ESCALANTE — Among the petrified sand dunes of south central Utah, you'll find an oasis. Lower Calf Creek Falls is a beautiful waterfall tucked away and surrounded by soaring canyon walls. It's a rewarding hike for all ages and has a natural beach to enjoy.
Of the dozens of waterfalls flowing in Utah, perhaps the finest waterfall of them all is Lower Calf Creek Falls. If you've been there, you'll probably agree. If you haven't, put it on your Utah bucket list because it's that good.
Lower Calf Creek Falls is about a 4.5 hour drive from Salt Lake City. This keeps a lot of casual hikers from visiting the falls and the surrounding areas, but the trip is well worth it. The falls are located within the boundaries of the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument. Once hikers visit the area, they can't stop coming back.
The Lower Calf Creek Falls hike is six miles round trip. It follows a well-marked, and relatively flat, partially shaded trail. It may be good for casual hikers to prepare in advance and work up to this hike distance. One can avoid blisters and fatigue by doing shorter hikes in the weeks leading up to your adventure to the falls.
Once hikers arrive at the parking area, they find that even though Lower Calf Creek Falls is in the middle of nowhere, it is a quite a popular hike. Most of the parking spaces are filled up by mid-morning, especially spring and summer weekends, so be sure to arrive early.
To begin the hike, walk past the facilities and continue down a paved road for about one hundred feet. You'll see a well worn trail on the left that climbs a couple of feet up and off the road. It is easy to spot, and now you are on your way to the falls.
For a good portion of the hike, the trail is sandy. This can make the going a little slow, but luckily the hike gains less than 300 feet of elevation on the way to the falls so the walk is pleasant. It may be a good idea to have sunscreen and a hat, as you will be in the sun for a lot of the hike.
After about one mile of hiking, you'll find yourself walking along the banks of Calf Creek, the small stream that is formed by the runoff from the falls. If you look closely in Calf Creek, you may spot tiny fishes darting around in the shallow waters. Calf Creek is also home to other wildlife, including beavers. It is common to see the signs of beavers on the tree trunks along the creek banks.
After hiking a little over 2.8 from the trailhead, you'll spot some large shady cottonwood trees. Next, you'll hear the sound of the waterfall, and feel the cool breeze coming off the water. The canyon ends at the waterfall, which makes it a wonderful oasis.
A sandy beach and refreshing pool at the bottom of the falls make for a great way to relax after you reach Lower Calf Creek Falls, which cascades 126 feet from the top of the canyon wall. When the sun is out, brightly colored fungi and lichens growing on the walls next to the falls can enhance your photographs.
You'll find the pool below the cascades to be remarkably cold even though it may be 100 degrees outside. You might want to pack a light jacket or long sleeved shirt, as the mist from the falls can give hikers the shivers. Enjoy the falls, play in sand, take a cat nap under the shade trees, and take plenty of pictures before you turn around and go back the way you came.
The Fremont Indians used this canyon between 800 to 1000 years ago, and with a sharp eye, hikers can spot some of remnants of their ancient granaries which are along the canyon walls that surround the trail. There are also pictographs by the Fremont found in the canyon as well.
These are fragile pieces of history — do not touch or disturb the structures or the rock art. Calf Creek and Lower Calf Creek Falls received their names in the early 1900s. When settlers arrived, they built some homesteads and let their cattle graze in the canyon and grew watermelons along the creek.
The Calf Creek Campground is located near the start of the hike, and includes 12 campsites and bathroom facilities. If hikers want a campsite, keep in mind they are distributed first come, first served. The cost is only $15 a night, and offers drinking water and flush toilets. Also, dogs are permitted, but must be on a leash at all times and always pick up after your pet.
The nearest town to Lower Calf Creek Falls is Boulder, population 226. Fun fact: Boulder didn't get electricity until 1947 and is known as the last town in the continental United States to receive its mail via mule.
If you're looking for a place to stay for the weekend, Escalante is located about 30 minutes south of Lower Calf Creek Falls. It is where most of the hikers in the area stay. There are several motels in town, but be sure to call ahead, as they fill up quickly.
While there are several impressive and beautiful waterfalls in the state of Utah, Lower Calf Creek Falls has it all. On this hike, you get a little bit of everything including Fremont Indian ruins, soaring canyon walls, lush green trees and the beautiful and colorful Lower Calf Creek Falls. This hike won't disappoint and will make your friends jealous when they see your pictures.
Adam Provance is the founder of YourHikeGuide.com and has hiked all over the southwestern United States. He is an Eagle Scout and also an instructor for Desert & Wilderness Survival. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org