The Grand Staircase: 8 Best Things to Do & See

 The Grand Staircase: 8 Best Things to Do & See

The Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and Canyonlands National Park are Must-Sees in Southern Utah.

The red and orange hues. The incredible rock formations. Haunting pictographs and petroglyphs. Visiting Southern Utah feels like visiting another planet.

And on this strange planet in the midst of our country is The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Here are all the best things to see and do in the area with an RV. And if you want to see all our posts on Utah – here's where to go.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Grand Staircase-Escalante is a vast stretch of desert. The area is mostly white-sandstone mesa with some pretty incredible views, as well as some steep drop-offs.

It contains some of the most remote country in the lower 48 states. The monument’s 1.9 million acres of rugged and remote landscape was the last place in the continental United States to be mapped.

The lands of the monument are divided into three distinct regions: The Grand Staircase, Escalante Canyon, and Kaiparowits Plateau.

Things To See in the Area

The Grand Staircase

The Grand Staircase is a series of great geological “steps” that get their name from a geologist, Clarence Dutton, back in the 1870s.

He first conceptualized this region as a huge stairway ascending out of the bottom of the Grand Canyon northward with the cliff edge of each layer forming giant steps.

Dutton divided this layer cake of Earth history into five “steps” leading into the Grand Canyon from the youngest (uppermost) rocks. Each of these shows a different time period in the geological history of the Earth.

The steps are broken down into:

  1. Pink Cliffs
  2. Gray Cliffs
  3. White Cliffs
  4. Vermilion Cliffs
  5. Chocolate Cliffs

Escalante River

Escalante River
Escalante River

On the eastern side of the monument, the Escalante River cascades down, winding through a 1,000-mile maze of interconnected canyons. This magical labyrinth is one of the scenic wonders of the West.

Kalparowits Plateau

Kalparowits Plateau
Kalparowits Plateau

The Kaiparowits Plateau stands in the center of the monument and is a vast, wedge-shaped block of mesas and deeply incised canyons that tower above the surrounding Canyonlands.

The isolated, rugged plateau is a refuge for wildlife and rare plants, and a depository for countless fossils.

The Grand Staircase: 8 Best Things to Do & See 2
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Things to Do in the Area

There are so many amazing things to do in the area but we're going to highlight the few that are accessible while RVing.

Hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls

Lower Calf Creek Falls
Lower Calf Creek Falls

The Lower Calf Creek Falls is one of the most well-known features in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. There is a campground here.

The trail leads along Calf Creek to a 126-foot high, spectacular waterfall. The hike is 6 miles round-trip and takes 3-4 hours.

Along the three miles to the falls, you’ll pass two granaries and a large pictograph on the wall opposite the canyon, among other things. If you come in the spring you’ll also see bountiful wildflowers flourishing along the trail.

There isn’t a huge elevation change, but the trail is sandy and walking can be strenuous, especially in hot weather. In contrast, the falls provide a delightfully cool, shady haven which makes the hike well worth the effort.

There is also the Upper Calf Creek Falls a few miles up the road leading to an 87-foot high waterfall that is only 2 miles round-trip. However, the terrain is much steeper and there is no campground there.

Visit Anasazi State Park Museum

Anasazi State Park Museum
Anasazi State Park Museum

Just before the Calf Creek Falls is the Anasazi State Park Museum in the town of Boulder. The park shelters the ruins of an ancient Native American village, one of the largest Ancestral Puebloan communities found west of the Colorado River.

Outside the museum, you can tour a life-sized, six-room replica of an ancient dwelling and view a portion of the original site. Inside you can view artifacts excavated from this site and learn about the Ancestral Puebloan culture.

Hike to Escalante Natural Bridge

 Escalante River Canyon
Escalante River Canyon

A few miles after Lower Calf Creek Falls on UT-12 W you’ll see the trailhead for another hike in the area, the Escalante Natural Bridge. You’ll know you’re at the trailhead because it’s the only place where UT-12 W crosses the Escalante River.

It’s a 3.2-mile hike through the Escalante River Canyon to reach the natural stone bridge. You’ll be crossing the knee-deep river a few times, so be prepared to get wet! The hike typically takes about 2 hours.

Short Hike to Devil's Garden

The Grand Staircase: 8 Best Things to Do & See 3
Devil's Garden

Another easily accessible feature in Grand Staircase-Escalante is Devils Garden, about a 30 min drive south of Escalante.

There’s a short trail, about a mile round-trip, but the entire area is very open. You can wander around and explore many nooks and crannies of hoodoos, domes, narrow passages, and small arches.

Trek the Petrified Forest Trail

This is a one-mile loop, winding through lava flows and thousands of pieces of petrified wood. The Sleeping Rainbows trail is an optional .75-mile loop off the Petrified Forest Trail. This section is much steeper and requires scrambling and climbing over rocks.

7-Day RV Adventure Guide of Southern Utah

Our RV Adventure Guide outlines seven-day guided explorations of scenic areas of Southern Utah that we've explored. It would make an excellent RV trip for you!

In each location, we provide a suggested route and itinerary (7 stops in each guide, one for each day of a week trip!) as well as links to multiple campgrounds and boondocking spots, local tips, and interesting things to do at each location.

You can hit everything in seven days, do a whirlwind weekend tour, or you can take your time and explore the area over a 2+ week period.

Planning an RV trip can be very time-consuming so that’s why we’ve done the research for you! Just take our guides and use them, we’re sure you’ll have an RV trip for the ages! Instant download. CLICK HERE for information on our RV Travel Guides

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The Grand Staircase: 8 Best Things to Do & See

Mike Wendland

Mike Wendland is a veteran journalist who, with his wife, Jennifer, travels North America in a small motorhome, blogging about the people, places, joys and adventure of RV life on the road at RVLifestyle.com. He and Jennifer also host the weekly RV Podcast and do twice-weekly videos on the YouTube RV Lifestyle Channel. They have written 10 books on RV travel.

1 Comment

  • We love Escalante but wouldn’t dream of visiting without a stop for a meal at Hells Backbone Kitchen in Boulder, Utah. Casual atmosphere and great food in the middle of one of the most beautiful areas in Utah! Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.

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