Solo in the Desert Pt 1 – Coyote Gulch

Coyote Gulch is a classic backpacking trip in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Here is my  trip report of an ~28 mile loop I did there over Thanksgiving Weekend.


Ask for the ancient paths where the good way is and walk in it and find rest for your souls.

–From an ancient text by a nomadic desert tribe

Ask a multitude of  outdoors people some favorite places and invariably certain names always come up.  Places like The Winds.  Or the High Sierra. Glacier. The San Juans. The Whites.

And one place that always seems to be named with an almost sound of awe and reverence in their voice? The red rock and canyon country of the Colorado Plateau.

When talking about this place, many people get a glow to their eyes.

Stark red hoodoos are remembered.  Memories are recalled of walking along an  arid plain above and then discovering a lush world below the canyon rim. A place  with  flowing rivers, grass and  cottonwoods swaying in the breeze  and deer grazing.  A land where we walk in the footsteps of  ancient people.

It is truly a unique place. A place that a lifetime is not enough to explore.

And since my first trip there over ten years ago, it is a place where I always long to return.

When I had some extra time to spend over Thanksgiving weekend (and someone wanting to do schoolwork), I immediately plotted my escape into Utah. The first place that came to mind was where I fell in love with canyon country so long ago: Coyote Gulch.

I did it as a day hike then but always wanted to do it as a backpacking trip.

So this year I did.  Poured over the map. Plotted out a loop. Packed my gear and off I went.

The miles ticked by as I left the foothills around Boulder and crossed the Continental Divide. The high mountains again receded to foothills and then around Grand Junction, the red rock country finally began.  Utah was crossed into  and I winded my way through the lonely roads with its stark terrain.  I finally arrived just at dusk and pulled up to the  Red Well TH.  A quick truck bivvy was done and I settled in for the night.

In the morning, I saw a lone gentleman that had arrived overnight. We only said hello to each other briefly. I think we both respected the solitude we each came out here for.  Small talk was not something we were seeking.

Instead, I  quietly gazed over the terrain I’d be walking as I sipped some coffee.  The sun was up, the air was cool and I did not want to be anywhere else.

After my breakfast, the pack was hoisted.

The trip had truly begun.

I entered the dry wash with its worn path leading further into the gulch.

What was a trickle of water near the entrance of the canyon started flowing more.

The stark landscape of above gave way to cottonwoods still showing late Fall color and Scarlet Gila showing an intense red.

Deer was seen and even spotted some  wild turkey tracks.


Pushed further into the canyon. The flow increased and the walls became steeper.

Jacob-Hamlin Arch was spotted.

The canyon was further pushed into and around the corner of a canyon wall, perhaps the most famous landmark of the gulch was spotted: Coyote Natural Bridge.


The red sandstone, the flowing streams and the way the light is reflected off the graceful curves of the formation makes this place a memorable one.

Further along the canyon I went. More arches were spotted and the red walls continued to get ever higher and more sheer.  The water gained force as it came closer to its confluence with the Escalante River.

Shortly before this confluence and right around where I was to exit the canyon, the day was starting to grow short.

Luckily, I found an alcove above the stream that was perfect camp for the evening.

The following morning, I made my way up the canyon and back to the rim.

Some last looks were had to the rock walls and Stevens Arch.

The Crack was reached and I squeezed through with my pack over my head.

The canyon rim was reached and a cairned red rock route was discovered.

When the cairns stopped, a well-worn use trail lead back to the TH.

At the 40 Mile Ridge TH, I did a short road walk before the true off trail hiking began.

I left the jeep road and began hiking cross-country to Chimney Rock.

The non-zoomed photo gives a better view of the expanse of the area:

A sea of red rocks were crossed as I made my way along by compass to where Chimney Rock would be located.

Briefly dipped into Hurricane Wash…

…and arrived at Chimney Rock.

Took one last look back to where I’ve been:

Chimney Rock proved to be a great place to pause and take in the scenery before making the final push back to my vehicle.

Briefly followed a jeep road again and started to head cross country.

Much to my surprise, an old jeep track appeared. And it headed in the direction where I wanted to go. The old cattle dung lead the way!

The car was reached shortly before dusk.  A cold beer was enjoyed as I simply sat and took in the day starting to turn into night and thinking about the trip I just had.

Two more days would be had among the red rocks.

But these past two days would be hard to top. Not only for this trip, but for trips to come.

I will be back again.


Getting There: This link from Summitpost has good directions.  I’d just add to make sure you have a full tank of gas before heading down Hole In The Rock Road.  The town of Escalante is less than 5 miles away.   Boulder, UT has a 24 hr gas station available.

Speaking of Hole In The Rock Road, it is very wash-boardy. A A 2WD passenger vehicle should be able to make it to the Red Rock Well TH if conditions are dry. I saw a Prius at the TH. The going will be slow, though.

The Route:  Red Well TH > Coyote Gulch > out at The Crack > 40 Mile Ridge TH > The Watertank  TH > x-country to Chimney Rock and then x-country to Red Well TH.    +/- 28 mi RT

Here’s a rough trace on the map. (Not to be used for navigation, but for reference only)

Navigation: I used TI Map 710: Canyons of the Escalante  and some printed topos for more detail. For general navigation, the TI map was fine.  Coyote Gulch is very easy to follow. The Crack was easy to find as there is an obvious path going up from the canyon floor. From the rim to 40 Mile Ridge TH, there is an obvious social trail. To get to Chimney Rock from The Watertank is super easy. You can spot if most of the way once over the ridge crest  and a compass bearing is easy to follow in this open terrain in any case.  Once at Chimney Rock, look for the old jeep track that almost leads all the way back to the Red Well TH. It was almost identical to the compass bearing I was going to follow.   A GPS is not needed at all IMO.

Crack-in-the-Wall: Different websites really play up the difficulty of this exit. It ain’t that bad IMO. If you have a lighter pack and are conditioned, the climb is steady but not overly difficult. As for the crack itself, it is narrow and the pack probably has to be taken off. But, again with a light pack, easy enough to lift over the head as you squeeze through the canyon wall.

Water:  Plenty of water in the gulch. After that, 1 liter per 5 miles is a conservative figure for most people in temperate to very warm conditions. Plan accordingly when carrying out of the canyon.  I did see a solar well along the way to The Watertank, but I am not sure because this bull dissuaded me 🙂  :


Part two here…

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Eddy De Wilde
Eddy De Wilde
2 years ago

Paul I enjoyed your write up of this trip, must be a great feeling to wander into this desert country and have it to yourself. A wonderland where you can discover things few others see. Thanks for the great photos.