Lower Calf Creek Falls – a Hike with a Prize

Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument (GSENM) spans almost a million acres, half the size of Yellowstone and almost as big as Grand Canyon National Park. Its sweeping vistas of geologic history stretch across much of southern Utah, where mother earth inches up her skirt and shows some ankle: all the colors of candy land tempting the eyes.

You can see for miles and miles and miles.

But amidst the vastness, one special hike holds a prize at the end that is a feast not just for the eyes but for all the senses.

A close friend suggested to us that the 80-mile stretch of Utah 12 between Boulder Town, Utah, and Bryce Canyon was the prettiest in the country. He might be right. Especially when the highway climbs to the thinnest of ridgelines and plummets on each side to dizzying views, it’s hard to argue the fact.

A Hike with a Prize

And nestled among those miles is Lower Calf Creek Falls, a three-mile out and back hike with a prize. Spoiler: it’s a doozy.

Lower Calf Creek Falls is 130 feet high!

We tried to imagine people discovering this thousands of years ago. It would have seemed magical: an impossible basin and shower and cool respite smack in the middle of a high desert. The Falls and the grove at its base it are at least twenty degrees colder than everything surrounding – a destination oasis after two sandy hours among cactus and Utah juniper and magnificant late-fall views.

In the shade and spray it’s downright chilly!

We stopped for rest and lunch, as did most everyone. A few hardy children, intrepid adults, and enthusiastic dogs splashed in the water. For us, one touch was enough to insta-chill our dusty hands and to confirm that even wading was not for us.

Were it mid-summer we’d have lounged in the shade and spray even longer, but on this warm October day we had cooled more than enough after half an hour in nature’s autumn icebox to welcome the sunshine and exertion the return trek would bring.

Not everything along the return path was desert.

Hell’s Backbone Grill

Worth more than just a mention: dinner afterwards at Hell’s Backbone Grill, a serious foodie oasis as far from others like it as you can imagine. It’s in nearby Boulder, one of the most remote small towns in the continental US. And at population 240, it’s a very small town indeed.

The Grill wears its politics unmistakably and legitimately, as they’re sponsoring efforts to maintain the size and sanctity of GSENM. Signs for that and for blue candidates stand alongside “wash your hands at this basin before dinner” and “Black Lives Matter.” 

A foodie oasis in the Utah high desert.

But it’s the food people come this far for, and this was our first “fancy dinner” since we began life on the road. (Note that we had splashed off worst of our sweat and dust with parking-lot showers and quick-changes in the car before heading here. Oh yes, we are very fancy indeed!)

Begun with goat cheese fondue and capped with the best gingerbread this side of London, it did not disappoint. Even standing in line for them to open was altogether worth the wait to find this delightful remote eatery as much a prize as the waterfall we had just come from.

Happy diners after a rewarding hike. Sweet, sweet gingerbread to come!

Brief Bonus Waterfall Video

Just put this on loop for when you need to de-stress.


    1. Looks fantastic, great shots of the falls. Glad you found some of the wonders of “the other Boulder”. Patty and I were there in early October, hiking in the Escalante Canyon down Hole in the Rock Road.
      If you are still the area, there is one wonder of Utah that you may not have discovered yet – slot canyons. There is a dispersed camping area near the beginning of Hole in the Rock Road, and not too far down the road you can find Spooky and Peek-a-Boo canyons, which are an easy hike.

      1. Thanks for these ideas, but we are now in Nevada after an additional week in Bryce and Zion. We really appreciate the suggestions of yours that led to this memorable day for us!

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