From time to time we let visitors know about some of our best-kept secrets. Here’s a look at three great secret hiking locations.
Willis Creek flows along the edge of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, from Bryce Canyon National Park to Sheep Creek. It’s a fairly easy hike along the flat streambed through the deeply sculpted canyon, where blue skies peek through the overhanging ridges. One of nature’s finest sculptures, Willis Creek’s naturally carved windows and wavy canyon walls show the striated effects of rushing water erosion, and the rock face takes on otherworldly insinuations. A small waterfall continues nature’s artwork. Head deeper into the slot and be enveloped by the high-rising walls, sculpted by tumbling water, as the canyon narrows and widens around each turn. There are three sections of narrows, with the last only six to eight feet wide. There may be a little water along the canyon floor in narrower parts of the canyon, and the terrain is rockier in some places. The canyon walls range from 10 feet to 30 feet high, depending on your position in the canyon. The first mile downstream from the parking lot is a favorite section for many hikers. The hike to the first narrows is two miles (easy).
Willis Creek is located nine miles south of Cannonville, and about two miles from Bull Valley Gorge. To reach Willis Creek from Bryce Canyon National Park, head east on Scenic Byway 12 to Cannonville, then head south onto Cottonwood Canyon Road. The spur road for Willis Creek is about 2.8 miles from Cannonville. Willis Creek is about six miles down the maintained dirt road.
Upper Calf Creek Falls
Less visited than Lower Calf Creek, Upper Calf Creek Falls is no less spectacular in its own way. Upper Calf Creek’s trailhead starts on the west side of Scenic Byway 12, around mile marker 81. The white slickrock path is a steep descent—about 600 feet elevation change in one mile—and barren except for natural piles of cairns and occasional desert brush. It’s fairly level from here to the cliff overhang. The waterfall is visible in the distance from the cliffs, falling into an emerald pool. The area around the waterfall is more verdant thanks to the cool pools of water. Wash away the effects of the heat (this hike can be a scorcher in summer) by taking a refreshing dip in the clear natural pools before heading back. On the return trip, find refuge under the scattered juniper trees, while taking in the visual expanse. The hike to Upper Calf Creek Falls is a case of what goes down must come up, so be prepared for the uphill climb back – but it’s worth it!
Coyote Gulch is a favorite among backcountry hikers, offering a secluded and serene backpacking adventure. You won’t run into many hikers but there are several natural features in the landscape, including three arches, a natural bridge, and waterfalls, as well as some Native American rock art. Plan at least two or three days to hike through the secluded Coyote Gulch canyon, located in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument boundaries about an hour from Escalante. Coyote Gulch is long and strenuous and will require rock scrambling and some technical expertise. It is possible to hike part of Coyote Gulch, from the bottom and experience some of this canyon within one day.