In this guide we’re sharing everything you need to know to hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls, a popular hike in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah.
During our two months “living” in Utah in our van, we saw many beautiful sights, including tons of canyons and slot canyons, epic rock formations, arches, and hoodoos, but one of the spots that surprised us the most was Lower Calf Creek Falls, a tall and gorgeous waterfall that is tucked away in a sandstone alcove, surrounded by giant canyon walls.
After hardly seeing any water the majority of our trip, seeing a waterfall (and an epic one at that!) in Southern Utah’s desert climate was just mind blowing! Lower Calf Creek Falls is a magical oasis, and while it’s definitely not a secret, it is a MUST visit when in the Escalante area.
Want to experience this incredible hike for yourself? Keep on reading to find out how to hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls, as well as what to bring, how to beat the crowds, things to know before you go, and to learn more about our experience!
Looking for more things to do in Southern Utah? Check out our other guides:
Before embarking on your adventure, please review the Leave No Trace principles to ensure you leave every place better than you found it, so that others can enjoy these beautiful places for many years to come!
These seven principles include planning ahead and preparing, hiking and camping on durable surfaces, disposing of waste properly (pack out what you pack in!), understanding campfire rules and always fully extinguishing your fires, respecting wildlife, and being considerate of other visitors.
- About Lower Calf Creek Falls
- Where is Lower Calf Creek Falls?
- Lower Calf Creek Falls Stats
- When to hike Lower Calf Creek Falls
- What to bring to Lower Calf Creek Falls
- Things to know before visiting Lower Calf Creek Falls
- Our Experience at Lower Calf Creek Falls
- Where to stay to hike Lower Calf Creek Falls
- Things to do near Lower Calf Creek Falls
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About Lower Calf Creek Falls
Lower Calf Creek Falls is a gorgeous 126 foot waterfall located in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and gets its name because its box-like canyon was used as a natural pen for calves back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
Because of how accessible the trail is (no crazy dirt roads required!), its moderate mileage, and beauty, this is definitely one of the most popular, if not the most popular, hike in the Escalante area. You’ve likely seen many photos of this waterfall!
Where is Lower Calf Creek Falls?
Lower Calf Creek Falls is located off of Scenic Highway 12, about 11 miles south of Boulder and 15 miles east of Escalante in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is over 1 million acres of protected land in southern Utah, which is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, not the National Park Service. There are a few regions that make up this national monument and Lower Calf Creek Falls is in the Escalante Canyons region.
This area as a whole is amazing and was one of our favorite places we explored during our two months in Southern Utah. While there aren’t a ton of amenities around, there are some great local businesses and restaurants, cool lodging options, and TONS of outdoor activities to go on. So we’d highly recommend checking out some other hikes and things to do nearby, which we share more about in our “if you have extra time” section.
Note: There is an Upper Calf Creek Falls hike, which takes you to the upper portion of these falls, but starts from a different trailhead.
Lower Calf Creek Falls Stats
Miles: 6.7 miles
Elevation: 521 feet
Reviews & Current Conditions
The trail to Lower Calf Creek Falls is about 6.7 miles and took us around 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete the hike, including a short stop at the waterfall.
The hike to the falls is relatively flat, with only 521 feet of elevation gain, making it a doable hike for most ages and ability levels. The trail is mostly sand, which can be a bit harder to walk on, but there are no tricky scrambling sections or areas that feel unsafe and/or scary.
While the waterfall is the main attraction on this trail, we loved the scenery along the way! Along the way to the falls you’ll have incredible views of the canyon walls that surround you and the creek that winds through it, plus you’ll pass pictographs, two ancient granaries, and a few beaver dams, which are harder to spot unless you have the brochure from the trailhead (more on this below) to help guide you.
When to hike Lower Calf Creek Falls
The best time to hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls is between the spring and fall. We completed the hike in mid April 2021, which was during spring break, and we had perfect weather and were able to thankfully avoid most crowds.
In the spring, the temperatures are warming up slightly and the snow is disappearing, making the hiking temperature just about perfect! However, the weather may be too cold to take a dip in the falls, so keep that in mind. You also may have to battle with spring break crowds too, especially if visiting between March and April.
In the summer, the temperature will be very hot, especially with little tree cover, but you will have the cool waters of the falls to cool you off when you get there! This is the busiest season to visit the Escalante area, so we’d suggest hiking on a weekday if you choose to come in the summer. While it may not make a huge difference due to summer vacations, the weekdays tend to be less busy than weekends.
Similar to the spring, the fall brings more mild temperatures, which makes the hike more enjoyable, but it may be too cold to swim at the falls. But with kids back in school and less holidays during this time, the fall would be your best bet to escape the crowds.
Although possible, winter might not be the best time to hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls due to possible winter weather. The Escalante area can get snow and with some steep and windy roads, it wouldn’t be safe to drive in icy or snowy conditions. However, if the weather is clear, winter would be the perfect time to have solitude at the falls.
Time of Day
Go early! We started the hike right before sunrise and didn’t see anyone until the way back, so it is possible to have solitude, but be prepared to see other humans. As we will mention below, the parking lot was 100% full by 10 AM, with tons of cars still trying to park.
What to bring to Lower Calf Creek Falls
As always, we recommend having the 10 essentials on you when doing any hike, but here are a few key items we want to point out that will especially help you during this hike!
We love our Camelbak bladder for hikes because it stores a ton of water and it’s easy to drink from while moving. You’ll want to bring lots of water on this hike, especially if you bring your pup. Walking through sand and in the Utah heat can get pretty tiring.
If you plan on dipping into the pool beneath the falls, consider wearing your swimsuit. When we visited, it was VERY cold in the morning, so we had to admire it from land. But we hear it’s very refreshing in the summer!
While there are some trees on the trail, especially closer to the falls, overall the trail is pretty exposed, so make sure to lather up to avoid getting sunburned.
We hiked here just after sunrise, so if you do the same or any earlier, you will want to bring your headlamp.
We’d highly recommend downloading the AllTrails map before you go. While the trail is pretty straight forward, there is not much cell service in the area and it’s helpful to track your progress on the trail. You will need an AllTrails Pro membership to download maps, which is $30 a year and so worth it!
Snack or Lunch
At the falls there is a large, shaded sandy area that would be perfect for a nice picnic lunch! Bring some snacks or a little lunch and enjoy the sound of the falling water.
Things to know before visiting Lower Calf Creek Falls
Before hitting the trail, here are a few more things to know about hiking to Lower Calf Creek Falls.
Lower Calf Creek Falls is dog friendly, so feel free to bring your best furry friend along with you, but make sure to keep them on a leash! They would probably enjoy the cool falls as well!
There is a decent-sized parking lot at the trailhead, but it fills up fast! Our biggest tip for this hike (and basically any hike) is to get there early! When we left the parking lot around 10 AM, the parking lot was completely full and there was a line of at least 20 cars trying to get in. You don’t have to get there just before sunrise like we did, but definitely before 8:30 or 9 AM.
There is a $5 per vehicle day use fee, but if you have the America the Beautiful pass your fee is waived…woo!
Along the trail there are numbered signs, which correspond to different stories about the area. To read all of the stories, make sure to grab a brochure right by the restrooms (or save this PDF!). While the AllTrails map does have notes for each sign, we found the numbers on the map to not match the numbers on the sign, so we aren’t sure if we read the right things for the right sign.
There are restrooms at the trailhead in case you need to use one before starting the hike. There are no restrooms along the trail.
Calf Creek Campground
Right at the trailhead is Calf Creek Campground, which has 13 first-come first-served campsites that are $15 per night. If you want to get an early start or just hang out after the hike, this would be a good spot to camp.
Our Experience at Lower Calf Creek Falls
While we have shared quite a bit above to hopefully help you prepare for this hike, here’s a little bit more about our experience on the trail. You can watch our experience here as well!
After driving in the dark and in snow flurries (a random surprise! Thankfully it didn’t stick!), we arrived at Lower Calf Creek falls just before sunrise, when it was light enough to see outside, but the sun hadn’t popped up quite yet. Minus an RV in the parking lot and campers off in the distance, we were the only ones there.
To get to the trailhead you have to walk through the campground, so make sure to be quiet if arriving early. But after passing a handful of sites, you’ll reach the trailhead, which has a trail register, some signage about the trail, and even dog poop bags and a trash can (PLEASE pack out your dog’s poop)!
The trail is mostly sand, which can be harder to walk on, but the snow fall that morning helped dampen it a bit, making it a bit more compact and easier. While the majority of the trail is easy to follow, as you’ll be walking on the sandy path, there are a few rockier areas where we got a bit confused and relied on rock cairns to tell us where to go.
As we hiked, the sun started to rise, giving the canyon a gorgeous glowing light and warming us up a bit (it was pretty cold)! We were so surprised by how much we loved the scenery on the hike. Some hikes are all about the end point and some are about the views along the way, but for us, this hike had both.
We tried to follow along with the numbered signposts using AllTrails, but the numbers seemed off, so we weren’t totally sure if we were reading the correct stories for each area or not. We’d definitely suggest getting the brochure so you can learn along the way and see some cool features that may not be as obvious right off the bat.
After hiking through the canyon for a while, we started to get more creek views and rounded a corner to an area with giant canyon walls. This is where the hike starts to get a bit more shaded, with lots of greenery, a creek, and even fish swimming.
Once reaching this area, the falls are pretty close by and we soon could hear their powerful roar, getting us extra excited to catch our first glimpse. And boy, was that first glimpse magical! After seeing so much dry terrain in Utah, seeing a waterfall that rivals any we have seen IN the DESERT, was just a crazy gorgeous sight.
The waterfall is massive in real life and seeing the water flow down the sandstone alcove, with greenery surrounding it, is a peaceful and beautiful scene that is hard to put into words. And it didn’t hurt that there was no one else there besides us!
There is a ton of sandy space around the falls, which had it been warmer, we would’ve loved to have had a picnic or even laid out and gone for a swim! But bundled up in our jackets we quickly snapped some photos and admired the view, before heading back to the trailhead.
On our way back, we started to run into more people, but it wasn’t horrible, and by the time we reached the parking lot, it was completely full, with many hikers that had just arrived and were about to start the trail. As we left the parking lot, we noticed a line of 20 cars coming from the east trying to get into the parking lot. And when we drove by later that day, there were tons of cars parked very close to the road. It was crazy!
We are so happy we not only got to experience this trail, but got to experience it with some solitude. It’s definitely popular for a reason!
Where to stay to hike Lower Calf Creek Falls
Besides camping at the Calf Creek Campground we mentioned above, which is right at the trailhead, here are some other great options of places to stay in the Escalante and Boulder area.
Note: Some of these are much pricier than we normally include, but are very aesthetically pleasing, trendy spots that were too cool not to share.
- Historic Pioneer Cabin: This 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom cabin was built in 1890 and retains its charm, while providing modern amenities.
- Escalante Cabins & RV Park: This spot has RV sites, tent sites, small cabins, and nice vacation homes!
- Escalante Outfitters: No frills cabins with a shared bathhouse, outdoor store, and restaurant on site!
- Escalante Escapes Foxtail & Prickly Pear: These luxurious tiny homes aren’t the cheapest, but if you want to splurge a bit, these both sleep 6 people total, have an amazing layout, and have grills if you want to cook after hiking.
- Hilltop Casita: This 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom tiny house has amazing views, a small kitchenette, and can sleep 4 people.
- Yonder Escalante: These fancy tiny homes are sort of pricey, but are very aesthetically pleasing and a good treat yo self type spot!
- Escalante Yurts: Another pricier option, but these yurts are very unique and offer a luxurious experience.
- We camped for FREE on Hole in the Rock Road and it was a great spot! It’s right at the beginning of the road, before it gets too rough, and has amazing views! We had no issues finding a spot during spring break. There are NO services here, but there is a dumpster at the front of the camping area, so make sure to pick up your trash!
Make sure to get a free camping permit from the BLM office in Escalante.
- Deer Creek Campground: This campground only has 7 sites and is best for vehicles under 20 feet (no trailers), as it’s pretty small and doesn’t offer much space to turn around. It costs $10 a night to camp here (first come, first served) and is located along the Burr Trail.
- Escalante Petrified Forest State Park: This state park has a handful of sites, some with hookups, close to a reservoir.
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Things to do near Lower Calf Creek Falls
Looking for more things to do before or after you hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls? Here are some other amazing (and accessible) spots in the Escalante Canyons region of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Drive the incredibly beautiful Scenic Byway 12. This road runs from Panguitch, close to Bryce Canyon, to Torrey, Utah, right by Capitol Reef National Park. Driving this road is such an amazing experience. Adam kept saying over and over “wow” and “this road is intense!” The road never feels scary, but it has so many views and even some unique parts, like driving on top of the spine of rocks.
Hike to the Spooky and Peek-a-Boo Slot Canyons (guide coming soon!), which is an epic adventure where you’ll squeeze through narrow slot canyon walls (do NOT hike if claustrophobic). It requires a very rough 26 mile drive down Hole in the Rock road, so be prepared for a bumpy, slow journey to get there.
Grab coffee from Kiva Koffeehouse, which has the BEST coffee shop view ever!
Have a burrito or tacos at Magnolia’s Street Food, a super cool blue bus whipping up some amazing food!
Climb around Devils Garden, a cool, rocky area off Hole in the Rock road, which has been described as a playground.
Hike to Zebra Canyon, which is a good slot canyon alternative to Peekaboo and Spooky and requires less driving on the Hole in the Rock Road.
Drive the Burr Trail, which connects Boulder to Bullfrog and goes through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park, and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. We only did a portion of this trail, but loved every mile we were able to drive. You go from cream colored rocks to bright orange canyon walls, with alcoves and amazing scenery all around you!
Hike to Upper Calf Creek Falls, which is a shorter hike that takes you to the upper portion of Calf Creek Falls.
Ready to hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls?
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