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 (at least it wasn't when we first found it back in 2006). As a matter of fact, it took me three tries before I finally managed to find it, but even on that third attempt, we almost got lost looking for it despite starting at the correct trailhead. Furthermore, as you can see from the photo above that this waterfall had noticeably lighter flow than its more famous downstream counterpart, which made it also less photogenic.
Once we managed to reach the correct trailhead and parking area (see directions below), we were greeted by a trailhead register (basically a stand that revealed a pencil and notebook when opened, where we'd let the authorities know when we set out and return in case we get lost). Behind the register, we had to scramble down a steep sandstone incline with volcanic boulders. The incline on this descent was steep enough where wearing hiking boots would be a good idea to get better traction.
On our first successful attempt at reaching Upper Calf Creek Falls, many of these boulders seemed to be thoughtfully lined up (perhaps by the Bureau of Land Management or BLM, who were 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. Of course, when Mom and I came back here in 2018, there were more obvious cairns (stacks of rocks) set up in the sandstone sections where it was not possible to blaze a trail.
Once we were at the base of the initial steep friction pitch decline, we then proceeded along a mix of sandy trail and other sandstone stretches marked with rock cairns. We had to pay careful attention here because it was pretty easy to lose the trail (especially those rock cairns). In fact on our first successful visit, my Mom and I almost got lost here as we were further downstream along Calf Creek Canyon than we were supposed to be.
Ultimately, the path became more trail-dominant with shorter sandstone sections. After rounding a bend, which made us skirt alongside Calf Creek Canyon instead of towards it, we would eventually reach a fork. As of our April 2018 visit, there were rock cairns set up on the left fork, which descended. The slightly more obvious trail on the right ascended. Keep to the left fork to descend towards the base of Upper Calf Creek Falls. The path on the right would eventually lead to the top of the falls.
On the descent, the path eventually hugged sandstone ledges where the mild dropoff exposure dropped into Calf Creek Canyon. Opposite the canyon, there was what appeared to be a very large alcove or cave, where another branch of Calf Creek (or at least a spring) seemed to be coming from. Since this was still downstream of the Upper Calf Creek Falls (we were already starting to glimpse part of the very top of the waterfall at this point), I suspected that this might help to explain some of its noticeably light flow compared with the Lower Calf Creek Falls.
After one slight obstacle (where the trail could appear to be lost on the final approach to the falls) and passing through some overgrowth, we were finally within the quiet confines of the Upper Calf Creek Falls and its plunge pool. Unlike the Lower Calf Creek Falls where there was a gentle beach-like area around the fringes of its plunge pool, there was more of a swampy and muddy terrain (not to mention buggy) fringing the plunge pool of the Upper Calf Creek Falls. So while it was more tranquil and serene here, it wasn't exactly as inviting for a dip as the more famous waterfall further downstream. There was also an overhang or alcove where we could appreciate the lower parts of the plunging waterfall and its colorful algae-covered wall from an angle.
When Mom and I had our fill of the base of the Upper Calf Creek Falls, we then backtracked to the fork, where we then followed the ascending path we had skipped earlier. The remainder of this trail was easier to follow as it stayed on the rim of Calf Creek Canyon until it eventually ended at an inviting pool between a small cascade and the very top of the steep plunge of the main waterfall itself.
While it was tempting to peer over the dropoffs to improve the view of the Upper Calf Creek Falls from its top, we definitely kept back as we knew it was a direct fatal plunge if we strayed too close to the edge. Yet while the views of the waterfall may not be as interesting from up here as opposed to its base, the pool at the top of the falls was probably the main appeal for making the effort to come here, especially if it's a hot day.
After having our fill of this spot, Mom and I then returned back the way we came to the trailhead. Again, we had to pay careful attention to the thoughtfully-placed rock cairns so we don't lose the trail on the return. Plus, the steepness of the climb meant that our calves were burning, our knees were sore, and we were breathing heavily by the time we made it up to the trailhead again. Each time Mom and I have successfully done this hike, it was during the shoulder seasons of Spring and Autumn. I can only imagine how brutal this sun-exposed ascent would be on a hot day in the Summer.
Overall, we spent about 2.5 hours away from the car to take in Upper Calf Creek Falls from both its top and bottom. However, this roughly two-mile round-trip excursion could be done relatively comfortably in two hours.
Mom checking out Upper Calf Creek Falls while providing a sense of scale
Further to the south of the falls is this attraction 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
Between Escalante and Boulder, the UT12 State Highway passed through scenic sandstone wilderness near Calf Creek and the Escalante River
Further to the north of Upper Calf Creek Falls was Capitol Reef National Park, which featured cliffs that were once under water in the ancient past (maybe foreshadowing a Global Warming future?)
The trailhead register at the start of the hike (as seen back in 2006). In our latest visit in 2018, we noticed this register was accompanied by a larger sign introducing the area to the would-be hiker
Mom on the steep descent on the sandstone and slickrock
Mom almost at the bottom of the initial steep descent as she followed the thoughtfully placed volcanic boulders
After the initial steep descent, we then traversed a short section of sandy trail before reaching the next sandstone stretch
On the next extensive slickrock section, we once again had to pay attention to rock cairns like this one to help navigate our way both going to the falls as well as coming back!
Looking back at the descent we had made thus far. The rock cairn shown in this photo was especially important to indicate where the final ascent up to the trailhead needed to be made
Mom rounding a bend as we were starting to skirt Calf Creek Canyon
It's hard to tell in this picture, but Mom was approaching a fork. Notice the pair of rock cairns to her left, which suggested the trail going to the base of Upper Calf Creek Falls. There was also a slightly more obvious (but non-cairned) trail to the right, which eventually led to the top of the falls
This was a little obstacle where we thought the trail disappeared (when heading to the falls), but it turned out there was an additional step on the ledge with the shrub growing on it
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 falls
Approaching the lush oasis of Upper Calf Creek Falls as seen in September 2006
Finally back at the falls as seen in April 2018
Checking out the falls directly from across its plunge pool
Angled view of part of the falls from within the overhang or alcove
Mom negotiating that last obstacle on the way back up
Mom continuing to make the ascent back up to the fork
Again, rock cairns were useful on the return to the fork
Mom now following the right fork towards the top of the falls
This was perhaps the cleanest view of the top of Upper Calf Creek Falls that I could get from the canyon rim
This was the nice pool immediately upstream of the falls
On the return hike, we were approaching the final brutal uphill stretch on the sandstone slickrock
Looking up at Mom laboring her way up the final ascent back to the trailhead. Notice how forward leaning she was, which should help indicate how steep this slope was
Mom just about at the top of the ascent. Again, notice how steep the sandstone slope was
Mom completing the trailhead register before returning to our parked car
The turnoff for the trailhead of Upper Calf Creek Falls is unsigned (at least as of our latest visit in April 2018) 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. According to my GPS logs, this turnoff was about 5.7 miles north of the Calf Creek Recreation Area turnoff or roughly 21 miles east of Escalante.
In our first successful visit to the falls back in September 2006, the unsigned spur road was pretty beat up with some muddy puddles though Mom's high clearance SUV was able to handle it. However, on our April 2018 visit, it appears that this unsigned spur road had been tamed considerably and was actually not in bad shape on the short spur to the now-signed trailhead parking area. That said, if this spur road would degenerate back into dicey territory for low clearance passenger vehicles, then we would leave the car at the start of the spur road and walk the remaining 1/4 mile to the trailhead.
For context, Escalante was about 28 miles (40 minutes drive) south of Boulder, 65 miles (about 90 minutes drive) south of Torrey, 39 miles (about 40 minutes drive) east of Tropic, and 184 miles (over 3 hours drive) northeast of St George.
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