In 1872, a member of John Wesley Powell’s survey party, Almon Harris Thompson, first explored the Escalante River. He decided to name the area after an explorer named Escalante, which means to escalate upward, like stairsteps, which describes the plateaus surrounding the park.

In 1954, Wide Hollow Reservoir was constructed to provide irrigation for the town of Escalante. The reservoir is stocked with rainbow trout and bluegill, and is popular for water sports.

A visitor center was built in 1991, and features petrified wood, petrified dinosaur bones, ammonite, and shell fossils.

Visitors will enjoy several trails, which wind throughout the park. The Petrified Forest Trail is a one-mile loop, winding through lava flows and thousands of pieces of petrified wood. The Sleeping Rainbows trail is an optional .75-mile loop off the Petrified Forest Trail. This section is much steeper and requires scrambling and climbing over rocks.