Our Utah Hiking Adventures

In my most recent post, I discussed in general terms, backpacking in southern Utah and the unbelievably colorful Canyon Country landscapes that accompany these treks. Each year, Big Wild Adventures offers three wonderful backpack adventure tours in three distinct wilderness regions of southern Utah. Below is an overview of each.

Canyonlands National Park is a national treasure in southeastern Utah. In the southern part of the famous Needles District of the park, is a remote and relatively little known canyon system with spectacular rock formations flanking a clear cool high desert stream with small waterfalls and deep plunge pools. The canyons also harbor numerous ruins of the Ancient Puebloan culture, which we always have plenty of time to explore. There’s good drinking water almost everywhere, and the walking is easy, mostly on a well-defined trail. We meet our groups in the tourist town of Moab, Utah, and begin this trek with a long drive on a rough dirt road deep into the primitive heart of Canyon Country. We begin the hike on a high mesa and drop into the canyons, ending this 6-day trek in lower country near the main area of Needles District trails. This is a wonderful trek, a mellow hiking experience through a really wild and stunningly colorful canyon system with plenty of time to gawk at this amazing landscape and to also explore side canyons with a lightweight day-pack. We rate this trip “Moderately Easy”. It is offered in the Spring.

Our Grand Staircase Backcountry trek is within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Designated by then President Clinton in 1996, the monument helps to protect wildness on a large area of south-central Utah. The western portion of the area is referred to as the “Grand Staircase”, a region where the landscape drops downward from north to south in a series of landscape-scale mesas and cliffs that resemble a gigantic staircase. This is wild rugged canyon country, and perhaps the most primeval area within it is the slickrock canyon roadless area where we run this trek. Here are yet more spectacular and colorful canyons with lush greenery flanking cool clear streams. Slot canyons and long walks across high mesas with big jaw-dropping vistas are part if this trip experience. Much of the route is off trail. This trek is a bit tougher than our other Utah backpacking treks, and we rate it “Fairly Strenuous”. We meet our groups in the pleasant college town of Cedar City. This is probably the least-known of our Utah trip areas, and except for the first and last few miles, we rarely see anyone else over most of the route. But it is no less unusual or gorgeous that Canyonlands or the Escalante! This trip is in the Spring.

The Escalante Canyons proposed wilderness area begins few miles to the southeast of the small town of Escalante, fairly close to the Arizona border. Most of the area is within the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, managed by the National Park Service, but some of the upper mesas are within the adjacent Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The Escalante is “slickrock desert” at it’s best. Here are vast mesas of naked sandstone broken by desert sands which support a surprising array of arid-adapted plants. Big vistas of vast high desert framed by the snow-capped Henry Mountains (last range discovered by colonists in the lower 48 states) and other ranges highlight the slickrock mesas. But much of our route is also in the verdant canyons, which dissect the mesas. Here, the Escalante River and its tributaries have carved deep red-walled canyons, including classic slots. Plus there are Ancient Puebloan ruins and pictographs along most of our routes. Canyon vegetation is lush, and parts of the trip include walking along and through the streams, which often constitute the easiest routs. Believe me, the Escalante scenery is mind-boggling, every bit as stunning as that of the Grand Canyon, albeit more horizontal and in many ways, much more user-friendly. That’s because once you know the safe routes in and out of the canyons (which our guides do!), you can go nearly anywhere! Offered in the Fall, this “Moderate” 6-day trip we also meet our groups in Cedar City. The Fall colors will be spectacular!

Note that on our Spring Utah hiking trips, we beat the intense high desert heat of late Spring and Summer; and on our Autumn treks, we hike in the pleasantly mild weather of a Canyon Country October. A visit to our Utah Backpacking trip page will access detailed trip-by-trip information, including many color photos of each of our Utah trip areas.

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