Calf Creek is a terrific red rock canyon hike in the heart of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Located about 60 miles east of spectacular Bryce Canyon on Scenic Byway 12, Calf Creek is a tributary to the Escalante River. The trail beside this remarkably lush year-round stream, culminating in a towering waterfall, is not to be missed.
The six-mile hike (round trip) to the falls begins at the Calf Creek campground, midway between the towns of Boulder and Escalante. Grab a parking spot and set off early as this is a very popular trail. As you leave the trailhead pick up the handy printed trail guide to learn about the geology, flora, fauna and ancient inhabitants of this wonderful canyon.
Like a miniature Zion, sheer walls of pink and golden sandstone rise 500 feet on either side of the canyon. The trail winds in and out of shady stands of boxelder and gambel oak trees, through patches of willows, reeds and horsetail ferns, and over low ribs of slick rock sandstone. Look for beavers and native trout in the clear, cold creek beside the trail.
Halfway to the falls, heed the advice of the handout and look for ancient pictographs and storage granaries on the far side of the canyon. It is believed that the rock art and hard-to-spot granaries were the handiwork of the so-called Fremont Culture tribes who inhabited the canyon over 1,000 years ago!
Bird-lovers will appreciate this hike because the canyon is alive with birdsong. Look for colorful orioles, golden finches, and other beauties flitting among the trailside shrubs. In the spring and early summer, pretty desert wildflowers bloom all along the trail. If you’re lucky, you may see deer, beavers, or wild turkeys. We spotted a great horned owl perched in the doorway of an ancient granary high on a sandstone cliff.
After hiking for an hour, you may begin to hear the roar of Lower Calf Creek Falls. This slender cataract cascades 125 feet down a sandstone wall and into a deep pool, popular with perspiring waders after the three-mile hike. There are lots of tranquil places under the trees near the spectacular falls to rest and take a bite of lunch.
Returning the way you came, be prepared to say hello to the dozens of in-coming hikers who got a later start than you did. As the canyon warms in the midday sun, wildflowers open to the life-giving rays. Look for lizards, butterflies and other sun-loving species. Watch trout rise in the pools behind the beaver dams.
This trail to Lower Calf Creek Falls is truly one of the finest and most accessible in the entire Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Surprisingly verdant and loaded with wildlife and evidence ancient inhabitants, this canyon hike is not to be missed.