Overview

Originally called Soda Gulch Fiftymile Creek is an Escalante classic featuring soaring varnished walls a perennial stream and an extraordinary section of narrows. This hike can be done as a long day hike or an overnight backpacking trip. The route follows the canyon from near its head on Hole-in-the-Rock Road all the way down to Lake Powell. The length of the hike and how much of the canyon you can see depends on the current water level of the reservoir. Lower water offers a glimpse at the stunning Fiftymile Creek Narrows; some of the finest in the Escalante area.This hike is suitable for older children and adults in good physical condition. Due to the remoteness of this area good navigation skills and a high level of self-sufficiency are required. Extended walking in water and some wading may be required.

Trailhead

The hike to Fiftymile Creek begins on Hole-in-the-Rock Road south of Escalante, UT (37.290766, -111.020675). A high clearance 4WD vehicle is recommended and often required to access the trailhead. No services are available, and finding a cell phone signal is rare in this remote area. Make sure your gas tank is full and that you have plenty of water and supplies before heading out. 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. To reach the Fiftymile Creek 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 45.6 miles to an unsigned turnoff on the right, just before crossing a wash at the head of Fiftymile Creek.
  3. Turn right into the small, unsigned parking area.

Permits are required for overnight use and are available for free at the visitor center in Escalante and at some trailheads. Permits are not available at the Fiftymile Creek Trailhead.

The Hike

From the parking area, begin hiking on the trail leading east along a shallow wash. After about one mile, the canyon begins to narrow and you will encounter a dryfall that prevents easy passage down canyon. Exit the canyon on the left, following cairns for approximately 100 yards before descending an easy slope back to the canyon bottom. If you have the time, it is worth the effort to backtrack and see the narrow slot canyon that was bypassed.

Continue hiking down the dry canyon as it descends gradually toward Lake Powell. After approximately 2.7 miles the scenery changes as a perennial stream begins to flow and cottonwoods and other vegetation appear along the riverbank. After 3.0 miles, look for an arch perched high on the left (north) rim of the canyon (37.310486, -110.984300). At the base of the wall below the arch, there are dozens of ancient petroglyphs chipped into the rock.

Keep hiking beyond the arch as the canyon winds back and forth between breathtaking varnished walls. After approximately 5.0 miles, the canyon turns sharply to the left into a short narrow section that may require some wading. After 5.5 miles, a small waterfall marks the high water mark of Lake Powell (37.321158, -110.960161) and the beginning of the stunning lower narrows. If the reservoir is at or near full pool, the hike ends here; otherwise, continue hiking down canyon.

The lower narrows begin with a short section that may contain deep water. The water typically isn’t more than waist deep but this can change as both flooding and the fluctuation of the reservoir shape the canyon. Continue hiking down canyon through several bends of dramatic narrows with soaring overhangs. At times the canyon is so narrow that you can touch the walls on each side. The highlight of these narrows is near the lower end where the walls close in on top of each other, making the canyon feel subterranean. The bottom of the lower narrows ends at roughly 3,615’ in elevation. Adjust your plan accordingly based on the current reservoir water level at the time of your trip.

Rules & Regulations

  • No campfires allowed.
  • Pack out all trash, including toilet paper.
  • Keep dogs on leash at all times.
  • Clean up after pets.
  • Permits are required for overnight use and are available for free at the visitor center in Escalante and at some trailheads. Permits are not available at the Fiftymile Creek Trailhead.

Special Considerations

  • This area can be extremely hot during spring, summer and fall. Carry plenty of water and wear appropriate clothing.
  • Do not enter narrow canyons 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 Willow Gulch Trailhead can often be as challenging as the hike itself. Read the trailhead access information contained within this route description carefully. Check with the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center at 755 W Main Street in Escalante or call (435) 826-5499 for current conditions before beginning your trip.

Credits

This trail guide is provided by Backcountry Post.