Escalante Creek - 01. Escalante Forks to Captain Smith's Cabin

Escalante Creek, Colorado, US


01. Escalante Forks to Captain Smith's Cabin (Excellante!)

Usual Difficulty IV-V(V+) (for normal flows)
Length 6.5 Miles
Avg. Gradient 131 fpm
Max Gradient 200 fpm

Corkscrew, Escalante Creek

Corkscrew, Escalante Creek

River Description

Driving up the narrow dirt road through Escalante Canyon you're presented with 400' sandstone cliffs framing a wide desert valley. At the bottom of this valley is a narrow gorge carved into dark igneous rock, hidden deep inside is Escalante Creek. This is a very beautifull place, even if your not a class V paddler this canyon is worth seeing!

Just a fraction of the view from the lower gorge.

The season for running Escalante Creek is extremely short. Most years it will run for a week, maybe two. In dry years it won't run at all. It is fed by snowpack on the Uncompahgre Plateau, which is in a low elevation, hot and dry part of the state. The run-off goes quickly, and starts earlier in the season than anything else in Colorado. Usually in the second half April after several days of hot, sunny weather. If it becomes overcast, or if a storm rolls through, the creek will shut down quickly. Check during this time for beta on the flow. There will be lot of hype, controversy, and occasional facts concerning the level!

The creek is a typical desert stream in that it is very muddy. There are a lot of shallow rocks hidden in this silty water so you have to very carefully read the surface of the water to avoid pitoning or being deflected off your line. This is compounded by the fact that this creek rarely has good water to pad it out and is usually run very low.

Also, many of the major falls require you to boof hard left or right to avoid sharp rocks, pitons, overhanging walls, etc... Scout all horizon lines!

In the upper 3/4 of the run all the major drops are spread out and have clearly defined horizon lines with good eddies above them. There is a good amount of III/IV boogie water between the major drops.

The lower gorge is very intense, it's like all the previous major drops placed end to end. Know where to get out before the gorge if you don't want to run it. The only rapid you can scout from river level in the gorge is Escalante falls, all others you have to scout before dropping in.

To get there: The dirt road to Escalante Canyon is between Delta and Grand Junction on Hwy 50. It is narrow washboard road with tire-punching rocks to watch out for, but can be easily driven in a passenger car.

11 miles up the road from Hwy 50 is Captain Smith's Cabin, a well marked funky stone cabin on the right with a covered picnic table. 1/2 a mile further, just after entering public land, is the takeout on the left. Another 1/2 mile or so up the road, on a short gravel road to the left, there is a large sign warning swimmers of "potholes". This is the lower gorge, and the best place to camp. Beware! All glass is prohibited! Rangers WILL give you tickets if you have ANY glass bottles at your camp.

To get to the put-in continue up the road for several miles, and through alternating public and private lands - but it all looks the same. Take the gravel road to the left just before leaving public land for good, there will be an obvious ranch with irrigated fields beyond the fence.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2013-08-06 18:07:48


Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
1.0Leap of FaithIVPortage Hazard Photo
1.5WaterslideIVHazard Waterfall
2.5Double Drop5.0Waterfall
4.0slotIVHazard Waterfall Photo
4.5Corkscrew5.0Access Hazard Waterfall Photo
5.5Escalante Falls5.3Portage Hazard Waterfall Photo
6.0Magnetic Wall5.0Waterfall

Rapid Descriptions

Leap of Faith (Class IV, Mile 1.0)

Leap of Faith

Leap of Faith

Be aware that Leap Of Faith is a sieve, sometimes it is blocked by wood the pool behind it fills up and there is a great boof on the left, sometimes the sieve is clear and all the water goes under the rocks.

Waterslide (Class IV, Mile 1.5)
This is a very dangerous spot on the river, you can eddy out on river right above the drop and set safety at river level. Very sticky hole that causes a lot of swims and protacted thrashings.

Double Drop (Class 5.0, Mile 2.5)
Two slot drops with stout holes back to back.

slot (Class IV, Mile 4.0)

Rib Ripper

Rib Ripper

This small drop could be very painfull if you casualy drop into it. It has a can-opener shaped rock hidden in the spray on the right side. You can barely make out the roostertail it creates in the picture. Good motivation to boof hard left;-)

Corkscrew (Class 5.0, Mile 4.5)

Corkscrew, Escalante Creek

Corkscrew, Escalante Creek

Very aptly named. At the lip of the drop the current slams left directly into a smooth rock. With a good boof right you can brace into the dynamic current coming off the rock, but if you just bob into it straight it will flip you so fast you'll be dizzy. The paddler in this photo has a bad line. At this point your right at the doorstep of the Lower Gorge, get out now if you don't want to run it. There is no pool to swim into, and gradient picks up pace dramatically as it enters the gorge, so this is a bad place to swim.

Escalante Falls (Class 5.3, Mile 5.5)

Escalante Falls

Escalante Falls

Entrapment city! The river right channel drops into a killer pothole. The center channel is the only one that goes, but it is a tricky move and you face the very real possibility of blowing it and heading down the left channel backwards. The river left channel stairsteps down with a bad vertical pin spot that is hard to miss.

Magnetic Wall (Class 5.0, Mile 6.0)
This is a tricky drop that is responsible for most of the swims on Escalante Creek. Fortunately there is a big pool to swim into. Just after the drop the current pulls strongly into an overhanging wall. If you’re upright you can push off of the wall, or just "pogo" of it with your bow - no big whup. If you are upside down ut's unlikely you will be able to roll up.

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
June 8 2012 (2379 days ago)
Craig PhillipsDetails
Gauge info: Start with the Gunnison at Grand Junction
( Subtract the Gunnison at Delta
Gauge ( and the Uncompahgre at Delta
(,00060). If the
difference is 800-1000 it should be in. General Season is Late April-Late May. Check as it will be announced over the wire when someone goes up there for a visual
report. Cold Weather in Western CO can shut it down overnight, very worth it at medium high flows.

Do more than just check gauges; join over 5,000 AW members today.

Or, consider donating

Associated News