Lower Calf Creek Falls

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah, USA

About Lower Calf Creek Falls


Hiking Distance: 6 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 3-4 hours

Date first visited: 2001-06-19
Date last visited: 2018-04-02

Waterfall Latitude: 37.82913
Waterfall Longitude: -111.41997

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Lower Calf Creek Falls was one of those desert surprises that really made us wonder how such a harsh and arid environment could harbor such a lush and lovely oasis.

It was a gorgeous and colorful 126ft waterfall sitting in a very peaceful cove at the head of Calf Creek Canyon.

Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_165_04022018 - People enjoying the cold plunge pool at Lower Calf Creek Falls
People enjoying the cold plunge pool at Lower Calf Creek Falls

The green and yellow colors that lined the contours of the column of water came from algae growing on the sandstone that thrived on the falls’ miraculous year-round flow.

To us, this was probably the highlight of the vast Grand Staircase National Monument.

This was especially the case given how much the whole family enjoyed the excursion (including the kids).

In fact, the kids really enjoyed playing in the cold plunge pool at the waterfall’s base.

Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_256_04022018 - Native American pictographs seen along the hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls
Native American pictographs seen along the hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls

As if that wasn’t enough the Lower Calf Creek Falls hike also featured Native American pictographs to further add intrigue to an already memorable hike.

Hiking to Lower Calf Creek Falls – Beating the Desert Heat

In order to get to Lower Calf Creek Falls, we had to earn it with a bit of a long and deceptively tiring, sandy, but mostly flat 6-mile round-trip hike.

It typically took us around 3-4 hours to complete this hike.

Given the harsh environment of the desert, I’d recommend getting a pretty early start to minimize exposure to the desert heat.

Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_086_09162006 - Hikers surrounded by neat sandstone formations on the trail to Lower Calf Creek Falls
Hikers surrounded by neat sandstone formations on the trail to Lower Calf Creek Falls

In fact, each time we were here, we started at as early as 7am or as late as 9am (when we brought kids along for this hike).

The early start had the added benefit of hiking in relative solitude while being one of the first (if not the first) people at the falls.

It also meant that the morning sun would shine directly on the falls, which really brought out the colorful sandstone wall underlying the waterfall itself for great photographs.

Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail Description – from the trailhead to the pictographs

After parking the car within the day use lot of the Calf Creek Recreation Area (see directions below), we then walked beyond about 300 yards to the far end of the lot.

Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_024_04022018 - The Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail officially began before this road ford of Calf Creek
The Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail officially began before this road ford of Calf Creek

Along the way, we went past some of the first-come-first-served campsites before reaching the trailhead register and trail (just before the road went through Calf Creek via a concrete ford).

At the trailhead, I recalled we picked up a paper brochure that basically contained interpretive literature that was keyed to signposts throughout the trail.

For example, near the start of the trail, there was an area of tall grass that was said to once be a watermelon patch.

Right off the bat, the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail started off sandy with a few stretches of sandstone or slickrock surfaces.

Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_031_04022018 - Context of the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail heading towards the head of Calf Creek Canyon where the sandstone cliffs would close in. Note the hikers on the lower left of this photo for a sense of scale
Context of the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail heading towards the head of Calf Creek Canyon where the sandstone cliffs would close in. Note the hikers on the lower left of this photo for a sense of scale

When we first did this hike back in 2001, we had to watch for rock cairns (stacks of rocks) to help us navigate through those sections where the trail wouldn’t be as obvious.

In our latest visit in 2018, the trail seemed to be much more obvious to follow and the rock cairns weren’t as prevalent.

The sandy parts of the trail made it so that each step wasn’t as efficient as we’re used to as some of that forward momentum was lost in the sand.

Thus, we had to work a little harder for each step we took in those sandy stretches.

Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_055_04022018 - The Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail can be deceptively strenuous despite being flat because it was on a sandy surface
The Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail can be deceptively strenuous despite being flat because it was on a sandy surface

That combined with the desert heat (which we faced back on our first visit here in June 2001) along with low humidity meant that we often found ourselves drinking lots of water while getting a good workout.

With kids coming along, we had to bring extra water since they generally didn’t appreciate how quickly the desert conditions can wreak havoc on the body.

As we proceeded along the trail, the interpretive numbered signposts spread out along the trail helped to keep our minds off the long sandy hike.

Quite a few of the signs discussed various aspects of Calf Creek Canyon from the history to some tidbits regarding the ecosystem here.

Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_073_04022018 - This brief climb was probably about as much elevation gain we would get in one short stretch along the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail
This brief climb was probably about as much elevation gain we would get in one short stretch along the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail

However, at about the half-way point of the hike (by the signpost 8 as of our latest hike in 2018), we spotted Native American pictographs across the canyon.

Although they were easily seen with the naked eye, a pretty powerful zoom lens was needed to bring them in close enough to fill the frame properly.

The pictograph depicted a trio of figures looking somewhat robotic or spiritual.

According to the literature, their meaning remains unknown though the style of the pictographs suggested that the Native Americans of the Fremont area were responsible.

Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_084_09162006 - Context of the Native American pictographs seen across Calf Creek Canyon along the hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls
Context of the Native American pictographs seen across Calf Creek Canyon along the hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls

A ranger told us that there were actually more pictographs nearby in addition to the obvious three figures, but I had trouble spotting them.

Beyond the pictographs, there were other Native American artifacts or traces sprinkled about Calf Creek Canyon.

In one such example, there was evidence of granaries perched high on the cliff walls of the canyon.

This reminded me of how resourceful Native Americans were in seemingly inaccessible places like in Mesa Verde or even in the Andes Mountains of Peru.

Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail Description – hiking beyond the pictographs to the waterfall

Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_105_04022018 - The eye-shaped alcove fronted by horsetail shrubs which grew in the surprisingly damp environment
The eye-shaped alcove fronted by horsetail shrubs which grew in the surprisingly damp environment

The further along the trail we went, the tall sandstone cliffs were closing in to the point that the trail eventually skirted Calf Creek.

The combination of surprisingly lush vegetation (getting their moisture from the perennial stream) with the tall sandstone walls (providing some welcome shade) gave us the second wind needed to propel us along the latter parts of the hike.

Eventually, we’d reach the pretty Lower Calf Creek Falls, which plunged over the imposing and impassable canyon walls marking the turnaround point of the hike.

The oasis-like cove was a great place to wade in the very cold plunge pool to offset the desert heat.

Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_119_04022018 - Calf Creek Canyon closing in as we were getting closer to Lower Calf Creek Falls
Calf Creek Canyon closing in as we were getting closer to Lower Calf Creek Falls

The colorful algae behind the falls combined with clear blue skies really made this waterfall photogenic.

And even though there were dozens of people when we were here on our latest visit in 2018 (we made it after about 11:15am), the amphitheater still didn’t feel crowded.

We easily spent an hour or more just basking in the miracle of Nature here as well as letting the kids enjoy the fruits of their labor in making it here.

Indeed, this was one place where we could’ve lingered for quite a while longer if we wanted to.

Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_032_09162006 - Lower Calf Creek Falls
Lower Calf Creek Falls

The return hike went quicker than on the hike in.

This was mostly because the elevation profile was now predominantly downhill though the hills were barely noticeable.

When we returned to the car, at least 4 hours had elapsed.

I’d imagine you could spend less or more time away from the car than we did depending on pace and how much time you linger at the falls.

Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_278_04022018 - The crew found this shady spot with natural sandstone benches to have a fruit snack and water break to re-energize for the home stretch
The crew found this shady spot with natural sandstone benches to have a fruit snack and water break to re-energize for the home stretch

Finally, note that the name of this waterfall – Lower Calf Creek Falls – implied that there was another waterfall on Calf Creek.

Indeed, there was one, but that would require starting from a separate trailhead and proceed along a different trail.

You can read about that excursion here.

There was no official way to link the two trails that I’m aware of.

Authorities

Lower Calf Creek Falls resided in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument near Escalante in Garfield County, Utah. It is administered by the Bureau of Land Management. For information or inquiries about the reserve as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_016_04022018 - The crew starting off on the Lower Calf Creek Falls hike as we walked along this road towards the actual trailhead during our April 2018 visit. This photo and the next several shots were taken during that day
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_019_04022018 - Julie and the kids walking the first 300 yards from the day use parking lot through parts of the campground, and then eventually to the trailhead register en route to Lower Calf Creek Falls during our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_022_04022018 - Looking ahead towards the crew already on the actual Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail as they approached the sandstone landscape on our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_024_04022018 - A ranger tending to the trailhead register at the official start to the hike. Note the concrete ford over Calf Creek to the right
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_027_04022018 - It didn't take long before the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail surface became sandy during our April 2018 hike
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_273_04022018 - Numbered wooden posts like this one were keyed to the trail brochure we picked up at the trailhead register for the Lower Calf Creek Falls hike. That helped to explain some of the things we were witnessing along the trail during our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_030_04022018 - Initially, the trail passed through a fairly wide open section of Calf Creek Canyon so there wasn't much shade in the mid-morning of our Lower Calf Creek Falls hike in April 2018
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_037_04022018 - Mom continuing to hike along the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail as she was surrounded by red cliffs and walking on red sand during our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_041_04022018 - Looking towards a mix of red sandstone cliffs topped off by a more white sandstone layer as seen throughout the Lower Calf Creek Falls hike during our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_043_04022018 - The crew continuing to hike along the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail amidst a lot of red sand and red cliffs on our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_045_04022018 - As we went further along the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail on our April 2018 visit, the walls of Calf Creek Canyon started closing in gradually
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_050_04022018 - The Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail skirted along the base of the sandstone cliffs as the walls of Calf Creek Canyon continued to close in on us during our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_054_04022018 - The Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail continuing its relentless meandering over sand, which conspired to make us have to work harder for every one of our steps during our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_069_04022018 - Context of Mom and the group continuing to hike past these giant sandstone formations and cliffs along the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail on our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_074_04022018 - The group continuing along the Lower Calf Creek Falls hike as other people were heading back during our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_082_04022018 - Looking across Calf Creek Canyon towards Native American pictographs as seen around the half-way point of the Lower Calf Creek Falls hike during our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_083_04022018 - Another look at the Native American pictographs seen across the canyon on the eastern wall near the signpost 8 (at least it was labeled that way when we were last there in April 2018)
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_096_04022018 - Beyond the pictographs and some cliff-hugging granaries, the walls of Calf Creek Canyon were really closing in the closer we got to Lower Calf Creek Falls on our hike in April 2018
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_098_04022018 - Mom skirting by the base of this cliff as she approached the narrowing Calf Creek Canyon en route to Lower Calf Creek Falls during our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_101_04022018 - Looking up at some eye-looking formation in Calf Creek Canyon as we were getting even closer to Lower Calf Creek Falls during our visit in April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_103_04022018 - With the closing in of Calf Creek Canyon, that meant we were also close to Calf Creek so there were lots more vegetation surrounding us as we got closer to Lower Calf Creek Falls in our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_109_04022018 - Mom continuing further along the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail as we could sense the waterfall was getting near on our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_125_04022018 - By this point of our April 2018 hike, the canyon walls had closed in enough that the Lower Calf Creek Falls pretty much consistently skirted Calf Creek
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_128_04022018 - Finally starting to see Lower Calf Creek Falls on our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_143_04022018 - Finally making it to the Lower Calf Creek Falls on our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_146_04022018 - Looking directly across the plunge pool of the Lower Calf Creek Falls on our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_156_04022018 - The kids really enjoyed the plunge pool at Lower Calf Creek Falls on our April 2018 visit.  It definitely made them momentarily forget all the hiking they did to get here
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_157_04022018 - The kids not minding the icy cold plunge pool of Lower Calf Creek Falls at all during our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_168_04022018 - Looking along the edge of the plunge pool of Lower Calf Creek Falls showing that even though there were already more than a few dozen people here during our April 2018 visit, it didn't feel that crowded
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_211_04022018 - Tahia and Sophia playing before the Lower Calf Creek Falls during our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_227_04022018 - Bright and angled look towards the Lower Calf Creek Falls as seen on our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_239_04022018 - All good things must come to an end, and the crew had to start the return hike from Lower Calf Creek Falls to wrap up our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_242_04022018 - The crew continuing to leave Lower Calf Creek Falls and making the long hike back to the parking lot on our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_248_04022018 - All the shade that the walls of Calf Creek Canyon used to provide no longer served that purpose by the time we left Calf Creek Falls at around midday during our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_267_04022018 - The sandy surface of the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail also took its toll on us on the return hike during our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_288_04022018 - We spotted this fellow while taking a break on the return hike from Lower Calf Creek Falls during our April 2018 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_004_09162006 - Mom on the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail in the early morning of our September 2006 visit. This photo and the next several photos were taken from this day
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_009_09162006 - Looking ahead towards the Sandstone Cliffs fronted by lots of greenery (undoubtedly aided by the Summer monsoon) during our Lower Calf Creek Falls hike in September 2006
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_011_09162006 - Mom hiking further along the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail at a brief spot where the trail climbed during our September 2006 hike
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_013_09162006 - Mom hiking through a wide open but lush part of the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail before Calf Creek Canyon really started to close in during our September 2006 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_014_09162006 - Mom hiking alongside some sandstone cliffs en route to Lower Calf Creek Falls during our September 2006 hike
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_017_09162006 - Looking up at the familiar eye-shaped alcove as Calf Creek Canyon closed in during our Lower Calf Creek Falls hike in September 2006
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_027_09162006 - Looking right across the plunge pool at the Lower Calf Creek Falls in September 2006
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_052_09162006 - Contextual look at the Lower Calf Creek Falls from an angle during our September 2006 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_082_09162006 - Looking back at Lower Calf Creek Falls as we started our return hike back to the trailhead in September 2006
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_083_09162006 - Starting to leave the desert oasis of Lower Calf Creek Falls and embark on the hot hike back to the trailhead on our September 2006 hike
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_trail_001_06192001 - Looking up at some of the sandstone cliffs around us from the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trailhead during our visit in June 2001. The rest of the photos from this photo gallery were taken on this day
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_trail_002_06192001 - The group getting an early start on the Lower Calf Creek Falls hike, especially since we were doing it in June 2001
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_008_scanned_06192001 - We spotted this deer early on during our hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls in June 2001
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_trail_003_06192001 - Checking out some sandstone cliffs just as the sun was moving higher on the horizon during our Lower Calf Creek Falls hike in June 2001
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_trail_007_06192001 - Looking up at some eye-shaped alcove within the narrowing parts of Calf Creek Canyon during our Lower Calf Creek Falls hike in June 2001
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_trail_010_06192001 - Context of the eye-shaped alcove as we continued our hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls in June 2001
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_001_06192001 - Finally starting to see the Lower Calf Creek Falls for the first time, which took place in June 2001
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_002_06192001 - The crew almost arriving right at Lower Calf Creek Falls on our June 2001 visit
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_003_06192001 - That's me checking our Lower Calf Creek Falls back on our first time here in June 2001
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_004_06192001 - Focused look at the Lower Calf Creek Falls back in June 2001
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_019_06192001 - Angled view of Lower Calf Creek Falls as seen back in June 2001
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_032_06192001 - We lingered long enough at the Lower Calf Creek Falls on our June 2001 visit that it started to get gorgeous morning light. Note how it seemed like not much has changed regarding this waterfall over the years
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_trail_014_06192001 - Our crew about to re-enter the hot sun as we were heading back to the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trailhead on our June 2001 hike
Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_trail_017_06192001 - Looking towards Calf Creek as we returned from Lower Calf Creek Falls at the end of our June 2001 hike

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Lower Calf Creek Falls was located between the towns of Escalante and Boulder right in the heart of the Grand Staircase National Monument.

We’ll describe the driving directions from Escalante since that was how we did this drive.

Escalante_Sunrise_006_05242003 - The cool thing about getting an early start is the chance to see a surreal sunrise as we drove from Escalante to the Calf Creek Recreation Area
The cool thing about getting an early start is the chance to see a surreal sunrise as we drove from Escalante to the Calf Creek Recreation Area

From the town of Escalante, we drove east on the UT12 for just under 16 miles.

This stretch of road passed through a wonderland of sandstone and slickrock formations (some of them very reminiscent of Jabba the Hut in the various Star Wars movies).

There were a few signed pullouts allowing us to take in the views along the way.

After passing the Escalante River, not long thereafter, we reached the well-signed turnoff on our left for the Calf Creek Recreation Area.

Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_002_04022018 - The day use parking lot for Lower Calf Creek Falls
The day use parking lot for Lower Calf Creek Falls

A short descent further, we reached the day use parking area between a fee payment signboard and restroom facility.

The day use fee per vehicle was $5 (as of our latest visit in April 2018) using the pay-and-display system.

That said, our Interagency Pass (formerly the National Parks Pass) and Mom’s Golden Age Pass were both accepted here.

So we just had to display them in our parked vehicles to be exempt from the cash fee.

Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_010_04022018 - The trailhead sign boards and the pay-and-display envelopes with drop slot was here at the head of the day use parking area for Lower Calf Creek Falls
The trailhead sign boards and the pay-and-display envelopes with drop slot was here at the head of the day use parking area for Lower Calf Creek Falls

Note that if we were coming south on the UT12 from Boulder, the right turn into the Calf Creek Recreation Area was a sharp turn.

Therefore, long vehicles like RVs or trailers were prohibited from making that turn directly.

Finally, if you come later in the day (say late morning or afterwards), we’ve seen the parking lot overfill and parked cars would spill onto Highway 12.

I’d imagine that you’d have to find space on the shoulders of the highway then walk towards the Calf Creek Recreation Area and trail if you’re faced with this situation.

Lower_Calf_Creek_Falls_18_301_04022018 - Back at the Calf Creek Recreation area when the parking lot was full
Back at the Calf Creek Recreation area when the parking lot was full

For some geographical context, Escalante was about 65 miles (90 minutes drive) south of Torrey, 184 miles (over 3 hours drive) from St George, 303 miles (under 5 hours drive) from Las Vegas, Nevada, and 327 miles (over 5.5 hours drive) north of Flagstaff, Arizona. And if you’re thinking about gunning it from Los Angeles, realize that it’s 571 miles (roughly 9 hours drive).

Sweep across the cliffs at the top of Calf Creek before sweeping the plunge pool then tracing the waterfall itself


Sweeping the area at the base of the waterfall before walking across to the other side and doing a sweep from there

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Tagged with: escalante, grand staircase, utah, waterfall, garfield, boulder, calf creek



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Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

Favorite childhood spot 40 years ago (Lower Calf Creek Falls) February 22, 2014 8:38 am by Dan Wright - My family often went camping in southern Utah when I was a kid in the '70s. At that time, few people knew about Lower Calf Creek Falls. We backpacked the short distance in, set up small tents, and stayed overnight, falling asleep to the sound of the water. It was a favorite childhood memory, and… ...Read More

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