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Coyote Gulch

With arches, picturesque waterfalls, and miles of sinuous narrow canyon to explore, Coyote Gulch is undeniably one of the best hikes in all of Southern Utah. Despite its remote location along Hole-in-the-Rock Road, this area sees heavy visitation during the prime weather of spring and fall. Many route possibilities exist and can be tailored to the skill level and ambition of your group. This hike is suitable for adults in good physical condition but may be a bit long for most children.

Trailhead

There are several trailheads commonly used to access Coyote Gulch. The two most popular are Hurricane Wash and Fortymile Ridge. Accessing these trailheads requires a long drive on rugged, remote dirt roads. Under good conditions, passenger cars can usually access the Hurricane Wash Trailhead, however the Fortymile Ridge Trailhead requires a high clearance 4WD vehicle to get through the deep, soft sand near the end of the road. Check with the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center at 755 W Main Street in Escalante, or call (435) 826-5499 for current road conditions before beginning your trip.

Reaching Hurricane Wash Trailhead from Escalante:

  1. From Escalante, Utah, drive east on Highway 12 for approximately 5.0 miles to the signed junction on the right for Hole-in-the-Rock Road.
  2. Continue south on Hole-in-the-Rock Road for approximately 33.8 miles to the signed Hurricane Wash parking area (37.38554,-111.132463).

Reaching the Forty Mile Ridge Trailhead from Hurricane Wash Trailhead:

  1. Drive south on Hole-in-the-Rock Road for approximately 2.3 miles.
  2. Turn left at the signed junction for Forty Mile Ridge.
    CAUTION: The Forty Mile Ridge Road contains long stretches of deep, soft sand. A high clearance 4WD vehicle is required to reach the end.
  3. Drive 6.8 miles down Forty Mile Ridge Road to the signed Forty Mile Ridge Trailhead at the end of the road (37.403655,-111.008918).

The Hike

With so many possible access points, route options within Coyote Gulch are plentiful. This trail guide describes a one-way route beginning at Hurricane Wash and ending at Fortymile Ridge. Completing this particular route requires a shuttle and high clearance 4WD vehicle. The information contained here can also be used to complete the hike as an out and back from either trailhead.

From the Hurricane Wash parking area, begin hiking down the well-worn path heading east along the watercourse. The hiker registration box is located a short distance down the trail. The upper section of Hurricane Wash contains the least impressive scenery of the hike, but is generally very easy walking as it follows the meandering wash. After about 2.5 miles, the scenery becomes more interesting as sandstone walls begin to close in on each side. Continue hiking in the watercourse as it passes through impressive narrows, at times only about six feet from wall to wall.

After about 4 miles, the vegetation thickens and small springs begin to feed a perennial stream in lower Hurricane Wash. For the next mile and a half, continue down Hurricane Wash through lush vegetation, cottonwoods, and soaring sandstone walls to the confluence with Coyote Gulch, approximately 5.5 miles from the trailhead.

From the Hurricane Wash confluence, continue hiking down stream in Coyote Gulch. There is no official trail down the canyon so just follow the stream, occasionally crossing over sandy benches on social trails as desired. Aside from a few small waterfalls in the lower canyon, there are no significant obstacles that prevent hiking in the river for nearly the entire canyon. Good wading shoes are strongly recommended.

Continue walking down the stream as the canyon bends and twists through massive alcoves and deep undercuts. The grandeur and scale of Coyote Gulch is hard to comprehend until you are standing below one of the many, arced sandstone cliffs, splashed with streaks of black and brown desert varnish.

After about 1.6 miles, look for Jacob Hamblin Arch on the left side of the canyon; with a span of nearly 100-feet, it’s hard to miss. The arch extends deep into an undercut on the opposite canyon wall, which is nearly as fascinating as the arch itself and offers great shade on a hot day.

Continue hiking down canyon, enjoying the beautiful scenery along the way. About 3 miles from the Hurricane Wash confluence, the river flows over an interesting layer of sandstone where multiple small cascades pour through fluted rock. Commonly known as Swiss Cheese Falls, this waterfall is a decided favorite for photographers.

The next attraction you’ll encounter is a beautiful arch called Coyote Natural Bridge, about 3.7 miles from the Hurricane Wash confluence. Here, the river flows through the middle of a majestic arch and is one of the highlights of the canyon.

Approximately 0.7 miles down canyon from Coyote Natural Bridge, watch for a large sand dune on the left. A well-worn path leads to a ledge at the top of the sand dune where pictographs and ruins of an ancient Indian dwelling can be visited. Ancient corncobs and potshards can be found scattered around on the ground and a fantastic pictograph panel is painted on the wall in vivid red and white colors. This site was likely used by the Fremont Indians more than 800 years ago. Be sure to leave these fascinating relics exactly as you found them.

About 5.8 miles from the Hurricane Wash confluence, work your way through a more rugged section of the canyon where boulders have fallen and blocked easy walking in the stream. Near the end of this rock fall is the first of several beautiful waterfalls in lower Coyote Gulch. Cliff Arch is visible on the north canyon wall from this waterfall but can be hard to see, depending on your angle.

Soon you will encounter two more waterfalls that can be bypassed on the right (looking down canyon). Just downstream from the lower falls, a signed trail on the left leads to a backcountry vault toilet.

Continue down canyon for a little more than a mile before reaching the sand dune exit route on the right. It is possible to continue for another half mile to the confluence with the Escalante River. However, this continuance, would necessitate bypassing a boulder obstacle in the lower canyon, requiring a traverse on an exposed ledge and a little climbing to the river below the obstacle; particularly difficult with a heavy pack. When Lake Powell is at full pool, the confluence is submerged.

To exit the canyon using the Crack-in-the-Wall route and Forty Mile Ridge Trailhead, locate the prominent trail at the base of the sand dune (37.428299,-110.987808), just up stream from the boulder obstacle. Follow the well-worn path up the sand dune for 0.7 miles, gaining nearly 600 feet of elevation along the way. The climb is in deep, soft sand and can be particularly difficult in the midday heat. Be sure to turn around once in a while to get a fine view of Stevens Arch high on the canyon wall to the north.

The sand dune trail ends at the base of a sheer cliff that at first may appear to be insurmountable. Known as Crack-in-the-Wall, this spot provides access to the canyon rim through a narrow gap between rocks in the cliff band. The crack is so narrow that you won’t be able to squeeze a big backpack through so be sure to pack a 30-foot length of rope to raise them up. Large-framed hikers may also have trouble fitting through the narrowest section, so if you have any concerns, it might be better to just hike out and back from Hurricane Wash Trailhead. It is possible to climb over the top of the narrowest section of the crack with some relatively easy 4th class climbing but the route is very exposed and only recommended for those with good climbing skill.

After the first narrow section of the crack, a ledge appears on the left. This is the best place to raise and lower packs from. Many hikers use a ledge about 20 feet further up the crack that requires a much longer haul and causes damaging rope grooves in the rock. Continue up the crack, to a short climb to the canyon rim. You may need to hand up packs here but most hikers should have no problem with the climb.

Once on the rim of the canyon, begin walking southwest, following a cairned route across slickrock and sand toward the Fortymile Ridge Trailhead. Be careful to avoid walking on the delicate cryptobiotic soil that covers much of this area. The distance from the base of the sand dune in Coyote Gulch to the Forty Mile Ridge Trailhead is approximately 2.5 miles.

Total hiking distance from Hurricane Wash Trailhead to the Forty Mile Ridge Trailhead as described in this trail guide is approximately 16 miles, one-way.

Camping

Campsites are plentiful throughout the canyon. Be sure to choose sites that have been previously used and that are on sand or solid rock. Due to the nature of the canyon, it isn’t always easy, but try to camp at least 200 feet from water sources, trails, and other occupied campsites. This is a very popular canyon so it’s possible you may have neighbors close by.

Several small springs are located throughout the canyon but collecting water from them can be a challenge. The creek in Coyote Gulch flows year round. Be sure to treat all drinking water.

Human waste has become a problem in much of Coyote Gulch. It is strongly encouraged that all hikers use an approved solid waste disposal bag and pack it out. Toilet paper is required to be packed out. A backcountry vault toilet is located in the lower end of the canyon for hikers in that area.

Rules and Regulations

  • No littering.
  • Pack out all trash, including toilet paper.
  • No dogs allowed.
  • No campfires allowed.
  • Permits are required for overnight use and are available for free at the visitor center in Escalante. Permits can also be self-issued at trailhead registers.

Special Considerations

  • This area can be extremely hot during spring, summer, and fall. Carry plenty of water and wear appropriate clothing.
  • Hurricane Wash and Coyote Gulch have significant flash flood potential. Do not enter the canyon when significant precipitation is in the forecast. Flash floods can strike quickly and without warning.
  • Due to the rugged and remote nature of Hole-in-the-Rock Road, getting to the trailhead can sometimes be as challenging as the hike itself. Check with the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center at 755 W Main St in Escalante, or call (435) 826-5499 for current conditions before beginning your trip.

Credits

This trail guide provided by Backcountry Post.