Upper Calf Creek Falls

Grand Staircase National Monument / near Escalante / Garfield County, Utah, USA

Rating: 2     Difficulty: 2.5
Upper Calf Creek Falls
Upper Calf Creek Falls was a little known 88ft waterfall that was further upstream from the wildly popular Lower Calf Creek Falls. I think the big reason why this waterfall was rather hidden in obscurity was because it wasn't easy to find. As a matter of fact, it took me three tries (see the trip reports below) before I finally managed to find it, but even on that third attempt, we almost got lost looking for it.

Once we managed to reach the correct car park (see directions below), we were greeted by a trailhead register (basically a wooden stand that revealed a pencil and notebook when opened). Behind the register, we had to scramble down a steep sandstone incline with volcanic boulders thoughtfully lined up by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM; the administrators of this section of land) to help us find our way down. Those boulders would also help us going back up as well, where it was probably even easier to lose the trail and get lost.

Once we were at the base of the steep friction pitch decline, we then proceeded along a mix of trail and sandstone marked with rock cairns. We had to pay careful attention here because it was pretty easy to lose the trail. My Mom and I almost got lost here as we were further downstream of the falls than we were supposed to be. Fortunately, we backtracked to the main trail and would eventually reach a spur where we had a choice to go fork to the left and descend to the base of the falls or fork to the right and climb up to the top of the falls.

We chose to take the left path where we brushed up against some prickly overgrowth as the trail hugged a mini-sandstone dropoff. We'd end up skipping the latter option of going above the falls. Ultimately, we'd reach the base of the thin Upper Calf Creek Falls where it was possible to continue walking around the plunge pool and get closer to the base. The terrain was a bit slick as we got close to the falls so we didn't actually go behind it, but the recess was big enough where I'd imagine it was technically possible.

When it was time to return to the trailhead, we quickly learned how easy it was to go up the wrong incline given that friction pitch we knew we had to do to go up all looked the same. Fortunately, we noticed those thoughtfully placed volcanic boulders that we used as guides on the way down, and that served us well in terms of returning to the trailhead register and ultimately our parked car.

The entire round trip distance for this hike was 2 miles, but we ended up taking around 2 hours for a little route finding and the strenuous uphill climb at the end of the hike. Indeed, this was one of those trails where we definitely had to be both attentive and persistent because our experiences have proven just how easy it was to get lost.

Directions: The trailhead for the falls is unsigned and is between mile markers 81 and 80 (actually very close to mile post 81) along the UT12 a few miles north of the Calf Creek Recreation Area. The spur road was pretty beat up with some muddy puddles but Mom's high clearance SUV was able to handle it. However, had we driven a low clearance passenger vehicle, then we would've had to leave the car at the start of the spur road and walk the remaining 1/4 mile to the car park and trailhead.

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Mom checking out Upper Calf Creek Falls while providing a sense of scale
Just south of both Lower Calf Creek Falls and Upper Calf Creek Falls is this attractive landmark known as the Escalante Natural Bridge by the Escalante River, which Mom and I managed to reach after a hike that involved multiple river crossings
The trailhead register at the start of the hike

Mom on the steep descent on the sandstone and slickrockMom on the steep descent on the sandstone and slickrock

Mom almost at the bottom of the steep descent as she followed the thoughtfully placed volcanic bouldersMom almost at the bottom of the steep descent as she followed the thoughtfully placed volcanic boulders

It took Mom and I a little while to figure out the correct path, but it was quite a relief to finally start to see the elusive Upper Calf Creek FallsIt took Mom and I a little while to figure out the correct path, but it was quite a relief to finally start to see the elusive falls

Approaching the lush oasis of Upper Calf Creek FallsApproaching the lush oasis of Upper Calf Creek Falls

Trying to find our way back up the friction pitch to our carTrying to find our way back up the friction pitch to our car. As you can see in this photo, the path back up wasn't all that obvious.

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For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.

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