Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail: Magical Utah Waterfall Hike
Utah is renowned for its striking, unforgettable landscapes, and Lower Calf Creek Falls in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is no exception. This guide covers every detail about this Utah waterfall hike, including the best time of year, detailed directions, where to stay, and more.
The very definition of an oasis in the desert, the off-the-beaten-path Lower Calf Creek Falls trail leads to a 126-foot waterfall that flows year-round into a perfectly circular pool. And yes, you can swim in it!
Along the way, you’ll pass Moab-esque bright orange-red slickrock, lush vegetation along the creek bottom, and ancient pictographs.
Although Lower Calf Creek Falls is in remote Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, it’s super accessible, right off a highway — and amazingly, still very much a hidden gem. A very, VERY different experience than Zion!
With a tremendous effort-to-reward ratio, this Utah waterfall hike should be on every outdoor enthusiast’s bucket list. In this guide, we’re detailing everything you need to know. Let’s dive in!
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Jump ahead to:
- Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail Highlights
- Know Before You Go
- Getting There
- Best Time to Hike Lower Calf Creek Falls Utah
- How Long Does it Take to Hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls Utah?
- How Difficult is This Utah Waterfall Hike?
- Parking at the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trailhead
- What About Upper Calf Creek Falls Utah?
- Using AllTrails to Find Lower Calf Creek Falls
- Lower Calf Creek Falls Utah Route Details
- Tips for Hiking Lower Calf Creek Falls Utah
- Lower Calf Creek Falls Packing List
- Other Things to Do Nearby
- Where to Stay Near Lower Calf Creek Falls
Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail Highlights
- Location: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, near the town of Escalante
- Distance: 6.1 miles out-and-back
- Elevation: 530 feet
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Pets allowed? Yes, leashed dogs welcome
- Detailed trail notes + directions
It’s not often that you can hike to a proper swimming hole in the middle of the desert, much less year-round. Yet, that’s exactly the experience you’ll get on the Lower Calf Creek Falls Utah hike.
The trail follows Calf Creek itself, through quintessential Southwest terrain that includes steep red rock canyons and ledges of slickrock, before ending at a real-life oasis: Lower Calf Creek Falls.
This gorgeous Utah waterfall hike is worthwhile any time of year, tumbling 126 feet down a colorful rock face. Best of all? The hike clocks in at under six miles round-trip, and it’s fairly easy.
Know Before You Go
The Lower Calf Creek Falls hike isn’t long or technical, but it is remote. Here are some of the most important things to know before hitting the trail.
Lower Calf Creek Falls Utah is in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, just off Scenic Byway 12. It’s 15 miles east of Escalante, near mile marker 75.
The trailhead is easily accessible by car (the 12 is a state highway), and the drive itself makes an awesome scenic road trip in itself.
Local tip: this Utah waterfall hike is between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef, two highly underrated national parks!
Best Time to Hike Lower Calf Creek Falls Utah
The best time to hike Lower Calf Creek Falls Utah is the spring and fall — specifically April & May and September & October.
These months offer the most pleasant and stable weather, plus let you avoid busy times like spring break. As a bonus, you’ll enjoy wildflowers and tons of greenery on the trail in the spring, and even some changing foliage in the fall.
Lower Calf Creek Falls flows year-round (amazingly!), so you don’t have to worry about there being no water flow, like so many other Utah waterfalls. However, the falls are still at their most impressive shortly after rainfall.
How Long Does it Take to Hike to Lower Calf Creek Falls Utah?
It takes an average of 3-4 hours to hike the Lower Calf Creek Falls trail. However, this varies significantly, depending on your pace and how long you spend at the falls. The trail is fairly easy overall, but does have stretches of sand that can be slow getting through.
We hike at a very average pace and spent almost five hours on the trail, including nearly 1.5 hours at the waterfall.
How Difficult is This Utah Waterfall Hike?
The Lower Calf Creek Falls hike is officially rated moderate. Personally, we feel it leans more toward the easy side of moderate.
It’s exposed, meaning there’s almost no shade, and you’ll hike through sand on parts of the trail. Other than that, it’s not at all difficult or technical, and the elevation gain is very gradual. In fact, this is an excellent trail for beginner hikers or families!
Parking at the Lower Calf Creek Falls Trailhead
There’s a parking lot at the trailhead ($5 per car, payable at the kiosk), but it’s small and fills up quickly. You may also find overflow parking in the gravel area between Highway 12 and the lot (we did!).
What About Upper Calf Creek Falls Utah?
Upper Calf Creek Falls is only a few miles away, but can’t be accessed via the Lower Calf Creek Falls trail. It’s beautiful in its own right, but smaller (88 feet) and far less popular, largely because it’s more remote and requires a shorter but much more difficult hike.
If you have time to hike both, do! If you’re hoping for a Utah waterfall hike all to yourself, Upper Calf Creek Falls may be worth it — but we recommend the Lower Calf Creek Falls hike if you can only do one.
Using AllTrails to Find Lower Calf Creek Falls
Cell service is non-existent in most of Grand Staircase. That’s exactly why I always download trail maps ahead of time on AllTrails.
The free version of AllTrails is awesome, but if you frequently hike in cell phone dead zones, the ability to download and access trail maps offline is well worth $2.99 a month.
Lower Calf Creek Falls Utah Route Details
Start your Lower Calf Creek Falls hike from the parking lot. Stop at the self-pay kiosk to get a parking permit ($5 a day) and run it back to your vehicle before setting off. Grab a trail guide, too!
Insider tip: if you have a national parks annual pass (you should have one, BTW!), your fee is covered! Put the card somewhere visible on your dash, in lieu of a day-use parking tag.
As you head north, you’ll walk through the Calf Creek Recreation Area Campground before hitting the trail. Pretty quickly, you’ll see a sign on the left indicating the official start of the Lower Calf Creek Falls trail.
Once you leave the pavement, the trail climbs slightly, then levels out and alternates between hard-packed dirt, slickrock, and sand.
Shortly into this Utah waterfall hike, you’ll see the first of 15 numbered viewpoints on your right. Each stop points out historical details, and if you grabbed a trail guide, it’ll tell you exactly what you’re looking at. You can also view it online, if you’re curious.
As you’d expect, some stops are more interesting than others. For example, #6 features Fremont culture granaries, stone storage structures used primarily for grain. Stop #9, about 1.8 miles in, is another must-see: ancient pictographs dating back to 1200 AD.
The first half of the Lower Calf Creek Falls trail is almost entirely exposed, traveling between the massive sandstone canyon walls. A couple of times, you’ll cross slickrock ledges, but this half is mostly flat and level. Minus the handful of sand sections, that is.
During the second half of the hike, you’ll closely follow Calf Creek itself. Keep your eyes open for trout!
Several sections of this half pass under canopies of trees and have decent shade. The Lower Calf Creek Utah trail winds some here and may be muddy in spots, but largely remains flat.
Right around 2.8 miles in, you’ll hear the distinct roar of the waterfall. You should also be able see it above the trees up ahead.
Once you reach Lower Calf Creek Falls Utah, walk around the pool to get different viewpoints and spend plenty of time relaxing on the sandy “beach” or under shade trees.
Of course, you can’t leave without taking a dip! The water is COLD but refreshing. Plus, you’ll feel nice and cool hiking back out! To get back, simply retrace your steps.
Tips for Hiking Lower Calf Creek Falls Utah
- Pack LOTS of water. Don’t underestimate the desert on this Utah waterfall hike! Even on cool days, the sun and lack of humidity on the Lower Calf Creek Falls hike quickly dehydrate.
- Bring cash — or your national parks pass. It costs $5 to park in the lot, but America the Beautiful passes cover the fee. If you have one, display it on your dash.
- “Go” before you go. The only bathrooms are in the parking lot, before you get on the trail.
- Fido can tag along. Grand Staircase, including the Lower Calf Creek Falls trail, is one of the most dog-friendly places in the National Park System!
- Time your hike accordingly. The Lower Calf Creek Falls trail loses light quickly at sunset, because it’s inside a steep canyon. Factor this in if you’re hiking late in the day.
Lower Calf Creek Falls Packing List
- America the Beautiful pass (national parks pass), if you have one
- Day pack
- Hiking shoes or sandals
- Wool socks (it may also be a good idea to bring an extra pair, or sandals to hike out in)
- Comfortable hiking leggings or shorts
- Reef-safe waterproof sunscreen
- A good sun hat
- Tripod + Bluetooth remote
- Microfiber towel, if you plan to swim
- Lightweight layers
- Packable rain jacket
- Rain cover for pack
- GPS InReach
Other Things to Do Nearby
Explore Devils Garden. This small area off Hole-in-the-Rock Road has unique rock formations, including small arches and hoodoos, accessed via a short, easy hike.
Drive the Burr Trail Scenic Backway. This scenic drive takes you through stunning desert landscapes between Boulder and Lake Powell. It’s paved, but may be impassable even with 4WD after heavy rain.
- Stop by Kiva Koffeehouse. This Escalante cafe has great coffee and food, but its views are the real standout. Plus, there’s nothing like a cold coffee post Utah waterfall hike!
Where to Stay Near Lower Calf Creek Falls
This well-maintained, 13-site campground is the best place to stay for hiking Lower Calf Creek Falls Utah. Right at the trailhead, it has potable water and pit toilets, and half the sites sit on the creek.
Sites are first-come, first-served and cost $15 per night. America the Beautiful passholders get a 50% discount. There’s a 26-foot vehicle limit, and sites in the back require crossing a creek.
Notably, you may be able to park overnight in the overflow gravel lot near the highway. Be sure to ask the camp host before assuming, though!
This is an especially great option if you want to rent an RV from RVShare for access to all your creature comforts, but you don’t want to have to maneuver it through camp. RVShare even offers campground delivery, making it truly stress-free!
It doesn’t get much more unique than a luxury yurt in the desert! Escalante Yurts have electricity, wi-fi, and oversized decks, and even include continental breakfast.