Located deep within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area near Escalante, Utah, backpacking in Coyote Gulch is the ultimate desert backpacking trip. Coyote Gulch is a lush canyon filled with scenic treasures including towering sandstone walls, waterfalls, and unique rock formations, including Jacob Hamblin Arch.
If you’re looking for a 1-2 night backpacking trip in the desert near Escalante, Utah, then Coyote Gulch is not to be missed. With that said, it’s a very popular backpacking destination thanks to its scenic views and the a perennial stream that flows through the canyon.
It’s important to be prepared before you go backpacking in Coyote Gulch. This post covers all of the pertinent information that you need to know for a safe and enjoyable experience on the trail!
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Table of Contents
- Permits & Regulations
- Recreating Responsibly in Coyote Gulch
- The Best Time of Year to Go Backpacking in Coyote Gulch
- Getting to Escalante, Utah
- Trailhead Options For Backpacking in Coyote Gulch
- 1-Night Itinerary For Backpacking in Coyote Gulch
- What to Pack
- Safety Considerations
Permits & Regulations For Backpacking in Coyote Gulch
A permit is required to backpack in Coyote Gulch, however you don’t have to navigate through a complicated system or obtain one in advance. Permits are free. You can either fill out a self-issued permit at the trailhead or obtain one at the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center if you want to talk with a ranger or grab a map before your trip. Be sure to read the information on your permit thoroughly so you’re up to date with regulations!
While Coyote Gulch is within the boundaries of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, all of the trailheads are located on BLM land, which means that parking is free.
Because Coyote Gulch is such a popular backpacking destination there are a number of regulations in place to help protect the natural environment and ensure the area remains protected for future generations. Here are the most important regulations to be aware of:
- Pets are NOT allowed in Coyote Gulch. This includes dogs, pack animals, and other pets.
- Fires are prohibited.
- Human waste MUST be packed out using either a portable toilet or WAG bag. There is currently one composting toilet located within Coyote Gulch by Big Spring Alcove (be sure to pack your own toilet paper!).
- Groups are limited to a maximum of 12 people.
Recreating Responsibly in Coyote Gulch
Coyote Gulch is a popular backpacking destination, which is why it’s important to practice Leave No Trace in order to minimize your impact on the environment.
The seven Leave No Trace principles are:
- Plan ahead & prepare. Make sure you know your route and that you pack everything you need for your backpacking trip.
- Travel & camp on durable surfaces. It’s very difficult to find a campsite that is 200 ft. from water in Coyote Gulch because of the creek that runs through the canyon. Do your best to choose a previously disturbed campsite as far from the water as possible. This allows wildlife to access the water at night!
- Dispose of waste properly. Be sure to pack out all of your trash (including food scraps), along with human waste, as required.
- Leave what you find. It’s illegal to collect natural or cultural resources in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Also refrain from carving into the rock, and touching or damaging petroglyphs and other archaeological sites (also illegal under federal law). Take only photos, and leave only footsteps!
- Minimize campfire impacts. Remember campfires are NOT permitted in Coyote Gulch.
- Respect wildlife. Remember to keep a safe distance and never feed wildlife.
- Be considerate of others. You’re likely going to encounter other hikers and backpackers, especially if you’re backpacking in the spring or fall. Noises carry in the canyon, so keep your voice low and don’t play music over speakers! Remember uphill hikers have the right of way on steep sections of trail.
The member-driven Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics teaches people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly. This copyrighted information has been reprinted with permission from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.
The Best Time of Year to Go Backpacking in Coyote Gulch
The best time of year to go backpacking in Coyote Gulch is during the spring (March-early June) and fall (late September-November) when temperatures are mild and pleasant (60-70+°F). While storms can occur at any time, they’re more common during the spring. Be sure to check the forecast prior to your trip to avoid flash floods. Fall is a better option if you’re looking to avoid crowds, which aren’t uncommon during the spring when schools are on spring break.
Summers in Escalante are very hot, with temperatures often reaching 90-100+°F. While backpacking in Coyote Gulch provides shade and ample water once you’re in the canyon, the approach is very exposed. Heavy monsoon rains and thunderstorms are also common during the summer, which can trigger flash floods. Backpacking in Coyote Gulch during the summer is generally not recommended unless you’re an experienced and acclimatized desert hiker.
Winters in Escalante are cold with temperatures frequently dropping below freezing (31°F). Snow is possible, but it typically doesn’t stick around long, especially in lower elevation areas like Coyote Gulch, which sits around 3,700 ft. at its low point. Ice on the trail may be a concern, so consider packing microspikes for traction. You should not backpack in Coyote Gulch during the winter without appropriate cold-weather gear.
Getting to Escalante, Utah
Escalante, Utah, is about a 5 hour drive from Salt Lake City, and a 4 ½ hour drive from Las Vegas.
From Salt Lake City: To get to Escalante from Salt Lake City head south on I-15 to exit 188 in Scipio, Utah. From there take U.S. 50 to Utah State Route 24 to Scenic Byway 12 in Torrey. Then drive over Boulder Mountain, through the small town of Boulder, and south towards Escalante. The stretch of highway between Boulder and Escalante is incredibly scenic, but has some sharp turns and narrow drop offs, so be sure to keep your eyes on the road!
From Las Vegas: The most direct route from Las Vegas to Escalante is via I-15. Drive north out of Las Vegas into Utah until you get to exit 95. From there take Utah State Route 20 to U.S. 89 to Scenic Byway 12. Drive past Bryce Canyon National Park as you make your way towards Escalante. Be aware, once you’re off I-15 you’ll be driving through rural areas where services may be limited (especially on Sundays or during the winter). Never let your gas tank get too low while driving through southern Utah!
Once you arrive in Escalante, head to Hole in the Rock Road. If you’re driving in from Boulder, Utah, you’ll reach Hole in the Rock Road before you get to town, so make sure you have enough gas before heading down.
Hole in the Rock Road is a 62-mile long dirt road originally built by Mormon pioneers looking to access the Colorado River. Today the dirt road is maintained, but has awful washboard conditions, so be prepared for a bumpy drive.
Passenger cars can usually drive down the majority of Hole in the Rock Road, including to 3 of the trailheads for Coyote Gulch. You need to have a high-clearance 4WD vehicle if you’re planning on driving to the end of Forty Mile Ridge Road for the Crack in the Wall Trailhead (the last 3 miles are where things get really rough). The last 7 miles of Hole in the Rock Road also require 4WD. Be aware that heavy rain can make Hole in the Rock Road impassable, even for vehicles with 4WD.
Trailhead Options For Backpacking in Coyote Gulch
There are 4 trailheads that provide access to Coyote Gulch, so there are a few different ways that you can configure your backpacking trip depending on how much time you want to spend in the canyon and how difficult you want your hike to be.
Here’s a breakdown of the 4 trailheads:
Backpacking in Coyote Gulch from the Red Well trailhead to the Escalante River logs about 26 miles round trip. To get to the Red Well trailhead drive 30 miles down Hole in the Rock Road to a signed junction. From there it’s a 1 ½ mile drive to the parking area. Passenger cars should be able to get to the trailhead unless the road is muddy, but be aware there are some ruts in the road.
Begin your hike by following an abandoned road into the boundaries of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The trail eventually enters into a wash where you’ll continue hiking for a few miles. After about 3 miles the trail briefly leaves the wash, hikes above it, and then reenters the wash.
From there the walls of the canyon begin to rise as you continue hiking towards Coyote Gulch. You’ll reach the confluence with Hurricane Wash (see below) after 7 miles and Jacob Hamblin arch after about 8 ½ miles of hiking.
Backpacking in Coyote Gulch from the Hurricane Wash trailhead clocks approximately 25 miles round trip to the Escalante River. The trailhead for Hurricane Wash is located 33 miles down Hole in the Rock Road. Parking is right next to the road across from the trailhead making this the most accessible trailhead for passenger cars.
Traverse east across the desert before entering into Hurricane Wash. From there you’ll continue hiking downstream before reaching the confluence with Coyote Creek. Jacob Hamblin Arch is roughly 7 ¼ miles from the trailhead and makes a great camping location if starting from Hurricane Wash.
The Sneaker Route (aka Jacob Hamblin Trail, aka The Water Tank Route)
Parking for the Sneaker Route is along Forty Mile Ridge Road, which is approximately 35 miles down Hole in the Rock Road. Follow Forty Mile Ridge Road for 4 miles before coming to a corral with a water tank and parking lot on your left. There is a pit toilet at the trailhead.
From the parking area begin hiking north across the desert for 2 miles. The initial stretch of trail is sandy, before turning to slickrock, which can be difficult to navigate. There are plenty of cairns along the way to help, but it’s also important to have a map and compass. The entrance to Coyote Gulch via the Sneaker Route is due north from the parking lot and can be identified by a white marking on the other side of the canyon that looks like a bird.
Getting down into Coyote Gulch requires a very steep descent down a 200+ ft. slickrock cliff. It’s technically possible to climb down without a rope if you have strong downclimbing skills (it’s considered Class 5 climbing), but it will be very difficult (and potentially dangerous) to do so with a heavy backpack on. Most backpackers opt to use a rope to aid as a handline while they downclimb into Coyote Gulch via the Sneaker Route
It has become increasingly popular to day hike to Jacob Hamblin Arch, and many day hikers leave their rope behind so they can climb back out after exploring. You may get lucky and find a rope to help you navigate down into Coyote Gulch, but be aware, the National Park Service has been known to remove and pack them out because they’re considered abandoned property. It’s highly recommended that you bring your own rope and carry it with you during your entire hike.
The Sneaker Route brings you right into the heart of Coyote Gulch. A short walk upstream will take you to the scenic Jacob Hamblin Arch. From there you can continue hiking downstream through Coyote Gulch towards the Escalante River.
The parking lot for the Crack-in-the-Wall route is further down Forty Mile Ridge Road from the Sneaker Route. Be advised that the road gets rough after the parking lot for the Sneaker Route, and requires a high-clearance 4WD vehicle to get to the Crack-in-the-Wall trailhead.
The initial hike from the Crack-in-the-Wall trailhead traverses across the desert for approximately 2 miles. Keep an eye out for cairns to help guide the way and be sure to have a map downloaded to your phone.
The descent into Coyote Gulch requires hiking down a very steep sand dune. You’ll lose about 700 ft. of elevation in ¾ of a mile. The primary obstacle during the descent is navigating through the Crack-in-the-Wall, which is a tight fissure between a cliff face and rock. You will have to take off your pack in order to shimmy your way through the Crack-in-the-Wall. Many backpackers bring a small rope to help lower/lift their backpacks over the rock.
There are a few social trails that emerge from the switchbacks down the sandy slope, but try to stay on the main trail. Once you reach the bottom of the sand dune you’re right by Stevens Arch and the Escalante River. Be advised, access to the river requires some light scrambling. From there continue hiking upstream through Coyote Gulch for 8 miles towards Jacob Hamblin Arch.
1-Night Itinerary For Backpacking in Coyote Gulch
If you’re planning on spending 1 night in Coyote Gulch, this itinerary will allow you to see the best features in the area. This is the route that my husband and I took when we backpacked in Coyote Gulch in April 2021. This route has you entering Coyote Gulch via the Sneaker Route and exiting at Crack-in-the-Wall.
The entire route is roughly 16 miles, which is fairly difficult for an overnight backpacking trip in the desert. You can also extend the trip to 2 nights and take your time hiking through Coyote Gulch or head down to the Escalante River.
To complete this itinerary follow the Sneaker Route into Coyote Gulch. Make a quick detour upstream to visit Jacob Hamblin Arch before continuing your hike through Coyote Gulch towards the Escalante River. You’ll pass scenic natural features along the way like Cliff Arch, Coyote Natural Bridge, hanging gardens, and waterfalls. Find a campsite once you’re beyond Coyote Natural Bridge to get away from most other backpackers.
After roughly 8 miles of hiking through Coyote Gulch, you’ll reach the trail to take the Crack-in-the-Wall route out of the canyon. Climb the steep sand dune (by far the most difficult part of your hike) and navigate through the Crack-in-the-Wall as described in the trailhead section of this guide. Once you reach the top of the sand dune make your way cross-country through the desert towards the Crack-in-the-Wall trailhead. From there, continue hiking down the road back to your vehicle.
Quick Stats For Backpacking in Coyote Gulch: Sneaker Route to Crack-in-the-Wall
Trailhead Location: Google maps
There is a pit toilet at the trailhead.
Trailhead Parking Difficulty: Easy-moderate. The parking lot has a decent number of parking spots available, but this is the lot where most day hikers park, so they may fill up. Even if the parking lot is full you should still be able to find a safe place to park along the road.
Distance: 16 mile loop
Elevation Gain: 3,400 ft.
Difficulty: Moderate-difficult for an overnight trip.
Permits/Fees: Free, self-issued permit required. You can get one at the trailhead.
What to Pack to Go Backpacking in Coyote Gulch
When backpacking in Coyote Gulch you’ll want to pack everything that you need to spend 1 or 2 nights in the canyon.
When packing clothing keep in mind that you lose a considerable amount of elevation hiking into Coyote Gulch and temperatures will likely be warmer than they are in Escalante or along Hole in the Rock Road. Temperatures in the desert drop at night, so it’s important to have an extra layer to stay warm, but you may not need as many layers or as heavy of a layer as you may think (speaking from personal experience).
Here’s what to pack when backpacking in Coyote Gulch:
- Hiking shoes or boots with good traction
- Water shoes for hiking through Coyote Gulch
- Underwear and sports bra
- Wool socks
- Shorts/pants/leggings depending on your personal preference
- Sun shirt for the approach to Coyote Gulch
- Short or long-sleeve moisture-wicking top depending on the time of year
- Mid-layer or jacket/puffy depending on the time of year
- Raincoat or poncho depending on the forecast (although you should avoid backpacking in Coyote Gulch if heavy rain is expected)
- Camp clothes or PJ’s (optional)
- Gloves depending on the time of year
- Camp stove
- Lighter/waterproof matches
- Pot/pan/mug as needed
- Biodegradable soap and small sponge (remember to use soap away from waterways, even if it’s biodegradable!)
- Rodent-proof bag to store food
- Enough food for your trip (always carry more food/snacks than you think you’ll need when backpacking in case you’re extra hungry or out longer than anticipated)
- WAG bag (required to pack out human waste)
- Extra toilet paper and/or a Kula cloth for women
- Hand sanitizer
- Bug spray (I didn’t need bug spray when backpacking in Coyote Gulch in April, but it may be necessary during other times of the year)
- Tampons/pads/menstrual cup if you’re going to have your period while backpacking
Optional Luxury Items
Download my FREE backpacking gear packing list to make sure you don’t leave anything behind!
Safety Considerations When Backpacking in Coyote Gulch
Flash floods are one of the biggest risks when hiking in the desert, including when backpacking in Coyote Gulch. Flash floods occur quickly and often without warning. Even if it’s not raining in Coyote Gulch, storms miles away can trigger a flash flood because many of the streams, gulches, and washes in the area drain towards the Escalante River. If storms are in the forecast reconsider your plans to go backpacking in Coyote Gulch.
Depending on the route that you take to backpack in Coyote Gulch, you may need to do some route finding. Make sure that you’re familiar with your route ahead of time and always carry a map with you. You can also download a map to your phone from apps like AllTrails or Gaia GPS with a pro membership. Be aware that GPS tracking can be fickle inside of the canyon and your phone may not be 100% reliable. It’s always a good idea to carry a physical map in addition to one you have downloaded.
Once you’re in the canyon, navigation is easy. Just remember that the water in the stream is heading down to the Escalante River.
It’s incredibly important to stay hydrated when hiking in the desert. The general rule of thumb is to carry 1L of water per hour of hiking that you plan to do in the desert. If you’re hiking in high temperatures you may want to consider carrying even more. Carrying electrolyte packets like Liquid IV is also recommended to prevent dehydration and replenish electrolytes lost from sweating.
There are no water sources during the approach to Coyote Gulch, unless you’re in Hurricane Wash, but water is plentiful once you’re in Coyote Gulch. Make sure that you have a water filter that can filter both sediment and pathogens.
You may encounter wildlife like frogs, lizards, and snakes while backpacking in Coyote Gulch. You may also encounter small rodents like chipmunks, squirrels, and mice, along with deer. Potential predators in Coyote Gulch include mountain lions and coyotes, however it is extremely unlikely that you will encounter one.
While you don’t need to store food in the same way that you would in bear country, it’s helpful to have rodent-proof storage. Remember to never feed wildlife!
Enjoy your backpacking trip in Coyote Gulch!
Where to Stay in Escalante, Utah
Looking for a comfy bed and hot shower for after your backpacking trip in Coyote Gulch? Check out these Escalante area accommodations.
- Yonder Escalante. A luxury glamping resort with modern cabins, Airstreams, and campsites available. Amenities include a pool, firepits, Dyson hair dryers in the bathroom, and a vintage drive-in movie theater. Read my full review of Yonder Escalante.
- Escalante Outfitters. Rustic cabins and campsites located in the heart of Escalante. Pizza restaurant and gear shop on-site.
- Slot Canyons Inn & Breakfast. Cozy rooms with a view of the desert and a restaurant on-site.