Robert and I spent five days in the Escalante from 17 through 21 August, 2008. Four days were on the trail, the fifth day was at the Horse Canyon trailhead camp that turned out to be much nicer than we expected. This may or not be the case when you arrive there. From the Horse Canyon trailhead we had an easy walk down Horse Canyon to the Escalante River, then back up Horse Canyon to a muddy Little Death Hollow which we followed out. I hiked up the river one day to The Gulch and took a look at The Gulch, about two kilometers up, and a few of its short side canyons before returning the same way. The Gulch was quite choked up, even with the recent rainstorm, and there were no tracks from other hikers visible at all.
When we were in the area, recent rains had washed out roads throughout southeast Utah, including in the Escalante. Luck was with us though, and we were among the first to drive on easily navigable, recently graded roads. Conditions can change rapidly in the area in the matter of a few hours. The road to the Horse Canyon trailhead, Wolverine Loop Road, which continues on to the Little Death Hollow trailhead, follows a streambed for at least a few kilometers. Be sure to check in with the BLM rangers in Escalante or Boulder to find out the current conditions. You will need to get a permit for hiking or backpacking in the area as well. Permits are free of charge and can be picked up at some trailheads.
Four days was more than enough time for this hike, three would have been adequate. We chose to spend two nights at our camp right on the Escalante River. The river had calmed down by then and the water was running clean. There was no settling of the river water necessary, we just filled our bottles and Dromedary bags and used the Miox to purify the water. We took advantage of the cool water for swimming many times during our two days there.
Mosquitoes were a problem on this hike, especially in Horse Canyon. Strangely enough, they were not too bad right at the river. I recommend carrying some type of bug shelter if you do this hike during the warmer months.
The hike up the river to The Gulch was half in the river, half following cow trails through shortcuts in the brush as the river meandered beside me. The photo to the left shows a typical view of the Escalante River in its upper reaches. This photo is looking north into the mouth of The Gulch. The walk in the river wasn’t bad, with a depth of 6 to 12 inches on average, the case in this photo. There were a couple of holes that were waist deep or over. If you plan to take this route up the river, be sure to include shoes or sandals for wading.
The high point of the hike was Little death Hollow, pictured to the left. It is a great slot canyon with kilometers of narrows to enjoy. Because of the recent rains it got quite muddy at times. At one point we even climbed out to skirt what appeared to be as much as 100 meters or more of water and choke stones on the canyon bottom. We were prepared for backpacking, not canyoneering, and this seemed to be the safest and most comfortable way around. I will surely return to this canyon for more exploration at another time.
The 1:24,000 mapsheets for the hike are Red Breaks, Pioneer Mesa, King Bench, and Silver Falls Bench. The Trails Illustrated 1:75,000,
Canyons of the Escalante Trails Illustrated Map
is the planning map you will want to use for the area.