Despite being a National Monument, Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument is a massive area of land covering a massive area of land that is begging to be explored. Sweeping down from Escalante to Kanab, Grand Staircase has opportunities for everyone from the glamping RVers to the primitive backpackers. There are six (that’s right, six) different Visitor Centers that each have different learning and recreation opportunities.
Visit during August or September to a take advantage of Grand Staircase’s Citizen Science Forum (Aug. 2-4), 20th Birthday celebration (Sept. 18th), and the 1st Annual Lower Calf Creek Falls Hike (Sept. 24th.) In for a big thrill but don’t have all day? Take a drive on Hell’s Backbone Scenic Route. The 38-mile loop travels along ridges and mountain contours providing stunning views and creating a show of changing landscapes. The highlight of the drive is Hell’s Backbone Bridge, a wooden bridge with dizzying drop offs on either side. Here are a few more destinations to hit within and around the monument.
Anasazi State Park Museum (within the monument)
Anasazi is a Navajo word meaning “ancient enemy”. It is unknown what the Anasazis referred to themselves as, but they are more commonly referred to as Ancestral Pueblos. This museum allows visitors to explore an Ancestral Puebloan village that is thought to have been occupied from 1050 to 1200 A.D. Outside the museum, take a tour of the six-roomed replica of one of these ancient dwellings.
Insider fact: this village was one of the largest communities west of the Colorado River.
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park (within the monument)
Petrified wood is the fossil remains of trees and vegetation that have been preserved and hardened into a rock like state. Canoe or kayak in the crystal clear waters of Wide Hollow Reservoir then take a hike through hundreds of pieces of petrified wood. Beware however! Many say the pieces of wood are cursed and taking one from the park will result in some serious bad luck (It’s also illegal).
Insider tip: The Petrified Forest Trail is one of the most popular in the park, but few people connect it with the Sleeping Rainbow Trail to throw in some boulder scrambling and more of a challenge.
Kodachrome Basin State Park (within the monument)
Named after one of the first color films, Kodachrome Basin State Park is a stunning array of colors. Over 60 red sandstone spires surround the park, starkly contrasting the bright blue summer skies. Hike among these monolithic spires on the Angel’s Palace Trail to get a look at the basin from above or take the Grand Parade Trail to walk in the bottom and gaze up at these rocks revealing 180 million years of geologic time.
Insider tip: Plan to visit Grosvenor Arch. Located 10 miles outside the park, this intricate double arch is one of the most stunning in the state.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (40 minutes)
Sand dunes aren’t just for the Sahara! Utah has it’s own dunes, tucked away near Kanab. Estimated to be from 10,000 to 15,000 years old, the sand mountains of Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park were formed from Navajo Sandstone rocks. The park is completely open to hikers to play and explore all over the park, as well as ATVs. The visitor center has a wall of different sand collected from around the world, information about the creatures that call the dunes home, and how to identify their prints in the sand.
Insider tip: just because there is snow on the ground doesn’t mean you have to skip the fun. Check out the park in winter, and bring your sleds for some of the best sledding hills around!
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument (1 hour)
This remote desert wonderland holds more than just a few secret gems. But be warned; Vermilion Cliffs National Monument holds no RV hook-ups, air-conditioned visitor centers, or campgrounds complete with toilets. What draws tough-skinned explores to Vermilion? The type of isolation and self-reliance that only the crumbling towers of red cliffs and sand can grant. If you want to fall into the world of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, this is the place to do it. Despite being often overshadowed by it’s neighbors such as Bryce Canyon and Arches National Parks, it still holds one grand treasure that explorers come from across the world for a chance at a permit. “The Wave” is a spectacular geological formation, that resembles of wave of orange, red, and white colored sand solidified.
Insider Tip: With permits being booked months (sometimes even years) in advance, a chance to hike the wave this summer is slim. Try Paria Canyon instead, or try your luck at the raffle every morning in BLM office in Kanab, Utah.