“Located in the vast Grand Staircase-Escalante desert, Coyote Gulch is a winding, semi-narrow canyon that snakes its way down through incredible red rock country, and joins with the Escalante River just above Lake Powell. The hike is long, best suited for an overnighter, though it can be hiked in one day by those satisfied with a march instead of a casual exploration. Hikers will pass a good number of arches, as well as the hardy wetlands that thrive within the shade and moisture of Utah’s desert oases.”….Taken from Utah.com
Route to Coyote Gulch: Crack-In-The-Wall
Route type: Out and Back
Backpacking Miles: 17
I’m not even sure if what I write will capture the beauty of this area or how blessed I was to backpack through this canyon with my family. For us, this was a fantastic backpacking trip that easily knocked prior backpacking destinations off their top ranking positions.
We began our trip with a quick stop at Utah Canyons, a small outfitter, gear shop and coffee stand in Escalante. After grabbing some maps, coffee, and getting some recent road and trail beta we set out on our 2 hour dirt road drive to the trailhead. The road was manageable but we heard the last mile to the trailhead was going to be a challenge with deep soft sand. In the end, the only real concern was crossing the last cattle guard that steeply dropped off and you could hear the scraping of the cattle guard on the frame of the car. Ugh….no damage though.
We arrived at the trailhead in late afternoon. The air was quiet and the four of us stood atop the plateau looking in every direction. It was miles and miles of desert and silence. As we looked out to the north, we could see our trail. A sand trail that lead directly up to the canyon rim and dropped off. The kids were so excited to be out in the desert and so remote. As Jonathan and I reconfigured the car and prepped the backpacks for the trip, the kids ran all over trying to catch lizards. We enjoyed the sunset, watched a movie together and then slept under the stars.
Everyone was up just after the sun rose. The goal was to get moving so that we would not be walking across the desert during the hotter part of the day. As hard as we tried, we didn’t start hiking until 10 am. There are always last minute little things to do before you start. At 10 am, a fellow hiker took our picture and we set out across the desert. Rosabell’s initial pace was a little slow. I think the shock of desert sand walking was almost defeating to her. Fortunately, she walked with her daddy and he kept her preoccupied with other conversations to take her mind off the actual trail. After an hour or so, we left the sand trail and began our journey across the slick rock, marked by cairns toward our “drop in” point on the canyon. Jonathan led the way and we were all excited to check out our entry point to the canyon.
After a half hour, we approached the “Crack-In-The-Wall.” If you don’t already know, the Crack, is a 150 foot long crack that you lower yourself into and slowly walk through. There are some points that you climb down but with buddy help or using foot holds/hand holds you make your way to the other end and begin your sand dune descent down to the canyon floor. The only obstacle is that you must lower your backpacks down a 30 foot wall….so you must have rope. If you are 8 and 10 (or even an adult), this is a really fun area. The kids loved climbing up and down this narrow passage and helping us unclip backpacks as they were lowered over the wall.
After all backpacks were lowered and we all made our way through this narrow crack, we began our descent to the canyon floor. Teaching moment: My son says, “Mom, hiking down this sand is so easy, I feel like I could run down to the bottom.” “Yes, Son, wait until you have to climb back up this……the easier the descent, the more difficult the ascent.” Thirty minutes hiking down the sand hill and we were at the bottom of the canyon. We all dropped our packs next to the river and just stood there in amazement of the beauty.
The river water was warm, the Juniper trees were bright green and the red canyon walls hundreds of feet tall. This was insanely beautiful and serene. We instantly became small and isolated in comparison to everything around us. While sitting on a rock eating lunch, 8 inch lizards came running by. The kids were in heaven. After lunch, we strapped on our backpacks, took off our shoes and began walking in the river up canyon to explore and find a campsite.
We spend the next two hours slowly exploring every twist and turn in the canyon. Eventually, we settled on a river side camp spot. Normally we would have opted for higher ground, but the forecast called for 0% precip for the next three days, so we were safe. After quickly setting up camp, we grabbed a day pack and continued to explore Coyote Gulch. I’d like to say we went for miles and miles, because there were so many fascinating places we knew we could see on this route, but the kids truly soaked up every inch the canyon had to offer. If there was a waterfall, they had to run into it, if there was a wall to climb….they climbed it, if there was a frog hopping away….they had to watch it. My kids spent the entire day (noon-7pm) in the waters playing, climbing and exploring. My heart was filled with so much joy seeing how much they were experiencing and enjoying.
After a long day and about ten hiking miles, we settled into camp and enjoyed dinner as the sun set in the red canyons. The kids slowly washed their dishes in an attempt to prolong getting in their sleeping bags. After we were all in our sleeping bags, we spent the next hour admiring all the constellations. The kids fell asleep full of memories.
We had a few night interruptions (going to the bathroom in the dark and small sunburn that needed attention) but otherwise slept so peacefully with a river flowing in the distance. As the sun rose, we all laid in our sleeping bags enjoying the view and cool morning air. In the morning, we split up the duties of making breakfast and breaking down camp. Granola and oatmeal for breakfast and hot tea to go with made this a perfect morning! We slowly packed our packs and cleaned up camp. We didn’t want to leave. If there is one mistake I made, it was only getting a permit for one night. Next time, at least two nights.
With backpacks on and full stomachs, we began our hike down the canyon. The pace was a little slow going. I don’t think anyone wanted to leave. Our time in Coyote Gulch was just too short. We made our way down the canyon to the start of the uphill sand dune climb. We pumped water to ensure everyone was topped off with water. I was projecting an hour climb up the sand dune. It was 11:00am when we began the climb and the sun was beating down on us and the sand. The kids never got in to a hiking rhythm, but instead would hike for 4 or five minutes or so and stop. This was definitely a challenge for them to climb uphill in the hot sand with full backpacks on. Jonathan and I would alternate positions in the line and try to encourage each of them to rest and breathe appropriately or just to keep drinking water.
Seventy minutes later, we make it up the sand hill to The Crack. We all rested in the shade and ate lunch. The kids looked exhausted after that climb but came back to life with lunch, shade and the thought of playing in the crack again. We hoisted backpacks up the wall again and the kids ran back and forth in the narrow walls again. They practiced chimney climbing the last ascending part of the wall and enjoyed climbing other rocks at the top of the canyon rim.
With two miles left and a visual on the cars at the top of the hill, we started back across the sandstone. Eventually, we split up, J-Hawk and I took the exact trail back up the second (less steep, but longer) sand dune hill and Rosabell and Jonathan took a more creative approach (avoiding sand dunes at all cost). I loved watching Jonathan and Rosabell hike across the sand stone in the distance. He kept her motivated and they shared this special moment alone together backpacking across the desert. I walked my last two miles with my son and we talked about our plans/goals when we return…..because we will return.