Escalante, Utah, US
|Usual Difficulty||II(III) (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||21 fpm|
|ESCALANTE RIVER NEAR ESCALANTE, UT|
|usgs-09337500||2.20 - 3.45 ft||II(III)||01h58m||1.29 ft (too low)|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 pdf
Escalante Calling - Canoe & Kayak magazine
FLOATING THE ESCALANTE By Rich Henke
Yak-Packing Utah’s Escalante River by Jeff Wallach
Packrafting Utah's Escalante River in Late March by Bill Stadwiser
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|0.0||Calf Creek- Highway 12||N/A|
|70.0||Coyote Gulch - take out||N/A|
|73.0||Crack in the Wall trailhead parking area||N/A|
|85.0||Lake Powell deep water||N/A|
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.