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Coyote Gulch is one of the best backpacking trips in Southern Utah! If you’re looking for some classic Utah red rocks and arches, this trip has them both. This guide will give you all the info you need to plan your own trip!
If you’re new to desert backpacking, Coyote Gulch is a great backpacking trip for beginners because the terrain is mostly level, it’s easy to navigate, and there’s a water source year-round.
Since I live in Utah, I’ve been lucky enough to do this backpacking trip a couple of times over the years – it’s one of my favorites!
In this Coyote Gulch backpacking guide we’ll cover:
- the best time of year to hike Coyote Gulch
- trailhead options + what I recommend
- permit information
- Coyote Gulch campsites
- water availability
- things to see and do in Coyote Gulch
- recommended gear
- possible 3-day trip itinerary
- additional things to know before you go
1) Best time of year to hike Coyote Gulch
Coyote Gulch is on the edge of Escalante National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The Summer months are very hot, and even though it’s technically a desert, the winters are very cold. (See average temperature chart above.)
Like most backpacking trips in Southern Utah, the best time to backpack Coyote Gulch is:
- Spring – March, April, May, Early June
- Early Fall – September and October
Warning: Coyote Gulch is a slot canyon. You must check the weather before you go and change plans if needed.
2) Coyote Gulch Trailheads
All of the trailheads are located East of Escalante, UT off of Hole in the Rock Road, which starts at mile 64.8 on scenic HWY 12.
Hole in the Rock Road is an unpaved dirt road, so be prepared to drive slower. There are very few trail markers, so reset your odometer at the start of the road.
You don’t need a 4wd vehicle, but the road can be muddy and rutted. You can get an update on the road conditions at the Rangers Station in Escalante.
There are several trailheads used to access Coyote Gulch. Let’s talk about the options:
Warning: There are no maintained trails in this area. You’ll need at least a map and compass or a GPS to navigate.
Hurricane Wash Trailhead
The Hurricane Wash Trailhead is the easiest and most popular starting point.
This trailhead is about 33 miles down Hole-in-the-Rock Road. Coming from the town of Escalante, the parking will be on the right side of the road and the trail begins directly across from the parking lot on the left.
For about the first 5.5 miles, there will be no water, and very little shade on this trail.
Fortymile Ridge: Water Tank
This is the shortest, most direct way to enter Coyote Gulch.
This route requires a short but steep scramble of class 5 friction climbing. You can see it in the picture above or the video below. You might want a rope.
My group hiked up the steep section on one of our days in the canyon, just to check it out. Even without a heavy backpack on, I found this to be a little unnerving. If you don’t like heights and don’t feel comfortable scrambling, I don’t recommend using this trailhead.
In addition, during the busy season, there could be a wait to get up or down this section of the trail.
This trail is only about 2 miles, and it drops you right into the gulch at the very popular Jacob Hamblin Arch.
Fortymile Ridge: Crack-in-the-Wall
I didn’t do this trail, so I don’t know a ton about it other than: it will require you to slither through an 18-inch wide crack (hence the name!). You’ll need a rope to pull your bags up or lower them down once you’re above or below the crack. It’s too narrow to climb through with your backpack on.
Red Well Trailhead
I’ve never hiked this trail, so I don’t know much about it. About 30 miles down Hole-in-the Rock Road you should see a signed junction. From there, it’s 1.5 miles to the trailhead.
What I recommend
I recommend starting at the Hurricane Wash Trailhead. It’s easy to find on Hole-in-the-Rock Road, and you don’t have to deal with any rope or climbing if that’s not your thing. It’s a beautiful hike that’s mostly level. I recommend starting and ending your hike there.
Below is a video from my last backpacking trip in Coyote Gulch!
3) Coyote Gulch Permits
Backcountry permits are required for backpacking in Coyote Gulch. You can get a permit at the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center in the town of Escalante, UT or at one of the entry trailheads.
As of now, there’s no online reservations system.
The group size limit for Coyote Gulch is 12 people.
4) Coyote Gulch Campsites
Once you enter Coyote Gulch, you’ll begin to see campsites on both sides of the Gulch. Around Jacob Hamblin Arch, there are several campsites. The ones directly under the arch are very popular and there’s no privacy.
If you’re coming from Hurricane Wash, continue under Jacob Hamblin Arch and around the corner, to find a couple more campsites that are little more private.
If you continue through the Gulch, there are a few more campsites around Coyote Natural Bridge too.
Coyote Gulch is a very popular backpacking trip, so don’t expect a ton of solitude.
5) Water Availability in Coyote Gulch
Water is available year-round in Coyote Gulch, and there are even 2 natural springs!
The first spring is just east of Jacob Hamblin Arch. Look for hanging plants and lots of greenery on the north wall of the canyon. The first time I was there, I walked right past it because I was expecting more water at the spring. It’s just a trickle, but still a great water source.
The second natural spring in Coyote Gulch is about 1 mile from the Escalante River. If you’re hiking downstream, look up to your left to find it.
Note: Although these are natural springs, I still recommend that you filter that water from it.
I’ve been using the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter and absolutely love it for backpacking. It’s reliable, easy to back-flush, small, and lightweight.
6) Things to See and Do in Coyote Gulch
Once you’re in Coyote Gulch, there’s a lot to explore!
I recommend doing this backpacking trip as a 3-day/2-night trip, that way you’ll have an entire day “off” in the Gulch to explore.
Here are a few things to lookout for in the Gulch:
- Jacob Hamblin Arch
- Coyote Natural Bridge
- The Black Lagoon
- Cliff Arch
The Black Lagoon is a side trail in the Gulch leading to… a black lagoon! Can you find it? 😉
7) Recommended Gear
When backpacking in Coyote Gulch, you’ll need all your typical backpacking gear.
Expect to get your feet wet when hiking in Coyote Gulch so bring shoes that you don’t mind getting wet.
I went in the Fall and didn’t think the water was too cold. However, if you’re worried about your feet being cold in the water, bring some neoprene socks to hike in.
They seriously make such a big difference in keeping your feet warm during water hikes!
8) Possible Trip Itinerary
This is a possible trip itinerary for a 2-night/3-day backpacking trip in Coyote Gulch:
Start at the Hurricane Wash Trailhead and hike in to the Jacob Hamblin Arch area. Continue downstream around the corner to find camping nearby. You can re-fill water from the natural spring at Jacob Hamblin Arch. Even though it’s spring water, I still recommend that you filter it. Set up camp and relax for the night!
Spend the day hiking through the Gulch and checking out all the arches and waterfalls. Hike as far as you would like, then turn around and head back to camp for the night.
Have a slow relaxing morning in the backcountry and then hike out to the Hurricane Wash trailhead where you began.
9) Additional Things to Know
- Fires are not permitted in Coyote Gulch.
- Pets are not permitted in Coyote Gulch.
- Do not build rock cairns. They can mislead other hikers.
- Sound travels further in the canyon, so be mindful of how loud your group is.
- Flash floods can result from heavy rain and thunderstorms. The flash flood potential is highest in July, August, and September. During this time, powerful thunderstorms can come through and dump several inches of rain in just a few hours. The rocky landscape doesn’t absorb the water very well and all that water runs off into narrow side canyons forming flash floods. Always check the weather before your trip.
- Be prepared to get wet. Your feet will get wet on this hike, so bring appropriate shoes for the hike.
- Human waste must be removed from Coyote Gulch. You can use a portable toilet or a specifically engineered waste containment bag. I like these bags the best.
Now you’re ready to go backpacking in Coyote Gulch!
I hope this guide was helpful. If you have any questions as you’re planning your trip, just ask me in the comments below.