Most people visiting Utah’s National Parks forget about visiting the nearby Grande-Staircase Escalante National Monument. However, even if you forget about it and do not plan to spend any time there, you can still sneak in a few hikes while driving between Bryce National Park and Capitol Reef National Park. Scenic Byway 12 is the main road between these two national parks, and the hikes we are suggesting are off the main road.
There are tons of different hikes and things to do in Grand Staircase-Escalante, but if strapped for time must-do hikes are Peek-a-boo and Spooky Gulch and Lower Calf Creek. They are short, easy hikes and all can be done in one day. We did them while driving from Bryce to Capitol Reef National Park.
Peek-a-boo and Spooky Gulch
Peek-a-boo and Spooky Gulch are two slot canyons that are a lot of fun to climb through. However, getting to the trailhead is not fun at all! From HWY 12 you will have to get on the Hole-In-The-Rock Road, an unpaved gravel/sand road with potholes and ruts for 26 miles.
I remember seeing on the GPS that it would take an hour to drive the 26 miles and thinking, no way! Unfortunately, it takes every bit of that, and just keep your fingers crossed that you do not end up with a flat tire. We were second-guessing ourselves, if the hike was worth the risk while driving there, but on our way back, we both agreed it was worth it!
You can start this hike at either Upper or Lower Dry Fork Trailhead. Both of them have parking and restrooms available before you start the hike. The parking lot for the Upper Dry Fork trail is 1.5 miles closer so you shave off the time you have to spend driving on this crazy road. On top of that, you can combine going through Dry Fork Narrows with the Peek-a-boo and Spooky Loop.
We parked at the main parking lot for the Lower Dry Fork Trailhead. If the main parking lot is full, there is overflow parking about 0.5 miles before the main parking lot. Remember to register and leave your information at the trailhead, so in case you do not return, the rangers know to look for you.
From the parking lot, you will see the trail on your left-hand side. This part of the trail, for about a mile, is basically an easy walk on the rim, and from here, you can see the entrance to the Peek-a-boo Canyon. Since the sound carries from inside the canyon, you may be able to hear some mumbling too.
After about a mile, you will see the back of a wooden sign on top of a rock on your right-hand side. This is a sign for hikers coming back up and you will not be able to see what it says, but it is a hint that you need to start climbing down that very steep rock.
TIP: Cairns are the best trail signs to follow this entire hike. If you do not see one for a while, chances are you are not on the trail.
After making your way down the steep rocks and walking through some sand, there will be a sign pointing left to Dry Fork Narrows, straight ahead to Peek-a-boo, and right to Spooky. If interested, you can do Dry Fork Narrows now or upon your return from the Spooky.
As for Peek-a-boo and Spooky, it is suggested to do the loop clockwise, start at Peek-a-boo and then go to Spooky, that way there is no two-way traffic especially since Spooky is really tight.
The hardest thing about Peek-a-boo is getting in! You have to climb in. There are some shallow steps carved into the rock wall to help or have your hiking buddy pull you in or push you up. After making your way in, you are walking through a maze of amazing views and colors. This hike is 1.2 miles long and a lot of fun.
Upon exiting Peek-a-boo, look to your right for cairns to lead you to the entrance of Spooky Slot Canyon.
The Spooky Slot Canyon is a little bit more of a challenge than Peek-a-boo. At one point midway into the canyon, you have to repel a short distance on a rope down into the canyon to get around some large boulders, and I (Dana) did not feel comfortable doing it. Luckily, Kris was patient enough to help me down. After this point, the walls start closing in with ‘corkscrew’ type narrow passes where you can hardly make your feet fit in. Definitely not something to attempt if you are claustrophobic.
We both walked out of Spooky with eyes wide open and big smiles. It was a great adventure! We suggest wearing long sleeve shirts and pants to protect your skin from the tight rock passages. Bring the least amount of stuff possible with you, and if you have a backpack you will have to frequently remove it and carry it in your hands.
Once out of the Spooky Slot Canyon continue to the right back toward the Peek-a-boo entrance and back to the parking lot the same way you hiked in.
It takes 3-4 hours to complete this hike and we decided to spend the rest of the day hiking the Lower Calf Creek, before heading to Capitol Reef National Park.
The Lower Calf Creek
The parking area for Lower Calf Creek is only a few miles from Hole-In-The-Rock Rd. There is parking, restrooms, and a water filling station before the trailhead. The 6-mile round-trip hike is nice and somewhat shaded and leads you to the secluded 126-ft waterfall that provides a delightfully cool, shady haven.
Along the trail, you will enjoy beautiful views of colorful cliffs, rock art, and granaries where ancient civilizations used to store their food and maybe even run into some animals like mule deer or porcupines.
This is a heavily trafficked trail and takes approximately 3-4 hours to complete.
Both hikes we did were a lot of fun and can be easily completed in one day. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has so much more to offer, and if you have time to spare do not hesitate to explore this national treasure.
other popular hikes In Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Escalante River to the Natural Bridge
Willis Creek Slot Canyon
Zebra Slot Canyon
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