October 1, 2009

Lower Calf Creek Falls, Escalante District, UT

Located in the heart of the Navajo Sandstone canyons of the Escalante area is a wonderful hike along a beautiful riparian canyon to the 126 foot high Lower Calf Creek Falls. This hike is very popular and thus the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) charges a $2 per vehicle parking fee. But, it is well worth it to get a taste for these Escalante Canyons, without getting your feel wet, which is what happens in almost all of the other canyons in the area.

The trail starts from the Lower Calf Creek Recreation Area, which is both a campground and a parking area. After walking past a few campsites on the access road, the trail leaves the road to the left just as the road crosses the creek.

The trail stays on the west side of the creek, where it sometimes climbs along the slick rock and other times descends down next to the creek. Much of the trail is covered in sand, which can get very hot in mid-day during the summer, so it is recommended you either not take your dogs or at least have foot protection for them.

The canyon starts out fairly wide, but the further up you go, the narrower it gets. These magnificent sandstone walls rise 500 feet or more above the canyon bottom. Along the way, beautiful stands of gambel oak and box elder provide shade.

In the last stretch, the trail goes right along the creek, where trout can be seen pointing into the current to get oxygen. Then, as you emerge from the riparian forest, this magnificent waterfall comes cascading down the canyon wall. It is a sight I had never seen before and you stand there mezmorized.

If it is hot that day, the cool mist of the falls will be a welcome relief. As you take your boots off and step into the plunge pool, you will be shocked to feel how cold the water it. It had drained down from the 10,000 foot Boulder Mountain and then has been trapped in the sandstone layers for thousands of years. Thus, it remains icy cold year round. I saw someone swim to the base of the falls, but I would not have braved those icy temperatures!

Remember, while this cool, shady spot is a nice reprieve from the heat, you have 3 miles of exposed hiking to return to the trailhead. We left early in the morning and Maile has no problems, as the sand was cool and shade adeuate. But, upon the return, the sand started getting hot. Eventually it got hot enough that we first put socks on Maile’s feet and then in the last ½ mile, we had her walk in the creek all the way back.

So, be prepared with enough water and sun protection. And, watch out for your dog’s feet!

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