Calf Creek Falls is a place that should be seen by everyone, especially those who live close by. It is named Calf Creek Falls because it was used as a corral by early settlers and ranchers. It is just outside of the town of Escalante, Utah, which is about a three-hour drive from Colorado City. You will find it by following Scenic Highway 12, which cuts through some of the most spectacular scenery Utah has to offer. Along with that route, you will find many opportunities for adventure including Bryce National Park, Kodachrome Basin State Park, and multiple access points to the vast Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument which contains Calf Creek Falls. Be careful driving this route! It is so beautiful that maintaining your focus on driving can prove difficult.
The hike is around four miles round trip but is generally flat and quite easy depending on the time of year and your ability. I went two times this summer, and the biggest challenge was the heat. That is one of the things that makes the hike particularly rewarding; however, autumn and spring hikes are perfect if you aren’t interested in braving the heat. If you want to swim in the pools beneath the falls, you will want to go during the summer when they are just frigid enough to be pleasant after a sweltering hike. There is a campground at the beginning of the trailhead as well as water fountains and restrooms. There is a large picnic area as well. A day use fee is required but national parks pass will get you in as well.
The hike follows an interpretive trail. Pick up one of the trail guides to learn about the various markers along the trail. It points out several Native American archeological features along with descriptions of plants and wildlife. One of the most prominent features is a trio of pictographs on the opposite canyon wall that, although difficult to spot at first, is very large and impressive. To get a better look at them, as well as a couple Native American granaries up on the cliffsides, bring binoculars. Contemplating the former inhabitants of the canyon lights up the imagination. Considering what the lives of these people might have been brings feelings of discomfort and envy. The three-horned, warrior-like images make you wonder if you are supposed to be there. But the scenery gives you an odd feeling of belonging—a welcoming paradise when you compare it to the barren, dry, rocky, terrain surrounding it.
The creek that flows alongside the trail is full of trout and is crystal clear. It is fun to watch the trout as they swim stationary against the gentle current of the stream. The canyon narrows as you travel up the trail, putting you beneath towering cliffs on either side that are spectacular features to study as you make your way to the falls. Gradually, you will approach the cooler portion of the hike and find yourself surrounded by lush trees and foliage. You will know you’re close when you hear the falls. Both times we came (twice in one month), we spent a good amount of time relaxing beneath the falls. If you have hammocks, there are numerous trees to hang from. Bring a book or take a nap until the heat of the day subsides. Evening light on the canyon walls makes for a near spiritual experience.
Along the trail, you may be surprised to find that much of the discussion among fellow hikers will be in different languages. People from all over the world come to explore this ruggedly beautiful country that we call home. If you choose to visit, please do so with consideration. There are sites along the trail with graffiti and the odd piece of trash. Leave with more than you bring in. Leave no trace, as they say.