Best Family Hike in Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument: Willis Creek

First of all, I’d like to thank everyone from the Simple Homeschool blog who has stopped by this weekend . . . hope you enjoy yourself and come back.

Secondly, I want to talk about visiting Utah’s National Parks.  Many people, both locals in Utah and visitors, think of Utah and either remember skiing in beautiful mountains (true), or the Bryce and Zion National Parks with beautiful red rocks and canyons (also true.)  However, because those are the two images people have of the state, you will also find TONS OF PEOPLE at those destinations.  So, if hiking in crowds is not your style, I strongly suggest visiting other public lands in Utah, especially Capitol Reef National Park and the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument.  Beautiful hiking in desert canyons and slot canyons, without the crowds, make these two areas of Utah our family favorites.  We spent five days in the tiny town of Escalante last week, and I am anxious to show you some of the beauties of the area.

Our vote for the best family hike in the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument is Willis Creek narrows.  It is an easy, beautiful hike with very accessible slots for kids and novice hikers.  It was the first place we visited on our hiking vacation this year.  Access this hike from Cannonville and the Kodachrome Basin road, about 40 miles east of Escalante.  For a detailed map and hiking trail guide, look here.

Willis Creek crosses the road with large gravel parking pulloffs on either side of the creek.  We parked here and ate our lunch before hiking.  The trail begins on the north (left) side of the wash and goes above the creek because there is a tiny slot canyon and pouroff right at the beginning of the trail.  It is possible to climb directly down the slots in the water, but probably not without getting your feet wet.  Immediately after the slots, the trail again follows the water, and continues down stream.

The hike alternates between open spaces of canyon and short but beautiful slots.  The slots are narrow, about 6 feet wide, but not claustrophobic for a new hiker, and had no obstacles to climb. Basically, the floor of the canyon is all fine gravel with some water flow.  It makes for easy hiking– no sand slogging here– and plenty of chance to get your feet wet or not, as you decide.

Of course, our family always finds a place to climb.  This fascinating arch is rather high on the wall, so not everyone climbed up into it.

You can hike down this wash until it meets Sheep Creek in about 3 miles.  Sheep Creek is a wide sandy canyon with no flowing water.  You can hike Sheep Creek as an access to other slot canyons, including Bull Valley Gorge, but most people just choose to turn around and enjoy Willis Creek again.  The narrows are just as enjoyable the second time around.  This is another reason the hike is so family friendly — you don’t have to go a certain distance to see the “sight”, you can just go as far as you feel like walking and then turn around and head for the car, enjoying every minute.

We hiked to Sheep Creek and back in about 3 hours.  It was an easy walk and very enjoyable.  If your vehicle will handle it (the road is a little rougher from here on out,) be sure and drive the extra mile and a half to at least look at Bull Valley Gorge.  It is a narrow, deep canyon that crosses the road just past Willis Creek.  There is a bridge with a clear parking space well back from it on the road.  Keep ahold of your little ones as you go up to look!

The entry into this canyon is about half a mile up canyon.  If you can hold onto your kids and feel safe, you should walk the edge of this canyon and imagine what the ranchers who ran cattle here in the early 20th century felt about discovering this canyon.  It is a really exciting place to look at.  The downclimb into the canyon is easy, but we were stopped only about a quarter mile down the canyon by an obstacle with a 12 foot drop, and were not able to continue.  Our kids are big enough to enjoy this kind of a challenge, however, and we were glad we had stopped to see this sight.

I hope you get a chance to visit this beautiful place soon.  If you do, drop me a line . . . maybe I’ll come along, too.

If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to receive the next installments.  I’m planning another hike report along with a great “Picnic Chicken” recipe this week, and also some information about doing school during the summer.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments!

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6 Comments

  1. Thanks for this post! I’m taking a road trip next week- looping through Southern Utah around the grand canyon and was looking for kid-friendly hikes, and your post has been very inspiring. I’m excited to see Willis Creek it looks amazing, great pictures!

    Reply
  2. Lynn

     /  January 25, 2013

    This sounds great! We are planning a trip in mid-April–trying to figure out logistics. We aren’t sure we’re up to backpacking with the kids; thought about camping at Kodachrome Basin State Park and doing day trips into Grand Staircase. Any thoughts about that? Would you be willing to email with me? We’re a family of 4 in Seattle, WA.

    Reply
    • That sounds wonderful. There are lots of great day hikes you could do that time of year. Email me at onemoregranolamom (at) gmail (dot) com with some more specifics– how long are the hikes you’re planning and how many days you’ll have. I’d live to give some suggestions.

      Reply
  3. Great Post. I’m adding Willis Creek to my plans in May. Did you enjoy Kodachrome? We’ll be exploring this area after 4 days in Zion and Bryce. Others have told me that Kodachrome will be a letdown after the big parks.

    Reply
    • Kodachrome would not top my list– definitely not when there are other great places so close. Besides Willis, Lower Calf Creek and Devils Garden– both in the Grand Staircase/Escalante area –would be great, as well as Peekaboo and Spooky slot canyons. They are easy for families but really spectacular. Hope you have a great trip!

      Reply

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