Escalante: Backpacking Coyote Gulch
We are in love with Coyote Gulch. This hike earned a “top 5 ever” list for us, and we were actually hard pressed to list four hikes we’ve done that were better. I’ll be sharing more photos than usual in this report. There’s just so much to show!
If you’ve been following along in these Escalante canyon hike adventures, we’ve been gradually working our way down-canyons towards the Escalante River. The Escalante flows roughly south and east, eventually joining the Colorado and Lake Powell. Coyote Gulch is on of the last canyons you can hike that joins the Escalante. We worked our five day total adventure (including Zebra / Tunnel slots and Peek-A-Boo and Spooky slots) intentionally to move us further and further out Hole-in-the-Rock Road. The far point for us ended up being the Hurricane Wash trailhead, a popular entry point (among several) into Coyote Gulch.
Hurricane Wash is no slouch of a trail! At just over 5 miles to get to the confluence with Coyote Gulch, it combines 3 miles of pure desert wash hiking with a beautiful riparian 2 mile finish. The transition from pinyon, juniper, sage, snake(!) to cottonwoods, running water, and mule deer was stark.
With soaked shoes and socks (more on that later) we arrived at our camp just upstream from Jacob Hamblin Arch. We had a nice little nook of a spot with easy access to sunshine when desired, and plenty of shade through most of the day.
A word on campsites in the gulch: they are everywhere. I read on one trip report that the sites are concentrated near the arch, but we found ample sites all the way down to crack-in-the-wall near the confluence with the Escalante. This would be our camp for two nights, with the middle day spent hiking down and back in the gulch to reach the confluence.
Greeted with clear skies and a beautiful sunrise through the arch, we started our day of hiking. We knew this would be a long day, and in version 2 of our plan I was just going to do an overnight trip! Unless you are extreme endurance and start early, I don’t think there’s a way to do an out-and-back to the gulch and explore down to the confluence without allowing for an interim day.
Waterfalls abound in the gulch, both the classic spilling-over-rocks style of rapids and the carved canyon rock swirl style (those aren’t official styles, I just made that up).
This waterfall was further down the canyon, with a nice perching log crossing the top.
There are two different significant dwelling ruins in this part of the gorge. We explored the first (near the natural bridge) on our arrival day. The ruins were… very ruined and we wondered if they had been dry-stone reconstructed. Folks had gathered a variety of artifacts in one spot (worked sharp stone tools, corn cobs, etc.) which were fun to explore, but otherwise not really worth the climb up.
The second ruin we explored on the long middle day of hiking and found some interesting pictographs along with more ruins. This is the set of ruins near Black Lagoon and is the one worth hiking up to. Similar set of artifacts and the pictographs are a nice combo.
The Black Lagoon is side box canyon, and hiking into is a transition to a swampy tropical forest. We kept encountering small pools of flat black water and thought “is this the lagoon”? The lagoon is obvious and is at the head of the canyon and well worth the side trip. The sun was shining just right to reflect the seep drips from the canyon walls into the pool back onto the wall. I think this might be mosquito heaven in the summer, but it was a nice place to sit and have a snack and rest.
Let’s talk about hiking and water in the canyon: you can’t avoid getting wet unless you have a jet pack or gravBoots. Our hikes would start with deliberate attempts to avoid getting wet. Lots of rock and log crossing, and even broad and running jumps shore to shore (mostly me).
Then you hit a section like the above, shrug your shoulders, and just walk through and realize you will have wet feet. Julie wore her light-weight running shoes with ankle socks. I wore my light hikers / trail runners with no socks. I wished I had worn some no-see-um synthetic socks instead, as the wet and sand were abrasive on my ankles and heel. We both think that river sandals would be the right move for this hike. On the way out of the gulch on our final day I work my cheap ($5) water shoes out for the first 4 miles or so and did much better in those. Once we were back in the dry part of Hurricane Wash I switched to socks and trail shoes. YMMV.
We did not take the exit trail up to crack-in-the-wall as we wanted to get to the confluence and maybe visit Steven’s Arch just upstream on the Escalante. The going was slow after the crack-in-the-wall turnoff, without much payoff in scenery. Plus, there’s a portion of side-scramble above boulder fall that was challenging for us without full packs. There were two men coming up-stream with full packs that lingered for at least an hour trying to either find another route or gather the courage to traverse with their packs.
The confluence was a bit of shoulder-shrug. Even worse, without wading to thigh-to-waist depth we weren’t going to be able to cross the river and hike up to the arch. So we turned around! My advice: unless you are hiking through for a reason, or plan to wade to cross the river, just turn around at the crack-in-the-wall trail. You won’t miss anything.
All in it was between 14 and 15 miles round-trip. This included the Black Lagoon side hike, plus a number of back-and-fourths and route finding. Don’t expect to maintain your normal pace either: we usually range from 20 to 30 minutes per mile hiking. Our hike down gulch to the Escalante was about 9 miles lasting 5 hours.