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Boulder to Highway 12 via Lower Death Hollow

Intermediate/Difficult
  4.8 ( 6 ) Favorite

Trail

20.0 mile 32.2 kilometer point to point
Intermediate/Difficult

Elevation

Ascent: 1,477' 450 m
Descent: -3,052' -930 m
High: 6,794' 2,071 m
Low: 5,211' 1,588 m

Grade

Avg Grade: 4% (2°)
Max Grade: 50% (27°)

Dogs

Off-leash
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Map Key

Enjoy an epic, and likely multi-day journey in the heart of Utah.

Matthew Kidd

Features Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views · Commonly Backpacked

Family Friendly With minimal elevation gain and plentiful spots to take scenic breaks, this hike is perfect for the whole family.

Overview

Enjoy all the beauty of Utah in splendid isolation. Gorgeous views, slickrock, a river running through a narrow canyon, genuine narrows, the yellow of autumn, Navajo sandstone, Kodachrome colors, Ansazi dwellings, petroglyphs, and a natural arch and a natural bridge—this hike has it all.

Need to Know

Take a good camera. I used a Lumix GF-1 micro four-thirds camera (and would take a smaller high-end Sony RX100 point-and-shoot today).

Description

This shuttled route could be done in 2 days but your campsites are better if you make this a 2½ day journey, and the trip is too beautiful to hurry. For a fee, you can arrange in the town of Escalante to have your car moved from the start to the junction of the Escalante River and Highway 12 where you'll exit. Escalante Outfitters is a good place to make inquiries, check recent conditions (mid-May through mid-June spring runoff can boost river flow), and buy topo maps (though GPS works well along this route even in the deep Lower Death Hollow canyon).

The trip begins at the Boulder Mail Trail trailhead at the Boulder airport which is nothing more than a dirt landing strip. You can depart as late as noon and easily make your first campsite, 5 miles away, high above Little Death Hollow. Begin a gradual descent through pinion pine and juniper across the McGath Point Bench, traveling on a sandy trail and also across slickrock with reasonably spaced cairns. Provided you have brought enough water for dinner and breakfast, it is preferable to camp at the canyon rim and enjoy a great sunset and sunrise. There is a natural alcove campsite near the bottom if you chose not to camp at the top.

Enjoy sunrise on day 2 and start down a steep slickrock trail to lose about 640 ft of elevation. The next 7.8 miles through Lower Death Hollow to the Escalante River will take most of the day. The trail is not marked but it is easy to follow and there is nowhere to get lost except up the occasional side canyon. There are dozens of river crossings so be prepared to get wet up to your knees. I did okay with the combination of waterproof hiking boot and waterproof knee high socks; my companion just wore waterproof toe socks that gave him good traction and didn't hurt his feet because the trail is mostly sand and riverbed rocks are small. Sometimes it is easiest to just navigate in the river, particularly towards the end of this section. I suggest wearing a hat, mostly to prevent getting your head scratched by low branches.

Flash floods are possible, so this route should be postponed if rain is likely. However, this is not a slot canyon per se. If you are caught by a flash flood, you should have time to scramble to location two or three meters above the river and set up camp.

The junction of Lower Death Hollow and the Escalante River is not as pretty as the area upstream partly because of the carnage from the park service removal of Russian olive trees, a non-native species originally planted in a misguided effort to prevent stream bank erosion and later found to be changing the ecosystem by shading the stream too much. I suggest camping in one of the alcoves about half a mile above the junction, e.g. at 37.7890946, -111.5109086. But be prepared for the occasional rat because they have learned the human preferred campsites.

On day 3, endure a little subpar scenery and possibly the sound of chainsaws, to connect to the Escalante River from Little Death Hollow to Highway 12 trail. The Escalante riverbed is sandy, wide, and shallow and the valley is enclosed by Navajo sandstone. I've edited my GPS track to more closely follow the actual trail but in practice you'll probably zigzag across the riverbed as things catch your eye with a preference for the south side where the most interesting features are. First comes the crescent shaped Escalante Natural Arch. On the same wall, below and to the left you'll find an Anazasi cliff dwelling, which include petroglyphs. Another 0.4 miles east brings you to the Escalante Natural Bridge. From here, it is a short jaunt to the finish at Highway 12.

Flora & Fauna

Pinion pine, juniper, cottonwood trees, willow, tamarisk, and Russian oak (non-native).

History & Background

The beginning of the route follows the Boulder Mail Trail once used for postal delivery between Escalante and Boulder before the construct of Highway 12.

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Check-Ins

Apr 27, 2019
Pritha Golden
hiking in and out. to escalante River then back to bolder 13mi — 9h 00m
Apr 8, 2019
Oscar Alvarado
First overnight hike for me and my group. Beautiful hike. Terrain and scenery is different each day. 22mi — 15h 00m
Mar 18, 2019
Bailey Moore
15mi
Jul 20, 2018
Micala Mitchek
Jun 23, 2018
David Carr
In water about 50% of the time. The only difficult part is between miles 5 and 6 descending into Death Hollow on steep slickrock. 24mi
May 25, 2018
Tom Robson
Memorial Day Weekend. Great weather. Clear water. Incredible views.
May 27, 2017
Kevin H
20mi

Trail Ratings

  4.8 from 6 votes

#658

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  4.8 from 6 votes
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#658

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Photos

Where the creek becomes the trail.
Apr 24, 2017 near Escalante, UT
The descent into Death Hollow is steep and surely not for the fainthearted.
Jun 10, 2017 near Escalante, UT
A hiker edges through the narrows of Lower Death Hollow.
Mar 31, 2017 near Escalante, UT
Camp at the edge of Death Hollow.
Apr 24, 2017 near Escalante, UT
Lower Death Hollow is amazing.
Jun 28, 2017 near Escalante, UT
Two hikers wade through Lower Death Hollow.
Jun 28, 2017 near Escalante, UT

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