Photo by Omer Salom on Unsplash

Coyote Gulch is a gorgeous hike down one of the major tributaries to the Escalante River. Because of its spectacular sights and rock formations, it is the most popular canyon to hike in the Escalante Desert. Come in the Spring or Fall to avoid the sweltering summer heat, and enjoy the beauty southern Utah has to offer.

Where is Coyote Gulch Located?

Coyote Gulch is located in Southeastern Utah near the Arizona border. Part of the Grand-Staircase Escalante National Monument, the gulch itself is near Lake Powell on the eastern side of the monument. Because of its location in canyon country, the hike includes a walk through the desert to reach the wash that leads to the gulch.

How do you get to Coyote Gulch, Escalante?

No matter which direction you are approaching from, the main road to Coyote Gulch takes off from Escalante. Once there, take Hole in the Rock Road, also called BLM 200 to the turn-off for Coyote Gulch/40 Mile Ridge Road. From that point, it’s a quick drive to the first trailhead. If you would like to start closer to the end of the gulch, you will continue driving.

How long is the Coyote Gulch hike?

The answer to this question depends on where you choose to start hiking. The first couple of trailheads allow you to follow a pretty flat, easy path to the gulch, but make the hike very long. The first trailhead, Red Well, is 13 miles to the end of the gulch (where it enters the Escalante River), and then another 13 miles back. 

The second trailhead, Hurricane Wash, is popular with large groups because the approach to the gulch is flat and well-marked. This trail cuts that long hike down by about four miles roundtrip (about 22 miles in-and-back). Because of the length of the hike, many people taking either of these routes choose to make Coyote Gulch a backpacking expedition and camp overnight.

The other trailheads make the hike much shorter, but may also be more difficult to access both because of road conditions and the route you take to get down into the canyon. In good weather, two wheel drive vehicles should make the drive to the trailhead just fine. However, all-wheel or 4-Wheel drive vehicles are recommended because the road is sandy and extremely difficult to traverse if muddy.

The Sneaker Trailhead (or Water Tank Trailhead) is about 12.5 miles round-trip, and can be done in a day if you don’t want to camp overnight. This trail will take you over two miles of desert before you descend into the gulch. Follow the rock formations along the way to ensure you don’t get lost. Make sure you bring a rope and maybe even a harness, because when you get to the gulch, you will be going down the side of a cliff into the canyon. Once in the gulch, it’s easy to find your way along the stream to the end of the hike.

The closest trail is the Crack-In-The-Rock Trail, which is only 2.5 miles from the end of Coyote Gulch (where it empties into the Escalante River). While the five mile round-trip hike is a great option if you’ve only got a day, be prepared for a tough trek across sand dunes, and then a difficult descent through the crack in the rock wall to the sand 50 feet below. Once in the gulch, the hike is fairly flat and easy. The downside to this route is that you miss some of the rock formations that make this trail so famous, including three beautiful arches.

What makes the Coyote Gulch hike so beautiful?

The wash offers the quintessential southern Utah hiking experience. The small stream in the gulch winds around bright red and orange rocks, showcasing the contrasting colors that make Utah so famous. However, it is the rock formations along the way that really make this a unique place. Depending on your route, you may see up to three arches, including the large Jacob Hamlin Arch only the Crack-in-the-Rock trail skips. This combination of water, red rock, and rock formations make Coyote Gulch the all-you-can-see buffet of southern Utah hikes.

What should I bring on the hike?

While the gulch has an abundance of stunning rock formations and landscapes that create shade, temperatures still get into the 100s in the summer. Make sure to pack plenty of water or a filtering water bottle, sunscreen and a hat, and lots of snacks. Much of the hike, no matter the route, will take you through the stream that flows through the gulch. Make sure to bring shoes that can get wet and will have traction on the rocks.

 It’s very important that you don’t leave any trace of your presence in the gulch, so make sure to bring bags or other equipment to pack out trash and human waste. If you are planning on spending the night in the gulch, make sure to also bring camping equipment, but remember, you cannot have a fire.

Do I need a permit to hike Coyote Gulch?

Coyote Gulch backpacking is a great way to experience this national monument. However, if you are planning on backpacking in and then setting up camp for the night, you will need a permit. Anyone who isn’t planning on staying overnight in the gulch can hike without a permit.

If you do need a permit, you can get one from the visitors center in Escalante, or at any of the trailheads. However, during busy times, the trailheads sometimes run out. If you want to avoid worrying about that, plan on getting your permit from the visitors center.