About 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 (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.
Yet even on that third attempt, we almost got lost looking for it despite starting at the correct trailhead (see directions below).
Furthermore, as you can see from the photo above that this waterfall had noticeably lighter flow than its more famous downstream counterpart, which also made it less photogenic.
Nevertheless, accessing Upper Calf Creek Falls involved a round trip hike and scramble of 2 miles.
It involved a bit of an upside down trajectory so it started with a steep descent, but it ended with a steep (and unshaded) climb at the very end.
Given the amount of route-finding and ways to experience the waterfall, I’d budget at least 2-3 hours for this hike.
Upper Calf Creek Falls Trail Description – the trailhead and steep descent
Once we managed to reach the correct trailhead and parking area (see directions below), we were greeted by a trailhead register.
The register was 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 to help us find our way down.
I figured that they were placed there perhaps by the Bureau of Land Management or BLM, who were the administrators of this section of land.
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.
Upper Calf Creek Falls Trail Description – hiking and scrambling through the sandstone wilderness
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 and eventually went to the base of Upper Calf Creek Falls.
The slightly more obvious trail on the right ascended, and it would eventually lead to the top of Upper Calf Creek Falls.
Upper Calf Creek Falls Trail Description – accessing the base of the waterfall
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 spring was still downstream of the Upper Calf Creek Falls, I suspected that this might help to explain some of its noticeably light flow compared with the Lower Calf Creek Falls.
By the way, we were already starting to glimpse part of the very top of the Upper Calf Creek at this point.
Anyways, on the approach, we had to negotiate one slight obstacle where the trail could appear to be lost on the final approach to the falls.
Once we got past that obstacle, we then passed through some overgrowth, where 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, Upper Calf Creek Falls wasn’t so friendly for lingering.
Instead, its amphitheater had more of a swampy and muddy terrain (not to mention buggy) fringing the plunge pool.
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.
Upper Calf Creek Falls Trail Description – accessing the top of the waterfall
When Mom and I had our fill of the base of the Upper Calf Creek Falls, we then backtracked to the fork.
Then, we followed the ascending path that we had skipped earlier.
The remainder of this trail was easier to follow as it stayed on the rim of Calf Creek Canyon.
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.
After all, we knew it was a direct fatal plunge if we strayed too close to the edge.
As a result, we didn’t find the views of the waterfall to be as interesting from up here as opposed to its base.
However, the pool at the top of the falls was probably the main appeal for making the effort to come here.
This is especially the case 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.
Upper Calf Creek Falls Trail Description – returning to the trailhead
During the return hike to the trailhead, the trail started off as somewhat obvious to follow.
However, as the sandstone sections became more prevalent, we had to pay careful attention to the thoughtfully-placed rock cairns so we don’t lose the trail.
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.
Upper 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.
The turnoff for the trailhead of Upper Calf Creek Falls is unsigned (at least as of our latest visit in April 2018).
It 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.
It was actually not in bad shape on that 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.
Then, we would 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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