Best time to visit: Year Around
Ideal For: Hiking and backpacking
Where to stay: Town of Escalante
Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is an incredible landscape and one of my personal favorite places in the country. Make no mistake - the attractions here are "national park" worthy, but the infrastructure is not. All attractions can only be seen via dirt roads, and there is no water or restrooms. Some attractions like Coyote Gulch are best seen on overnight backpacking trips. Spring and early summer have the best weather and the least amount of rain. Monsoon season is late summer which brings sporadic, heavy rainstorms. Winters are cold and summers are hot.
My recommendations below are just based on what I have seen, there is a lot more to see here than the below.
The most common attractions here are slot canyons. They are really cool but potentially dangerous, especially during rainstorms.
Many of the slot canyons often have pools of standing water in them. Wear shoes that you are ready and willing to get wet. Summer may offer the direst conditions.
Some basic climbing abilities and good physical fitness/upper body strength is needed in several major slot canyons. There are often obstacles to climb over or under and narrow sections that you have to squeeze through.
Most of the dirt roads in the region are accessible to passenger cars, but they may become impassable when theres rain or snow.
Highway 12 - One of the prettiest roads in the country. It runs between Bryce and Capitol Reef National Parks and it gives you a chance to see the diverse landscape of the Grand Staircase. The stretch of road between the towns of Escalante and Boulder is especially cool as it climbs up a narrow ridge that sometimes has huge dropoffs to canyons below. There are many places to pull over and take photos along the road.
Coyote Gulch - Best seen with at least one night of backcountry camping, or preferably two. As of right now, there is no lottery for backpacking permits. Permits can be obtained in person at the Escalante visitor center in the town of Escalante. Reaching the trailhead requires about 30 miles of dirt road driving down "Hole in the Rock Road" which branches off from Highway 12 near the town of Escalante. There are a few trailheads that you can park at - I have used the "Hurricane Wash" trailhead which is the most common and easiest to reach in a car. Most people set up camp near Jacob Hamblin Arch and then spend the next day hiking further down the gulch towards the Escalante River. The entire gulch is mind-blowing with towering walls that come way out over the creek below. Read more about Coyote Gulch here.
Peak-a-boo and Spooky Slot Canyons - These two slot canyons are the most famous of the region. They can be seen together on a loop hike and also separately on an out-and-back hike. Peek-a-boo is famous for it's small overhead arches and Spooky is really dark and narrow for hundreds of meters. There are sections of both slot canyons that are really narrow, requiring you to walk through them sideways while carrying any bags in your outstretched arms. The entrance to Peak-a-boo requires a scramble up a 15-foot high rock face. There are sometimes pools of water at the entrance so wear shoes that can get wet. Above Peak-a-boo, the hike breaks out into the open and cairns mark the route over to the top of Spooky Gulch. Spooky Gulch is much longer than Peak-a-boo and it's more narrow. There is a 7-foot boulder in Spooky which needs to be climbed down to complete the hike. It's a dark and narrow drop-off and I found it to be more challenging than the entrance to Peak-a-boo. Below this, Spooky gets really crowded and there are traffic jams where people are trying to hike up the slot while others are hiking down. Arrive as early in the morning as possible to beat the crowds. The trailhead is off of the "Hole in the Rock" road near the town of Escalante. For more information on the hike and finding the trailhead, click here.
Zebra and Tunnel Slot Canyons - These two are quite pretty but they aren't nearly as long as Peak-a-boo and Spooky. The hike to reach them is longer as well, and they both often have water at their entrances that can't be avoided. Zebra is really short but the patterns on the walls of the slot are really cool. Tunnel has a rock roof over its entire length. The trailhead is off of the "Hole in the Rock" road near the town of Escalante. For more info on the hike and finding the trailhead, click here.
Devils Garden - This area has colorful hoodoos and small arches that you can climb around and explore. It's a fun spot for all ages and a great option if the slot canyons seem a little too intense. The parking area is right next to the hoodoos so very little walking is required to see them. There is also a pit toilet here - the only one in the area. This is 100% worth stopping at, and can be seen in as little as 20 minutes. The trailhead is off of the "Hole in the Rock" road near the town of Escalante. For more info on the hike and finding the trailhead click here.
Little Death Hollow - Another cool slot canyon made of deep red sandstone that goes on for miles. Little Death Hollow starts out as a hike across open desert ecosystem but the sandstone ridges in the distance eventually converge into a slot canyon as you hike. This is a popular backpacking spot and the hike can be done as a number of different loops in the area. There is a point where you will almost always encounter standing water, so this is the turn-around point for most day hikers. The hike is off of the "Burr Trail" road which starts out paved at the town of Boulder, UT before becoming a well-maintained dirt road. Read more about this hike here.
Calf Creek Falls - This is another nice option if you think the slot canyons are not for you. The trailhead is well-marked off of Highway 12, in between the towns of Boulder and Escalante. The hike is about 6 miles roundtrip and the endpoint is a tall waterfall cascading into a green pool. It's a great endpoint and a nice place to swim for kids and adults. Read more about it here.
Kodachrome Basin State Park - This state park exemplifies why the region is called a "grand staircase". It's located 20 miles East of Bryce Canyon NP. There are some cool hiking routes here and a campground. Read more about it here.
Where to Stay:
The small town of Escalante is the best place to set up base camp for exploring the region. Most of the attractions mentioned above are on the "Hole in the Rock" road which begins right near the town of Escalante. There are a few rustic hotels in town, and also a few campground/RV Parks and places to buy food and supplies. From here, most attractions mentioned above can be reached with an hours drive or less.
Parts that I missed
Some attractions to research further include: the Cosmic Ashtray, Bighorn Slot Canyon, Last Chance Canyon, and Red Breaks.