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Boulder to Highway 12 via Lower Death Hollow

Intermediate/Difficult
  4.8 ( 6 ) Favorite

Trail

20.0 mile 32.2 kilometer point to point
93% Runnable
Intermediate/Difficult

Elevation

Ascent: 1,477' 450 m
Descent: -3,052' -930 m
High: 6,794' 2,071 m
Low: 5,211' 1,588 m

Grade

Avg Grade: 4% (2°)
Max Grade: 50% (27°)

Dogs

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Map Key

Enjoy an epic, and likely multi-day journey in the heart of Utah.

Matthew Kidd

Features Fall Colors · River/Creek · Views

Overview

Enjoy all the beauty of Utah in splendid isolation. Gorgeous views, slickrock, a river running through a narrow canyon, genuine narrows, the yellow of autumn, Navajo sandstone, Kodachrome colors, Ansazi dwellings, petroglyphs, and a natural arch and a natural bridge—this run has it all.

Need to Know

Take a good camera. I used a Lumix GF-1 micro four-thirds camera (and would take a smaller high-end Sony RX100 point-and-shoot today).

Runner Notes

This would be impossible to run.

Description

This shuttled route could be done in 2 days but your campsites are better if you make this a 2½ day journey, and the trip is too beautiful to hurry. For a fee, you can arrange in the town of Escalante to have your car moved from the start to the junction of the Escalante River and Highway 12 where you'll exit. Escalante Outfitters is a good place to make inquiries, check recent conditions (mid-May through mid-June spring runoff can boost river flow), and buy topo maps (though GPS works well along this route even in the deep Lower Death Hollow canyon).

The trip begins at the Boulder Mail Trail trailhead at the Boulder airport which is nothing more than a dirt landing strip. You can depart as late as noon and easily make your first campsite, 5 miles away, high above Little Death Hollow. Begin a gradual descent through pinion pine and juniper across the McGath Point Bench, traveling on a sandy trail and also across slickrock with reasonably spaced cairns. Provided you have brought enough water for dinner and breakfast, it is preferable to camp at the canyon rim and enjoy a great sunset and sunrise. There is a natural alcove campsite near the bottom if you chose not to camp at the top.

Enjoy sunrise on day 2 and start down a steep slickrock trail to lose about 640 ft of elevation. The next 7.8 miles through Lower Death Hollow to the Escalante River will take most of the day. The trail is not marked but it is easy to follow and there is nowhere to get lost except up the occasional side canyon. There are dozens of river crossings so be prepared to get wet up to your knees. I did okay with the combination of waterproof hiking boot and waterproof knee high socks; my companion just wore waterproof toe socks that gave him good traction and didn't hurt his feet because the trail is mostly sand and riverbed rocks are small. Sometimes it is easiest to just navigate in the river, particularly towards the end of this section. I suggest wearing a hat, mostly to prevent getting your head scratched by low branches.

Flash floods are possible, so this route should be postponed if rain is likely. However, this is not a slot canyon per se. If you are caught by a flash flood, you should have time to scramble to location two or three meters above the river and set up camp.

The junction of Lower Death Hollow and the Escalante River is not as pretty as the area upstream partly because of the carnage from the park service removal of Russian olive trees, a non-native species originally planted in a misguided effort to prevent stream bank erosion and later found to be changing the ecosystem by shading the stream too much. I suggest camping in one of the alcoves about half a mile above the junction, e.g. at 37.7890946, -111.5109086. But be prepared for the occasional rat because they have learned the human preferred campsites.

On day 3, endure a little subpar scenery and possibly the sound of chainsaws, to connect to the Escalante River from Little Death Hollow to Highway 12 trail. The Escalante riverbed is sandy, wide, and shallow and the valley is enclosed by Navajo sandstone. I've edited my GPS track to more closely follow the actual trail but in practice you'll probably zigzag across the riverbed as things catch your eye with a preference for the south side where the most interesting features are. First comes the crescent shaped Escalante Natural Arch. On the same wall, below and to the left you'll find an Anazasi cliff dwelling, which include petroglyphs. Another 0.4 miles east brings you to the Escalante Natural Bridge. From here, it is a short jaunt to the finish at Highway 12.

Flora & Fauna

Pinion pine, juniper, cottonwood trees, willow, tamarisk, and Russian oak (non-native).

History & Background

The beginning of the route follows the Boulder Mail Trail once used for postal delivery between Escalante and Boulder before the construct of Highway 12.

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Jun 11, 2019
Adam Knecht
20mi

Trail Ratings

  4.8 from 6 votes

#678

Overall
  4.8 from 6 votes
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4 Star
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Featured Run Rankings

#52

in Utah

#678

Overall
93 Views Last Month
5,327 Since Apr 1, 2017
Intermediate/Difficult

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Photos

The descent into Death Hollow is steep and surely not for the fainthearted.
Jun 10, 2017 near Escalante, UT
This scene reminded me of The Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs. Check it out if you haven't read it!
Apr 1, 2017 near Escalante, UT
This beautiful sandstone alcove is worth checking out in Lower Death Hollow.
Mar 31, 2017 near Escalante, UT
The view into Death Hollow.
Apr 24, 2017 near Escalante, UT
Autumn brings brilliance to Lower Death Hollow.
Mar 31, 2017 near Escalante, UT
Looking south into Death Hollow from Boulder Mail Trail.
Jun 10, 2017 near Escalante, UT

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