Exploring Southern Utah’s deserts

At first I was a little bummed to be within a 200 mile radius of home, but exploring my backyard has been a blessing for the soul and I learned how amazing this state is all over again.

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Most people are familiar with Moab and the surrounding areas National Parks such as Arches and Canyonlands, but there is a whole desert out there waiting to be explored without another soul in sight for miles. Camping is plentiful along the Colorado River and the sites are nicely spaced compared to those in Moab. You can head up Kane Creek or Onion Creek as well on the southwest of Moab and find nice areas off the dirt road. Heading up Potash Road before Moab (follow the road over the bridge out of town to the west along the Colorado River) you can find small campsites with beautiful views of the sandstone canyons rising up along the river. We chose to spend our time along the river and enjoy the sandy beaches and few people nearby.

Hiking is a hallmark activity in the area, as is rock climbing and biking. We hiked to Corona Arch (Potash Road area) early on a Sunday because this trail is usually highly trafficked, but the day we chose was early in fall and hardly any one was there. This is a good trail for dogs and kids alike until the very end when it gets a little technical. The views before that point are worth it though and it is a wonderful place to see several different types of rock and landscape in the area. Another great place to explore is Fisher Towers area southwest of Moab following the Colorado River road towards Cisco (HWY 128). You can wander for miles and explore the trail systems below the tall mesas of rock.

Heading out of Moab back towards Interstate 70 you follow HWY 191 along through some beautiful sites before passing both National Park entrances. Out here are many biking trails and 4×4 trails that Moab is known for. You can also take a car on some of the backroads but be warned they are rough and clearance may be an issue depending on the time of year. One of the more famous scenic car rides is Shafer trail down from Canyonlands NP to Potash road back towards Moab or in reverse. This road traverses cliff edges and beautiful scenery, but if you’re afraid of heights and narrow roads it is not for the faint of heart.

Capitol Reef is another area in Utah that is a famous NP, but it is surrounded by lesser known and frequented areas like Goblin Valley State Park on the western edge with San Rafael encompassing much of the other land. Places like Crack Canyon/Behind the Reef Road, Little Wild Horse Road and the San Rafael River make for great weekend trips. Growing up here even I get turned around so be sure to grab a map before heading out because there are no services. Most campsites are primitive and there is limited water supply but the beauty is worth it!

More towards South Central Utah is the town of Escalante. There are several scenic ways to get here from the major areas of St. George, Moab and Northern Utah. Whichever way you go is beautiful but I recommend starting in Torrey and taking the famed Highway 12. It travels over to Boulder through the alpine mountains and give you a birds eye view of the desert below. There are several overlooks too where you can see towards Arizona and Lake Powell as well. Lots of free dispersed camping can be found on this route and there are several campgrounds. The small town of Boulder is a good place for a pit stop as well.

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If you find yourself on this route be sure to leave early and give yourself time to see things like Calf Creek Falls (5.5 mile round trip). The parking area is small and can get really congested when it is warmer weather but it is definitely one of the highlights.

You will cross the Escalante River and approach the town shortly after, but before you get to Escalante the Hole in the Rock Road is worth exploring. This 62 mile dirt road can be traveled on in good conditions in a passenger car, but beware of rain and only go if you’re comfortable as it can be quite rough. There are several dispersed primitive campsites, slot canyons (Zebra, Spooky, etc) and if you make it all the way to the end (4×4 is pretty much required at that point, as well as a high clearance vehicle) you can see down to Lake Powell where the Pioneers climbed up and crossed over into Southern Utah. Other things of note here are Coyote Gulch, Devils Garden and miles of remote hiking trails. The guard station in Escalante has maps and permits can be purchased there as some of these hikes require it.

In Escalante you can see the cute local shops, Explore the petrified forest at Escalante State Park or take a swim. It’s a great base camp for overnight stays and to explore some of the previous mentioned areas.

After Escalante you can head towards Bryce Canyon/ Cannnonville and drive further down scenic Highway 12. When you arrive in Cannonville you can veer off and see Kodachrome Basin State Park which is home to hoodoos and is a smaller state park for rock scrambling. This spot is excellent for kids. Bryce Canyon is then just a short drive away from town and will have it’s own write up soon.

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