Hole in the Rock Road: adventure in the Grand Staircase-Escalante between canyons and rock gardens

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Martí Micolau

wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

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In the state of Utah there are many scenic roads to try at least once in a lifetime, and the infamous Hole in the Rock Road it is certainly not far behind. Of this adventurous dirt road that goes into the most remote area of ​​Escalante I have already spoken in the article about the much better known and busier UT-12, because it is by deviating from it that you take it.

In this article I want to give some more information on feasibility of this road, on the technical difficulty and characteristics of the percorso and on natural attractions which is worth achieving.


  • A bit of history: the San Juan Expedition
  • Where is it and how to get there
    • The Visitor Center
  • What see?
    • Devil's Garden
    • I 4 canyon del Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch
    • Dance Hall Rock
    • Reflection Canyon
    • Hole in the Rock
  • Map of the attractions mentioned
  • How much time is required?
  • Where to sleep?

A bit of history: the San Juan Expedition

This road offers the great historical testimony of a glorious expedition of Mormons aimed at exploring and colonizing the wild southeastern territories of Utah along the San Juan River, east of Colorado (Lake Powell had not yet been created). The voyage was carefully studied and prepared for a couple of years and departed at the end of 1879 from Escalante. The group, called San Juan Expedition, was made up of 236 people: men, women and children set off with their caravans, paving the way that today we can travel with our comfortable off-road vehicles.

One of the most complex moments of the undertaking was the one immediately preceding the crossing of the Colorado River: in the point that now marks the end of the road there was a chasm, the so-called Hole in the Rock: under the overhang there was a steep and bumpy crack, which was the only way to descend from the plateau towards the Colorado. The excavation work to open a passage took 6 weeks, but incredibly the whole expedition managed to overcome the obstacle, covering the entire gully with caravans and horses.

Their journey then continued north of the San Juan River and ended in October 1880 BC Bluff, proving even more complicated due to the presence of canyons, buttes and gorges along the way. In the same town, at the Bluff Fort Historic Site (550 East Black Locust Ave) you will find more information and testimonies of the incredible feat.

Where is it and how to get there

As anticipated, the Hole in the Rock road (BLM200) is located in southern Utah, within the Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monument and, to a lesser extent, in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The start of the road is 8 km south-east from the center of Escalante, shortly after the airport on the right, well signposted. It can be reached by deviating from the Scenic Byway UT-12 in this point.

In its entirety, the road is long 90 km one way, reaching up toHole in the Rock Trailhead, practically overlooking a remote section of Lake Powell halfway between Wahweap and Bullfrog, the two main lake ports.

The Visitor Center

Before setting out on the road, pass byEscalante Interagency Visitor Center to gather information on the viability of the road and the various slot canyons that you are interesting to explore: the risk of a flash flood is around the corner! The Visitor Center address is 755 West Main Street, Escalante. The timetables are as follows:

  • from mid-April to October: every day from 7.30 to 17.30
  • from October to Thanksgiving: every day from 8 to 16.30
  • from mid-November to mid-April: from Monday to Friday from 8 to 16.30
  • closed for Thanksgiving, December 24th, 25th, January 1st
Hole in the rock ... but which one? bizarre shop-zoo-house in the rock of Moab, you have the wrong article! Below, the link where to find information on Hole N ”the Rock in Moab.

What see?

Detail of the Devil's Garden

There are endless possibilities for exploration and excursion along the Hole in the Rock Road route, many of them not within the reach of the average traveler, both for the technical difficulty and for the lack of a real traced path. A further obstacle is represented by the conditions of the dirt road: although it is in good condition, the road it cannot be traveled by sedans or from cars of a lower category than the SUV. The final part of the itinerary (the last 13 km from Soda Spring to Hole in the Rock) requires a 4 × 4 vehicle. In case it rained, it is possible that the road is impassable in its entirety even for 4 × 4, so find out first!

The main interest is the so-called area Escalante Canyons Unit, where slot canyons and rock formations shaped by the Escalante River abound in large numbers, which then flows into the Lake Powell-Colorado River.

Devil's Garden

Metate Arch

This restricted natural area is perhaps one of the most visited in the entire Hole in the Rock Road, and among the best known in all of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The Devil's Garden (not to be confused with the Arches section) it is very easy to reach, being practically adjacent to the main road. From the intersection with the UT-12 it is necessary to drive for a little less than 20 km up to this point and turn right. At the end of the road, after a few meters, there is a clearing where you can leave your car.

From the parking lot, the garden is very close: there is no path to follow, a bit like in the case of the Valley of the Goblins. Rather, the beauty lies in wandering in wonder among the hoodoos and the incredibly shaped rocks painted in red and creamy white. Don't miss the Metate Arch, a fantastic arch with sinuous and curvilinear shapes, almost a drawing by Dalì.

I 4 canyon del Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch

Dry Fork Narrows Slot Canyon

Spooky Slot Canyon, Peekaboo Slot Canyon e Dry Fork Narrows Slot Canyon are the three most famous slot canyons of the named area Escalante Canyons Unit: most likely almost everyone you meet along your way on the Hole in the Rock Road is going right there with their friends or children. The area of Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch (nothing more than the dried river bed from which the three canyons branch off) is in fact much loved by the more sporty and adventurous families, but still requires careful preparation because the excursions - especially the first two canyons mentioned - are difficult medium-high technique.

I tre canyon they are very close to each other, and can be visited in about 2 or 3 hours altogether. To find out more about how to do it, the reference is to the in-depth analysis of our Filippo who - in his article on the slot canyons of Utah - gave detailed information on how to get there, where to park and what to expect from the excursions.

Brimstone Gulch: only the brave For those who are very fit and have a lot of time on their hands, there is a fourth canyon to explore in the Dry Fork area. If the three mentioned by me and Filippo are not enough for you, you can also reach the Brimstone Gulch, the furthest from the Dry Fork Trailhead and perhaps the most mysterious and adventurous. To enter this very narrow canyon, once you arrive at the Dry Fork crossroads, you must continue walking along the river bed to the east, leave the entrance to the Spooky Slot Canyon behind and proceed inside the Spooky Gulch until the confluence with the Brimstone Gulch.

From here, you walk a little painfully in the sand for about a kilometer towards the entrance of the slot canyon (you will understand that you are on the right path if you see a dune on the way) which, as soon as you enter it, will clearly show you how the narrowest and darkest of the 4. If you realize that it is too complicated for you, go back, because in the past there are those who have been trapped in it!

Dance Hall Rock

The pioneers of the San Juan Expedition worked hard every day at the opening of the road, and there was very little time to relax. After a few weeks of traveling, some men of the expedition discovered the Dance Hall Rock, a rock amphitheater that had excellent acoustics and, due to its shape, also offered enough space for dancing. Thus, between November 1879 and January 1890, after the day of work the pioneers often returned to the Dance Hall Rock with the women and children to spend a few evenings of singing and dancing.

If you want to enter Dance Hall Rock, you will have to drive 59km from the beginning of the road to this parking lot, which is immediately below the large sandstone cave.

Attention! All the trails in this area must be covered paying close attention to rattlesnakes. Watch where you put your feet and hands: avoid holes and dense bushes.

Reflection Canyon

Have you ever seen this photo? It is one of the most beautiful and famous scenic spots of Lake Powell, as well as one of the most unreachable: the Reflection Canyon.

Anyone would like to reach this magical place, which is the perfect synthesis of the beauty of the lake. Well, the only, very complicated way to get there by land is to start a long excursion right from the Hole in the Rock Road, in the stretch of road after Soda Spring, which can only be covered with a 4 × 4.

The point where the path not traced this is it (the car park is a little further on on the right): from here we have to go 25 km there and back, in a harsh, sunny area full of obstacles (canyons, rocks to climb, technically difficult passages). The complicated and adventurous excursion is recommended only to very experienced and well-equipped hikers and requires an intermediate overnight stay in the open (a permit is required). Finally, it is mandatory to carry the GPS tracker with you in order not to lose the route, as well as several liters of water and food.

Hole in the Rock

The view from the edge

As I said, the last 13 km of the road are impassable for those who do not have a 4 × 4 vehicle. If you go all the way, you can see for yourself Hole in the Rock, the chasm that put the pioneers in serious trouble. Among the red rocks, with a little dizziness thinking of the enterprise of the Mormons who crossed the gorge with the caravans, you will admire the shining blue of Lake Powell below you. If you feel like it, you can go down to the lake (5oo m), taking into account the path is not marked, it is very steep and very hot in summer.

Map of the attractions mentioned

How much time is required?

It depends on your intentions!

  • If you are content to travel only one piece to the Devil's Garden, you can get by with 90 minutes between the trip from Escalante and visiting the area.
  • If you want to explore the canyon di Dry Fork at least 4-5 hours will leave you between the trip from Escalante and the excursion of the various canyons.
  • If you want to go all the way with your 4 × 4by doing all or almost all the indicated steps, you will have to prepare the daily program very well and most likely invest the whole day.

Where to sleep?

Detail of the Peekaboo Slot Canyon

Usually the Hole in the Rock Road is traveled for a short distance while traveling on the UT-12 tras Bryce and Capitol Reef or Moab. In this case, it is better to stay overnight near the national parks or directly in Moab. Here are some articles with our recommendations:

  • Where to sleep near Bryce
  • Where to sleep near Capitol Reef
  • Where to sleep in Moab

If you want delve into all the beauties of the road and the Escalante region, you can find accommodation in the town of the same name.

All accommodations available in Escalante 

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