Distance: 6 miles Roundtrip | Time: 2.5 – 3.5 hours | Level: Easy – Moderate | Dog Friendly
Hiking Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail is an enchanting experience that can’t be skipped. We spent an amazing three weeks adventuring around Utah, and witnessing the 126 foot waterfall is one of our favorite memories from the trip.
Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail is a stunning 6 mile hike that allows hikers to experience the best of southern Utah all in one place. On the way to the falls, the trail winds hikers past towering canyon walls, through a valley of tall grass, and along the trout-filled calf creek.
In this guide, I will cover what to expect when hiking Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail, things to know before you go, best time to hike to the falls, and where to stay for an adventure you’ll remember forever.
A Guide to Hiking Lower Calf Creek Falls in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Things to Know Before You Visit
Lower Calf Creek Falls is located in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, an hour and twenty minutes east of Bryce Canyon National Park.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), not the National Park Service. Therefore, visitors do not need to pay a National Park entrance fee. However, there is a $5 vehicle fee for day-use hikers.
Even though the park is managed by BLM, your fee is waived if you have an American the Beautiful pass!
If you don’t have an annual pass you can pay your $5 fee at the information board in the parking lot.
Where to Park
The trailhead begins from Lower Calf Creek Falls Campground. The parking lot for the trail is small and fills up quickly. We began the hike at dawn and by the time we returned (roughly around 9:00 a.m.) the parking lot was already full.
To my knowledge there are no other parking options for hikers. If you want to ensure you get a spot, make it a point to arrive early.
There are restroom facilities at the trailhead. Make sure to use them before beginning the hike as there are no facilities along the trail.
Upper Calf Creek Falls
Upper Calf Creek Falls is not accessible via Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail. The upper falls trail is a shorter trail at 2 miles, with a smaller falls height of 88 feet. We would have loved to visit both falls had we planned accordingly.
Upper Calf Creek Falls has a great swimming hole and fun jumping spot. While the trail is shorter, it’s much steeper than the path for hiking Lower Calf Creek Falls and involves some scrambling. The upper falls trail sees way less foot traffic than the lower falls and is a great option for anyone looking for a more off-the-beaten path hike.
Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail Brochure
Hikers can grab an informative trail brochure from the trailhead. We did not grab one and have since regretted that decision. There are ancient granaries and pictographs along the canyon walls that we didn’t even know to look for because we passed on the brochure. Don’t be like us.
There are also numbered sign posts along the trail that correspond with bits of information in the brochure about the area. The brochure is definitely a fun thing to have along for the hike.
Best Time to Hike Lower Calf Creek Falls
Best Time of Day to Hike Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail
We opted to hike Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail for sunrise because we were eager to continue on our way to Bryce Canyon National Park. Looking back, this was the perfect time to head to the falls.
We visited Utah in July so our biggest concern was beating the heat. What we didn’t realize was that by starting the hike at dawn, we would also beat the crowds.
There are a couple of benefits to starting the hike so early. The first being, we had the trail all to ourselves. We didn’t even see another person until we were hiking back out.
Words cannot describe how surreal it was to be playing in such a massive waterfall, in the middle of the desert, alone. Absolute magic.
I will say, once we started to see people, we started to see a lot of people. The trail is definitely not a secret and gets busy quickly. If you want the experience of enjoying the falls alone, or close to it, you’re going to have to sacrifice some sleep.
Next, by starting the hike at dawn, we had several wildlife encounters. Because we were the first hikers on the trail, none of the animals had been spooked. During the hike, we crossed paths with deer, beavers, and squirrels.
Such a breath of fresh air to feel fully immersed in nature.
Lastly, by beating the sun to the trail, we got to witness it make its arrival into the valley. I have observed few things more beautiful than the red rocks of Utah at sunrise. In an instant, the valley came to life and the canyon walls caught fire.
Not only was it beautiful to see the arrival of the day, but it also meant we escaped the heat. The trail is not particularly difficult, but you definitely don’t want to be caught hiking in the full summer sun.
Gearing up for a sunrise hike in the pitch black of morning is far from pleasant, but, man, does it always pay off.
Best Time of Year to Hike Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail
Deciding the best time of year to hike to the falls is tricky. Summer is an extremely hot time of year for southern Utah. We visited in July and the heat index was sweltering — I’m talking 120-degrees-hot.
I’m not necessarily sure I would recommend others visit Utah during the peak of summer. On the plus side, visiting the falls in the summer meant we were happy to go sprinting in the water the moment we laid eyes on it. We splashed around and swam up under the falls, creating moments I will remember forever. We didn’t just hike to see the waterfall and then turn around.
In general, weather for traveling through Utah is definitely best during spring or fall. While the temperatures will be more enjoyable, you probably won’t want to jump in the freezing cold water. Also, keep in mind that spring time brings the most visitors to Utah.
As for visiting during winter, you run the risk of road closures due to snow.
With that being said, regardless of what time of year you take a trip to Utah, visit the dang falls.
What to Expect Hiking Lower Calf Creek Falls
While Lower Calf Creek Falls itself is clearly the hike’s main attraction, the entire hike is great. Every part of the trail leading up to the falls is stunning.
What’s so unique about Lower Calf Creek Trail is that it’s teeming with life. There’s such a beautiful contrast between the steep sandstone cliffs above and the lush green foliage in the valley.
The area is unlike anything else we came across while hiking around Utah, and quickly became one of our favorites.
We began the trail at dawn, just before sunrise. We seemed to be the only tent awake in the campground and first to set foot on the trail.
The trail is easy to follow and maintains a pretty level elevation for most of the hike. Even so, I recommend downloading the trail map ahead of time on AllTrails. There were a few sections where we followed rock cairns to ensure we were headed the right way, but other than that it’s pretty straight forward.
In total, the trail only gains about 550 feet of elevation, making it suitable for most hikers. Leashed dogs are even allowed on this trail.
While the elevation doesn’t make for a difficult hike, the sandy patches do. You know that feeling when you’re trudging through sand on the beach? At times the trail feels like that.
Several areas of the trails consist of stretches of loose sand. I had to stop and empty my shoes more than once. Sand can be extremely difficult to walk through and make even the easiest of hikes feel difficult.
Remind yourself that the sandy patches are temporary, and just keep soaking in the pretty views.
The first half of the trail leads hikers through the canyon. This part of the trail is more exposed with panoramic views of the white and red sandstone cliffs towering in the distance.
The second half, on the other hand, wraps down along the stream. It was so refreshing to hear the trickling water and to finally be immersed in green vegetation — a scene that had eluded us for weeks in southern Utah.
During the canopied portion of the trail, we came face to face with curious deer and busy beavers. We even got to follow the trail of a snake for quite sometime before loosing its tracks in the brush.
We were so enamored with the liveliness of the trail we nearly missed the first glimpse of Lower Calf Creek Falls peeking off in the distance above the trees.
I’m pretty sure at this point, we kicked things into high gear because we were so excited to see the full view of the falls. I’m pretty sure once the waterfall came into view I literally stopped in my tracks.
It’s rare these days to stumble upon an attraction as popular as Lower Calf Creek Falls without any preconceived expectations for it. There was practically no planning involved for our Utah trip compared to trips we have taken in the past. I’m not sure I had even seen more than one photo of the falls, and if I had, they had not done it justice.
The mere sight of Lower Calf Creek Falls absolutely blew us away.
We had been traveling through the dry, red desert of Utah for weeks, and by the time we laid eyes on Lower Calf Creek Falls, it nearly seemed like a mirage.
The falls are massive and evoke a sense of pure wonder. I just kept thinking, “How is this here?!” A powerful, raging, waterfall in the middle of the desert. Breathtaking.
If you’re like us and can’t resist jumping in waterfalls, regardless of how cold they are, make sure to pack your swimsuit! We spent the whole morning here, freezing and happy, completely alone.
When we reluctantly started to head back we began seeing a hiker or two, here and there. By the time we were about a mile from the trailhead, we saw dozens.
Places like Lower Calf Creek Falls have a completely different energy about them when you get to experience them alone. Do yourself a favor and do everything in your power to give yourself that experience.
The best way to make it happen? Camp at Calf Creek Campground.
Where to Stay
There are several places to stay in the town of Escalante, but here are some of the places that stuck out to me:
Calf Creek Campground
One of our favorite places we camped in all of Utah was Calf Creek Campground. Each campsite is spacious and unique, surrounded by beautiful scenery. The campground feels secluded and off-the-map.
Calf Creek Campground has 13 first-come, first-served camp sites. Your best bet at snagging a site is arriving early and catching someone as they are packing out.
If you can, I recommend selecting site #9 or #10.
Site #9 has beautiful stream access. Luckily we made friends with the campers in this site. We spent the whole evening drinking beers and sitting in the river with them.
We camped at site #10, the second best site in the campground. The site is spacious, private, and surrounded by the iconic red rocks.
Sites are $15 / night.
I do not think it gets much cuter than Yonder Escalante. Had we been spending more than one night in the area, we would have, without a doubt, stayed here. From tiny cabins and Airstream stay options, to RV sites and on-site movie nights, what’s not to love about this place?
Another place that caught our eye was Escalante Yurts. Who doesn’t dream about staying in a yurt in the middle of the desert? The yurts are beautiful with private decks and stunning surroundings. They also offer jeep and all-terrain e-bike rentals for an epic adventure.
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If you have any further questions about hiking Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail or where to say, drop me a message in the comment section below.