Escalante (elevation 5,813 feet) is a natural hub for exploration of Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument. Even if you don't have the time or the inclination to explore the rugged canyon country that the monument protects, you'll discover incredible scenery just by traveling Highway 12 through Escalante country.
At first glance, Escalante looks like a town that time has passed by. Just under 1000 people live here, in addition to the resident cows, horses, and chickens that you'll meet just one block off Main Street. Yet this little community is the biggest place for scores of miles around and a center for ranchers and travelers. Escalante (elevation 5,813 feet) has the neatly laid-out streets and trim little houses typical of Mormon settlements.
Hell's Backbone Scenic Drive
This scenic 38-mile drive climbs high into the pine forests north of Escalante with excellent views of the distant Navajo, Fifty Mile, and Henry Mountains. The highlight, though, is the one-lane Hell's Backbone Bridge, which vaults a chasm between precipitous Death Hollow and Sand Creek Canyons. You'll want to stop here for photographs of the swallow-your-gum vistas and to quell your vertigo.
Hell's Backbone Road reaches an elevation of 9,200 feet on the slopes of Roger Peak before descending to a bridge, 25 miles from town. Mule teams used this narrow ridge, with sheer canyons on either side, as a route to Boulder until the 1930s. At that time, a bridge built by the Civilian Conservation Corps allowed the first vehicles to make the trip.
To reach Hell's Canyon Road from Escalante, turn north on 300 East and follow the initially paved road out of town (the bridge is about 25 miles from town). Alternatively, you can turn onto Hell's Backbone Road three miles south of Boulder on Highway 12. From this turning, the bridge is 13 miles.
Cars can usually manage the gravel and dirt road when it's dry. Snows and snowmelt, however, block the way until about late May. Check with the Interagency office in Escalante for current conditions. Trails and rough dirt roads lead deeper into the backcountry to more vistas and fishing lakes.
Amid aspen and ponderosa pines, Posey Lake (elevation 8,700 feet) is stocked with rainbow and brook trout. The adjacent campground is open with drinking water Memorial Day weekend through mid-September ($10). A hiking trail (two miles round-trip) begins near space number 14 and climbs 400 feet to an old fire-lookout tower, with good views of the lake and surrounding country. Posey Lake is 14 miles north of Escalante, then two miles west on a side road.
Blue Spruce Campground (elevation 7,860 feet) is another pretty spot, but it has only six sites. Anglers can try for pan-sized trout in a nearby stream. The campground, surrounded by blue spruce, aspen, and ponderosa pine, has drinking water from Memorial Day weekend to mid-September ($8); go north 19 miles from town, then turn left and drive half a mile.
Accommodations in Escalante range from simple to luxurious, but they all must add a hefty 12.5 percent room tax to the fees listed here.
The seven small but comfy log cabins at Escalante Outfitters (310 W. Main St., 435/826-4266, www.escalanteoutfitters.com, $45) share men's and women's bathhouses and a common grassy area. Tucked behind the store (which also houses a casual pizza and espresso restaurant and a tiny liquor store), these cabins are convenient to all the action the town has to offer, and include wireless Internet access. If you'd rather sleep in your own tent, camping is permitted on the lawn ($16), which is sheltered from the street. Dogs are permitted for a small fee in the cabins and are free if they stay in your tent.
The Padre Motel (20 E. Main St., 435/826-4276, www.padremotel.com, open Mar.-Nov., $59-99) has clean, unfussy rooms as well as five minisuites with two bedrooms each. The property is nicely landscaped and maintained, with beautifully green lawns in even the height of summer.
On the west edge of town, the Circle D Motel (475 W. Main St., 435/826-4297, www.escalantecircledmotel.com, $59-95) reaches out to bicyclists and hikers with clean, basic rooms. Pets are welcome in some rooms; a restaurant is part of the complex.
The Prospector Inn (380 W. Main St., 435/826-4653, www.prospectorinn.com, $62) is Escalante's largest and most modern motel; there's a restaurant and lounge on the premises. If you usually stay at Best Westerns or comparable motels, this is the only standard motel in town that's even close to that quality.
Newly remodeled with a fanciful Old West theme, the Cowboy Country Inn (75 South 100 West, 435/826-4250, www.cowboycountryinn.com, $55 and up) is half a block off the highway and offers one two-bedroom suite.
Another pleasant and modern establishment is Rainbow Country B&B (586 East 300 South, 435/826-4567 or 800/252-8824, www.bnbescalante.com, $69-99), with four guest rooms sharing 2.5 baths; guests have the use of a hot tub, a pool table, and a TV lounge.
Head east from Escalante on Highway 12 to the landmark Kiva Koffeehouse (Milepost 73.86 on Hwy. 12, 435/826-4550, www.kivakoffeehouse.com, $170 includes breakfast), a quirky hilltop restaurant just east of the Boynton Overlook high above the Escalante River. The two spacious and beautifully decorated rooms each include a remarkable view of the surrounding country. The comfortable rooms with their grand views, fireplaces, and big, deep, jetted bathtubs make this a wonderful place to relax after a day of exploring, and the absence of TV and telephone makes it all the better. The Kiva is just above the spot where the Escalante River crosses Highway 12 and is a good base for hikers.
Right in the center of town, but tucked back away from the main drag, rooms at Escalante's Grand Staircase B&B Inn (280 W. Main St., 435/826-4890 or 866/826-4890, www.escalantebnb.com, $145) are some of the nicest in the area. The eight purpose-built B&B rooms are individually decorated—several have rather bold murals—and are separate from the main house.
Another downtown Escalante B&B is Canyons B&B (120 E. Main St., 435/826-4747 or 866/526-9667, www.canyonsbnb.com, $125-135, Mar.-Nov.), where a modern three-bedroom "bunkhouse" has been built behind an old farmhouse, which offers its own "lodge" room. There's nothing rustic about the guest rooms; all are attractively decorated and equipped with TV, telephones, and wireless Internet.
If you're traveling with a family or group of friends, consider renting the architecturally striking, solar-heated Lulus Desert Retreat (888/305-4705, www.laluz.net, $175 high season, two-night minimum), in a private setting just south of town. The house, designed in the Usonian tradition of Frank Lloyd Wright, sleeps up to six.
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park (435/826-4466, www.stateparks.utah.gov, reservations at 800/322-3770, www.reserveamerica.com, open year-round, $16 camping), just northwest of the town of Escalante, is conveniently located and full of attractions of its own, most notably trails passing big chunks of petrified wood. Drinking water and showers are available; RV hookups are also available.
In town, you can stay at Broken Bow RV Camp (495 W. Main St., 888/241-8785 or 435/826-4959), which has simple cabins ($45 and up) and sites for tents and RVs ($14/$24), plus showers and laundry services. It's closed in winter.
Calf Creek Recreation Area lies in a pretty canyon 15.5 miles east of Escalante on Highway 12; sites run $7 and are open from early April through late October. You can reserve group sites through the BLM office. Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail (5.5 miles round-trip) begins at the campground and follows the creek upstream to the 126-foot-high falls.
Campgrounds at Posey Lake (16 miles north, $10) and Blue Spruce (19 miles north, $8) sit atop the Aquarius Plateau in Dixie National Forest. Sites open around Memorial Day weekend and close in mid-September. Take Hell's Backbone Road (dirt) from the east edge of town.
The Esca-Latte Coffee Shop and Pizza Parlor, part of Escalante Outfitters (310 W. Main St., 435/826-4266, 8 a.m.-9 p.m. daily), is a reliable place to eat in this little town. It serves espresso, handmade pizza ($17-21), and microbrew beer. The smoked trout plate ($9) is a special treat. The café has a couple of computers where customers can check email.
The Trailhead Café (125 E. Main St., 435/826-4714, 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Wed.-Mon. Apr.-Nov.) has the best burgers in town ($7-12), with an outdoor grill and shady deck seating. Georgie's Corner Café (190 W. Main St., 435/826-4784, 4-8:30 p.m. Mon., 11:30 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Tues.-Sat., $7-12) doesn't look like much from the outside, but the Mexican cooking and sandwiches are both top-notch.
As close as you'll get to fine dining in Escalante is the Circle D Eatery (485 W. Main St., 435/826-4125, 7:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Wed.-Mon., $9-19), which offers local open-range beef and a variety of house-smoked meats and cheeses. Steaks are dependably outstanding, as is the smoked brisket and rainbow trout baked on a bed of peppers and onions.
Another spot for better-than-average food is Cowboy Blues (530 W. Main St., 435/826-4577, noon-3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 5-10 p.m. Sat.-Sun., $8-17), with burgers, pizza, ribs, and steaks in a Western-style log dining room.
Other dining spots are more traditional small-town restaurants. The Golden Loop Cafe (39 W. Main St., 435/826-4433, 7 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, $6-14) is a typical Main Street diner with plenty of local color and homemade food.
East of town, Kiva Koffeehouse (Milepost 73.86 on Hwy. 12, 435/826-4550, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Wed.-Mon. Apr.-Oct., $6-12) is worth a stop for a latte or for lunch (delicious Southwest-style food, much of it organic) and for a look at the view.
Getting to Escalante
Escalante is located on Highway 12, 38 miles east of Bryce Canyon and 23 miles south of Boulder. One caveat: Drive slowly through town! The local police seem to have a refined eye for out-of-towners exceeding the speed limit.
© W.C. McRae and Judy Jewell from Moon Utah, 9th Edition