Another Great Family Hike near Escalante: The Box (Pine Creek)

On our family hiking trip to Escalante this year, we did 3 great hikes, but I can’t really recommend all of them to you.  We spent one very long day crossing the Boulder Mail Trail, including freezing in the chest deep water of Death Hollow.  I won’t recommend that one as a great family hike — it was HUGE!  But another hike, this one only about 10 miles up the Hells Backbone road outside of Escalante, I can recommend unreservedly for your family.  This easy hike up a beautiful drainage crosses a little creek through a Ponderosa forest, and could definitely done by any level of hiker.

sun coming up in the box the box -- looking upThere are two ways to hike “The Box,” which is what the Pine Creek drainage is called.  A really wonderful way to enjoy this whole trail would be to be dropped off at the top Upper Box Access point, about 19 miles from Escalante, where Pine Creek crosses the Hell’s Backbone road.  Follow the stream about 9 miles down and be picked up by a shuttle car at the Lower Box trailhead, only 10 miles up the Hell’s Backbone road.  We did not do this because after our monster hike on Thursday, we weren’t sure how much of a hike we wanted on Saturday.  Turns out, we could easily have done this as a through hike.  Instead, we hiked about 5 miles up from the Lower trailhead, then turned around and headed back to our  car.  It was a great hike, although we regretted not seeing the whole trail.

lulu crossing pine creek crossing at the boxStream crossings begin right away from the lower trailhead, and in the 5 miles we hiked, we crossed the stream 20 times. (And 20 more on the way back down.)  Many of the crossing were “rock hoppers,” and could be done without getting your feet wet (if you are coordinated–which I am not.)  There were trees across many spots as well, but all of us ended up with wet feet.  Eden grabbed a little tree to steady herself on her next-to-last stream crossing and it slowly lowered her into the stream, getting her whole side and back wet!  If only we had known in advance to turn on the video . . .

pine creekThere are many wonderful campsites along this trail, making it ideal for an easy, light (no need to carry water) overnight trip as well.

We completed our trip to The Box by driving the rest of the Hell’s Backbone road.  Of course, we had to take a picture at the Hell’s Backbone bridge, a narrow span between very steep drop-offs (Death Hollow and Sand Creek drainages.)

all of us at hells backbone

I highly recommend this trail to you and your family.  Have you started your hiking season yet?  How is spring progressing where you are?  Please leave me a comment below.

Backpacking Paradise: Coyote Gulch with Kids

On May 11, we headed out for our second backpacking trip ever with the whole family.  It was the first time we had taken the little ones backpacking with us in the desert.  Backpacking in the desert is harder than the places we go in the mountains because you have to carry enough water for everyone.  Although we have backpacked places where there were no reliable sources of water, this trip would take us into a beautiful desert canyon with a creek running through the bottom.  We knew we would be able to find enough water to purify, so everyone got to come along.

Access to Coyote Gulch is on the Hole in the Rock Road outside of Escalante, Utah.  I know I’ve been talking alot about this area, and I have to say again — this is a desert rat’s paradise.  I wish I could live there.  I don’t think I would ever get tired of exploring.  About 33 miles down this washboard dirt road is the Hurricane Wash trailhead.  Again, I am not going to give detailed trip mileage, because it is easily found on other sites.   From the Hurricane Wash trailhead, the first 3 miles is a sandy open trail following the wash, but as water comes into the wash and you near Coyote Gulch, the canyon deepens and is quite pretty.  Once you enter Coyote Gulch, you are in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

The creek has huge meanders which have cut deep alcoves into the rock.  In these alcoves, springs and hanging gardens making a beautiful green contrast to the red sandstone.  There is an abundance of life in this canyon, with birds calling from every side, HUGE lizards, desert toads, tadpoles, fish and plenty of deer tracks (although we didn’t see any deer.)   We also saw a rattlesnake in Hurricane Wash.  This is only the second time we have ever seen a rattlesnake in our hikes.

The main high points usually referenced in the trail guides are Jacob Hamblin Arch, Cliff Arch (also called Jug Handle Arch) and Coyote Natural Bridge.  But every step of this gorge is beautiful with waterfalls cutting through sandstone ledges or water sparkling over sand, springs spraying through hanging gardens to the creek below, and huge cottonwoods making shade over boulders.

We packed into a beautiful spot near Jacob Hamblin Arch.  We had heard that there weren’t many camping spots farther down canyon, but when we dayhiked the rest of the canyon the following day, we found that there were many spots continuing for miles past our camping spot, so don’t feel pressured to pick your spot early.  If you are lucky, you might catch one of the spots on the sand ledges inside an alcove — there are several beautiful ones.  After we made camp the first night, the kids enjoyed water walking while we rested and set up camp.

The second day, we hiked down the creek, making it within half mile of the river.  There was a large climb over a pour off here that we were unable to do because the kids had dropped their shoes a couple of miles up river (they were hiking barefoot in the sand.)  So, we turned around, went back to our camp (round trip about 12 miles) and then hiked another 3 to camp in Hurricane Wash the second night.  This left us with only 5 miles to do Sunday morning, which is a good thing because everyone is tired of hiking by the third day.

Lulu and Max were excited because they had “hiked a marathon.”  We were all happy that we had done this trip.  It was an excellent place for backpacking, and we  can’t wait to go again.

Do you enjoy backpacking with your kids?  What do you think are some keys to making backpacking with little kids successful?  Please leave me a comment!

Hiking Peekaboo and Spooky Gulch

Just a few more pictures of a must visit hike in the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument.  Peekaboo and Spooky are a very accessible hike for families at the Dry Fork trailhead about 25 miles down the Hole in the Rock road.  After a short climb down slickrock to the wash bottom, you will find Peekaboo slot canyon.  Help each other up the moki steps (steps chipped into the rock such as may have been used by ancient peoples,) then enjoy winding your way through connecting arches of stone.  Try not to giggle and laugh and you climb over, under, around a through tunnels cut through the stone.

It truly is a great place to play Peekaboo!

When Peekaboo narrows up to much to go on, climb east over a sand ridge to Spooky Gulch.  It is a most flat but very narrow slot canyon, at times only about 18 inches wide.  When you have traveled as far as you like, return the way you came, or climb to the top and out the top.  You may retrace your steps to the trailhead (we did, another trip through Peekaboo is fantastic!) or follow the wash to the slickrock climb to the parking lot.

Hope you are having a great day!

Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument: Take the kids to the Devil’s Garden

Devil’s Garden, about 14 miles down the Hole in the Rock Road outside Escalante, is another must visit place if you are passing through.  Not really a hike, more of an adventure/explore, this is like a natural playground for kids of all sizes.  The hoodoos are weathered into separate spires, and are gentle enough to allow climbing on, around, and through arches, tunnels and holes through the rock.

Allow plenty of play time, but unless you are following your kids closely, hang whistles around their necks.  That way, if they get turned around, they will have a way to alert you to their location.

Coming up soon:  Upper and Lower Calf Creek Falls and Peekaboo and Spooky Slot Canyons (for kids.)  Also, how to take time to summer school yourself (for Mom.)  Hope you are planning a great weekend!  Leave me a comment about your plans!

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!