add from 1/2 up to 3 or 4 times the Escalante flow during the spring season.
This creek coming in from the left will usually add significantly to the flow.
The river is steeper and more obstructed below here. The biggest rapid of the run is about 1/2 mile downstream and a boulder choke portage is a ways below that.
Coyote Gulch comes in on river right. Hike up the creek a short ways then follow the trail up the sand dunes to the rim and the Crack in the Wall escape route. It is a long steep hike carrying gear and boats.
This is the trailhead parking area for the Crack in the Wall trail. Elevation is 4,678 feet at the parking area. The trail from the Escalante at Coyote Gulch, starts at an elevation of 3,700 feet. Most of that elevation gain is in the first mile from the river. Use a short rope to get your gear up the cliffs at Crack in the Wall. Bulky gear will not fit through the crack.
The actual location where powerboats can reach you will vary with Lake Powell elevation, but mud flats will usually have to be crossed to get to the deep water.
2011 Update: Log jam on Choprock Bench. Portage river right.
The mud flats were cleared out during 2005-2006 flooding and no longer impede progress to the deep water at Lake Powell. Also the steep banks between Coyote Gulch and Lake Powell have also been widened and reshaped during flooding. You can find ample spring water and easy camping sites on the river between these 2 locations
2009 Update: I ran this river last year at a fairly low water level using hardshell 10 ft. kayaks. After checking in at the Ranger Station in Escalante my travel companion was all but put off of our trip by the issuing rangers attitude. Be prepared to hear about how foolish your trip is when obtaining your free permit. My permit was marked in bold as "Not Advised" although we made all 85 miles into Lake Powell without incident.
We were pulled from Lake Powell by a charter boat rented from Bullfrog Marina for a cost of $380 for 2 10 foot boats and gear. Well worth the cost considering alternatives. If you decide to hike out you have 2 viable options, although one will cut your travel miles in half. Crack-in-the-Wall is the most common portage, a boater could also consider hiking out of Fence Canyon at the half way point. This would be a 2.5 mile scramble with the last 1800 feet being almost verticle. Still - that may be easier than Hole in the Rock.
We completed our 2009 trip in 9 days beginning on 6/12. Water levels were low with the cfs flow being 1.8 - well below "recommended". This equates to about 1.5 ft of moving water midstream. We used flat bottom kayaks with a large opening, as we were in and out several times a day.
I paid a local $150 plus their cars gas to move the car to Bullfrog - the entire trip was just over $500 or about $250 per person. Keep in mind you can decrease this expense drastically by hiking out.
On the river - we only encountered 1 other group - a single person hiking the length. Other than that our time was spend watching a beaver catch his dinner, scarring up a silver tail fox and watching the numerous fish and birds.
I am planning on a return for 2010, moving the trip forward about 10 days to capitalize on above average snowpack. If you have some energy, are willing to get out and push your boat in a few places and can invest the time and/or money you can easily run this river just about any year with some careful planning.
There has to be a large enough snow pack to make this run feasible. Snotel - Utah shows weather information, precipitation and snow water content at 3 sites in the Escalante drainage. All of these stations are on the Aquarius Plateau which forms the northern boundary of the Escalante drainage. Much of this Plateau ranges from 9,000 to 11,000 feet in elevation. Widstoe#3, is near the headwaters of Hall Creek, a main tributary west of town. Snow Water Content at this station may need to be 12 inches or higher. Over 20 inches is good. Clayton Springs is near the headwaters of North Creek, also a main tributary west of town. Snow Water Content at this station may need to be 13 inches or higher. Over 20 inches is good. Donkey Reservoir is near the headwaters of Boulder and Deer Creek, the major tributary below highway 12. Snow Water Content at this station may need to be above 10 inches.
The USGS Escalante stream gage is upstream of the put in, just outside of the town. The gage is just below the confluence with Pine Creek, Death Hollow and Sand Creek are tributaries which enter the Escalante, below the gage but upstream of the put in. Calf Creek at the put in, has a small drainage area. Boulder Creek runs into the Escalante a few miles downstream of highway 12, and appears to be a major source of flow. Deer creek is a major tributary of Boulder Creek. The flow gages on Boulder and Deer creeks no longer operate but some historical data is available. The Gulch and Horse Canyon also have high headwaters and may supply significant flow.
Peak flows in the Escalante can be very high (1,000 to 4,000 cfs), but they happen during summer and fall thunderstorms rather than during the spring snowmelt. Table of Monthly Mean Flows gives some indication of wet and dry years and months with highest flows.
Permits are not required for this reach.
Coyote Gulch take out:The Hole in the Wall road is dirt and gravel, but the spur to the Crack in the Wall trailhead is reported to have deep sand in spots.
Lake Powell take out:The Burr road connects Highway 12 to Bulfrog Marina. The Burr Road is gravel and dirt, but is fine for passenger cars.
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E. Moody Canyon Camp
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The Bureau of Land Management is considering the potential for oil shale and tar sands development on 2,431,000 acres of public land in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado. This development could threaten the quality of paddling experiences including the multi-day desert floats on Desolation and Grays Canyons of the Green as well as the adventure available for kayaks and packrafts to explore the San Rafael, Muddy and Escalante. American Whitewater partnered with our colleagues in the Outdoor Alliance to highlight the value of these areas for outdoor recreation.
Take action today using our easy online form to protect National Monuments designated under the Antiquities Act! A public comment period began on May 12th and ends July 10th for an April 26th Executive Order which directed Interior Secretary Zinke to conduct a review of all Presidential designations over the past 21 years. A number of Monuments being reviewed are of significant interest to paddlers and provide protections for cherished whitewater stretches, including Bears Ears (Lower San Juan River, UT), Grand Canyon-Parashant (Colorado River, Grand Canyon, AZ), Giant Sequoia National Monument (Tule River, CA), Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument (East Branch of the Penobscot River, ME), Rio Grande del Norte National Monument (Rio Grande, Taos Boxes, NM) and many more.
American Whitewater sprang out of the need to rally our community around our shared love for whitewater, to protect, restore and celebrate the rivers that have given us so much. When the President of the United States, announced his intentions to reduce in size Bears Ears National Monument by 85% and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument by nearly half, we wanted to first see how the new borders would affect the protections these Monuments afforded several spectacular whitewater resources within their current boundaries. Read on to see how the Lower San Juan and several other rivers are affected.
American Whitewater staff traveled to Green River, UT in late March to meet with private water users and state agencies, and to participate in the official opening of the new boat passage through the Green River Diversion (Tusher Dam). Completion of the boat passage has freed the Green River from its last in-stream obstruction between the Flaming Gorge Dam and the confluence with the Colorado River – over 400 floatable river miles through iconic canyons and historic landmarks. It has a been a long process, and our work isn’t over yet! As your boating representative, American Whitewater will continue to work closely with the dam operators and Utah’s Division of State Lands (FFSL) to ensure that the boat passage meets the needs of the public during its inaugural year.
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