Hiking the Lower Calf Creek Falls trail in Grand Staircase Escalante was the reason we went to Utah.
No joke — when my brother Garrett and I were originally researching where we should go for a three-week trip in the USA, I showed him a blog post with a photo of Lower Calf Creek Falls and he replied “I want to go wherever that is”.
Located near Boulder, Utah, the Lower Calf Creek Falls trail is a 10.8km (6.7 miles) out and back hike that will take you right to, you guessed it, the base of Calf Creek Falls. A trail that follows along Calf Creek, the trek will guide you through sky-high Navajo sandstone cliffs, across flowing fresh-water streams, past beaver ponds, and into one of the most magnificent waterfall oases you’ve ever seen in your life.
And where does the name Calf Creek come from, you ask? Well, it comes straight from the area’s use as a natural calf pen in the late 1800s and early 1900s. If you ask me, this would be a damn good place to be a calf.
So, what should you expect on Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail and how should you prepare?
Read on to find out!
Hiking Lower Calf Creek Falls in Grand Staircase Escalante, Utah
How Long is the Lower Calf Creek Falls Hike?
As mentioned above, the hike is 10.8 kilometers (6.7 miles) out and back. The hike took us about 3.5 hours total, albeit with a lot of time spent at the falls (around an hour) and a lot of photo-taking and dawdling. I’m a major dawdler.
When reading up on this hike, it was noted that people often do it in just two hours. Honestly, it depends on what kind of hiker you are. However, I will say that the hike back from the falls was a lot shorter for Garrett and I than the hike to the falls, and we made excellent time.
How to Get to the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trailhead
First of all, you gotta get yourself to Utah.
To do this, I recommend flying into either Salt Lake City, Utah or Las Vegas, Nevada. Personally, my brother and I both flew into Las Vegas and rented a car from there. Make no mistake, you will need to rent a car to get to all of the best places in Utah.
To get to the Calf Creek Trailhead, make your way to the Calf Creek Campground on Highway 12. The campground is located 15 miles east of Escalante, and about 11 miles south of Boulder, Utah. If you’re technically inclined, then just plug “lower calf creek falls trailhead” into Google Maps and you’re on your way.
Also, keep in mind that there is paid parking at Calf Creek Campground, and it’s a trust-based system. When we were there, daily parking was $5, so make sure you have some cash on hand for this.
Where to Stay Near Calf Creek Falls
Given that a) hiking Calf Creek Falls Trail is a half-day activity, b) there are a million beautiful places to see in Utah, and c) the trailhead is a 5-hour drive from Las Vegas, I highly recommend staying at nearby accommodations the nights before and after your hike.
There are plenty of beautiful Airbnb’s in the area, and some great (albeit pricier) hotels near Bryce Canyon. Or, you can do like my brother and I did and get yourself a hotel in Panguitch, Utah for a week. Basing ourselves in Panguitch gave us an affordable, yet clean and modern, hotel for us to stay in, an insiders look into small-town Utah, and a great base for so many adventures.
Shout out to Days Inn, Panguitch!
What to Expect on the Lower Calf Creek Falls Hike
Sand, lots of sand. And other stuff too.
Lower Calf Creek Falls is a very popular jewel in Grand Staircase Escalante and as such, the trail is usually heavily trafficked. That said, the day that Garrett and I went in mid-October, the trail was only moderately trafficked. Yes, we ran into other people every now and then and there were others at the falls with us, but it wasn’t like we were bumping into other hikers every two minutes.
We saw some solo hikers, friends, and even families on the trail.
Following along Calf Creek to the base of the falls, this hike is rated as moderate, and is accessible year-round. While there is little elevation gain throughout the hike, the trail is very sandy and it can be hard to walk sometimes. Think of walking on the beach for an hour before you get to the water. There are also some very jagged, rocky areas.
Also, while there are areas of the trail that are well shaded, and there is a lot of shade near the falls themselves, I do recommend bringing along a sun hat and some sunscreen. I’ve listed all the items to bring on your hike in the “what to pack” section below.
Arriving at Lower Calf Creek Falls
So now onto the really good stuff, the Lower Calf Creek Falls. At 214ft tall, This is easily one of the most magnificent waterfalls I’ve ever laid eyes on, and I’ve seen some pretty good ones in my day.
The area surrounding the lower falls is made up of a soft blanket of sand and is scattered with trees. The water pounding down from the falls and can be quite loud up close, and are sensational when viewed from any distance.
I recommend picking a tree, unpacking your lunch, and eating while having one of the most peaceful, relaxing, views around. Just remember to leave no trace!
Or, if you feel like a (very) cool dip, then pack a swimsuit and take a plunge into the crystal-clear waters. Just keep in mind that the water is quite deep beneath the falls and that there is no lifeguard on duty. Given that it was mid-October, I skipped this particular activity.
What to Pack for the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail
Hiking Gear: To have a comfortable time on the trail, I recommend bringing along snacks, hiking boots/shoes, a hat, hiking poles (you will be walking through sand, after all), at least a couple of water bottles per person, bug spray, and sunscreen.
Camera Gear: On this trail, I brought along my Canon DSLR and tripod (you’ll want something to stabilize your camera for taking dreamy waterfall photos). While I lost my GoPro a couple of weeks prior to this trip, I would have loved to bring a GoPro as well.
Swim Gear: If you plan on taking a dip while at the falls, then be sure to bring a bathing suit and a quick-dry towel.
Lunch: One of the major perks of getting to the falls is having a picnic! I won’t tell you what to eat, but anything that will provide fuel for the trek back is a must.
That’s it for my guide to hiking the Lower Calf Creek Falls trail in Grand Staircase Escalante, Utah! I’m so glad that Calf Creek Falls was the catalyst for my time exploring this beautiful state, and I can say without a doubt that this hike really does live up to the hype.
Have any questions about hiking this trail? Fire em’ off in the comments below!