Broken Bow Arch is a stunning natural arch located in a remote desert canyon near the end of the historic Hole-in-the-Rock Road. This hike is only moderately strenuous but requires above average navigation skills and a long drive on a remote dirt road to access. With sufficient planning, it is a fantastic family hike that most children will thoroughly enjoy.
The hike to Broken Bow Arch begins at the Willow Gulch Trailhead, located more than 40 miles down Hole-in-the-Rock Road, southeast of Escalante, Utah. The drive to the trailhead usually requires a high-clearance 4WD vehicle and can take several hours.
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 Willow Gulch Trailhead from Escalante:
- 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.
- Continue south on Hole-in-the-Rock Road for approximately 41.6 miles.
- Turn left onto BLM road 276, located about a mile south of Sooner Rocks.
- Continue 1.4 miles to the Willow Gulch Trailhead at the end of the road.
There are no facilities available at the trailhead.
Follow the trail north from the trailhead as it descends a sandy hill toward the canyon ahead. After about 150 yards, the trail passes by an unusual hoodoo with a very large, but very thin slab of rock on top that resembles a graduation cap. This formation is commonly known as Mortarboard Rock and can be helpful for locating the trail on the hike back out.
Beyond Mortarboard Rock, the trail descends steep, sandy switchbacks before arriving at the canyon floor. Follow the wash down canyon for about a half-mile, bypassing a narrow slot canyon on the right, before arriving at a junction where two canyons intersect. It is possible to turn left here and get to Broken Bow Arch, but for the easier and more scenic route, continue straight. The canyon narrows and soon becomes thick with willows and other vegetation before exiting the wash on the left hand side.
Continue on the well-worn trail as it climbs over a sandy, sagebrush-covered bench before dropping down to the main watercourse of Willow Gulch near some large cottonwoods. Depending on recent conditions, flowing water, or at least small pools will likely be present here.
Follow the watercourse down canyon, at times walking directly in the water. The walking is generally easy but requires a little bit of route finding around small obstacles and vegetation. At one point water pools into a narrow channel and pours into a deep plunge pool. The depth of this pool varies between flash floods but is often 4 to 6 feet deep. Bypass the pool on the right but watch your step. Getting around the pool poses no significant danger but the rock is steep and often a little sandy making a slip into the pool a possibility.
Not far past the plunge pool, the canyon rounds a few bends before offering the first views of Broken Bow Arch (37.328483,-110.99983). Continue down canyon as far as you’d like for a better view. The watercourse leads directly to the base of the arch but enters an overhang, which prevents a good view from directly below the arch. For the best views, follow a social trail onto a sandy bench that leaves the watercourse about 100 yards before the arch.
With a span of nearly 100 feet, Broken Bow Arch is a stunning sight to behold. While the arch does somewhat resemble a bow, it was actually named Broken Bow Arch by a local who found a broken Indian bow below the arch in 1930.
There are plenty of opportunities for exploration in the area for those looking to spend more time. Across the canyon from Broken Bow Arch, there is a massive alcove that provides shade and a good spot from which to view the arch. It is easily reached by following social trails from the sandy bench across from Broken Bow Arch. You may also continue hiking down Willow Gulch beyond Broken Bow Arch. The canyon becomes quite narrow and some wading or swimming may be necessary.
Return to the trailhead the way you came. It can be easy to miss the exit trail so be sure to pay careful attention to landmarks such as Mortarboard Rock on your way down the trail. Total hiking distance to Broken Bow Arch and back is approximately 5.0 miles.
Rules and Regulations
- No littering.
- Pack out all trash, including toilet paper.
- Do not make marks or carvings on rocks.
- Keep dogs on leash at all times.
- Clean up after pets.
- 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 most trailhead registers, including the register at the Willow Gulch Trailhead.
- 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.