A super-fun scramble through a network of slot canyons in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, off of the Hole-in-the-Rock Road
MAP: Trails Illustrated
DESIGNATION: Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (now BLM)
BEST SEASONS: year-round, though summer is hot and beware of flash floods in July and August!
DISTANCE: 3.5 mile loop – Brimstone is 3 extra miles
ELEVATION: trailhead 4,960ft – low point 4,600ft
ACCESS: dirt roads to the trailhead – high clearance is recommended, though passenger cars sometimes can get close enough
DRIVING DIRECTIONS: Hike begins at the Dry Fork Trailhead, off Utah’s Hole in the Rock Road. From Escalante, UT, drive east 5 miles to the Hole-in-the-Rock Road. Turn right, and travel 26 miles down the wide, well-graded, super-washboardy dirt road. Turn left onto BLM road 252 (signed for Dry Fork). Continue for 1.7 miles (or as far as you can) to the trailhead.
ROUTE: Fairly trafficked through narrow canyons with 2 easy climbs – overland routes marked with cairns – pay attention, it’s easy to lose your bearings in this confusing landscape.
This loop hike generally takes about 3 to 4 hours to complete.
Dogs are allowed out here, but our furry friends can be especially unwieldy in these narrow canyons. As always, use a leash and pick up after them. It’s strongly recommended to use a full-body harness (as opposed to a simple collar), to help them up and down the difficult sections.
Politics – Grand Staircase Reduction
Technically, this area was removed from Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and returned to the BLM by President Trump. For more details about how and why this happened, see this 2019 article in the Washington Post.
Here’s a map that details this loop hike, including Peekaboo Slot Canyon, Spooky Gulch, and Brimstone Gulch. You can right-click on it to view the map as large as possible.
This loop up PeekaBoo Gulch and down Spooky Gulch is an incredibly fun, 3.5-mile scramble through some of the best slot canyons in southern Utah. Some caveats include:
- a 15-foot, 3rd class climb to enter Peekaboo Canyon
- a 7-foot downclimb in Spooky Gulch
- claustrophobic, skinny conditions in Spooky Gulch
- 27 miles of dirt road that are impassable when wet
- hot summer weather
- high flash-flood risk in July and August
- growing popularity – not especially off the beaten track
If nothing above sounds especially daunting, go for it and enjoy!
Driving Times and Road Conditions
Specific driving directions are detailed in the Quick Facts section at the top of this page.
For a broader perspective, note that the trailhead is about 2 hours one-way from Bryce Canyon National Park. From Torrey (Capitol Reef), it takes about 2 hours and 20 minutes. Note that if you travel east on Route 12 beyond the junction with Hole-in-the-Rock Road, the popular Calf Creek Falls is only an additional 14 miles.
In dry conditions, the Hole in the Rock road can be negotiated by a brave soul behind the wheel of a passenger car. The surface progressively gets worse after turning left onto the Dry Fork Road, making high-clearance necessary (Subaru Outback, Hyundai Sante Fe, etc). The last mile or so requires a true 4×4 vehicle, but at this point you can get out and walk the remaining distance to the trail.
If you park at the junction of Hole in the Rock Road and the Dry Fork Road, you’ll have to walk an extra 1.7 miles to the trailhead. This effectively makes the round trip distance of the hike about 6 miles – still totally doable.
Descending into the Canyons
Beyond the trailhead sign, you’ll follow a set of cairns (rock piles) down into the wash that’s immediately in front of you.
Once you reach the bottom, you’ll turn right and follow the sandy wash to its junction with a deeper canyon with even more sand. This canyon is the Dry Fork, technically a distant upper arm of the popular Coyote Gulch canyon.
If you turn left here, you’ll be going up Dry Fork Canyon into the Dry Fork Narrows (On the map provided above, the Dry Fork Narrows are located immediately under the phrase “Climb into Peekaboo”). Though this is an interesting excursion that’s certainly worth your time, it’s not why you came.
Turn right to find the entrance to Peekaboo Canyon.
Take a good, long look at the above photo, depicting the 15-foot climb into Peekaboo. It’s easy to miss (I missed it the first time)!
After you make the right turn into Dry Fork, you’ll only walk about 100 yards (certainly less than a quarter mile) before the entrance to Peekaboo appears on your left.
Its narrow mouth hangs above the sandy floor of Dry Fork, and it does not have the telltale characteristics one would expect to see at the mouth of a canyon (like a delta of debris).
After the climb up, it’s a straightforward jaunt up the canyon. Enjoy!
Once Peakaboo Canyon begins to open up, keep your eyes open to find a way to climb up and out of the canyon, on your right. It’s best to wait until you see a large cairn.
There are a few different ways to do this, and at least two cairned tracks that connect to Spooky Gulch. As you head up and over to Spooky, use your sense of direction and just remember that Spooky runs generally parallel to Peekaboo. If you see a cairn, go to it, try to locate the next one to the east, and so on.
My experience on the connection:
We climbed out of Peekaboo at the very first opportunity, and headed directly toward Spooky. This brought us over to Spooky at a place where the canyon was too deep, and it was impossible to climb into it. We had to follow Spooky to the left (upstream) to eventually find an entrance.
As you get into Spooky Gulch, be prepared to get up close and personal with the sandstone! You’ll find it necessary to remove your backpack and squeeze sideways through its tightest sections.
PRO TIP: If you’re hiking with a small group, it’s a good idea to share just a single backpack for the duration of the hike. You’ll be passing it back and forth a lot, and it makes things easier to have only one pack.
As you descend Spooky Gulch, at one point you’ll encounter what may appear to be an impassable chockstone pourover. Fear not, with a little exploration you’ll find it to be just a 7-foot downclimb. If you’re with a group, the first person down can help the others.
Once you’re out of the enclosed confines of Spooky Gulch, you’ll once again find yourself in the main Dry Fork Canyon. You’ll be hanging a right and going back up this canyon, passing the entrance to Peekaboo and retracing your steps to your vehicle. The sensible way to meet the Dry Fork from Spooky is to follow the sandy bottom of the wash, but there’s also a shortcut route immediately to the right once you exit the Spooky narrows.
If you have the extra time and energy, it’s a worthy excursion to turn left when you exit Spooky Gulch and continue to Brimstone Gulch. This can add up to 3 miles (round trip) to your day, depending on how far you go up Brimstone.
To find Brimstone Gulch, continue about 0.75 miles down the main Dry Fork Canyon from its confluence with Spooky Gulch. You’ll go through two decent sets of narrows along the way, though they’ll be less spectacular than the ones you just experienced.
Brimstone Gulch will enter from the left. Again, the wise course of action is to follow the distinct bottom of the canyon to the obvious confluence, but you may shortcut this via a 0.1-mile use-trail.
Explore up Brimstone Gulch as far as you can. After about a mile, you’ll come to place that’s even more narrow than Spooky Gulch, too tight for mere mortals like you and me.
As it’s always sad to say, this hike has a death toll.
Here’s some details on two specific deaths from the last decade. Both were caused as a result of disorientation, dehydration, and heat stroke when hiking in the mid-summer heat.
- July 2013 – Cindy So, a 35 year-old medical student from Denver, was hiking here with a friend. They got lost, and found themselves wandering for at least 2 extra hours in the summer heat. She collapsed and ultimately passed away before anyone could revive her.
- June 2017 – Lane Friedman, a 62 year-old male from Alabama, succumbed to the heat after getting lost in the canyons with his wife and two children. Friedman had left his family, heading up a hill to “get his bearings.”
On a lighter note, it’s not only humans that get into trouble out here. In December of 2014, a poor cow was famously stuck in Peekaboo Canyon. Getting it out of there proved to be quite a project!
My Additional Photos and Trip Notes
Haley and I hiked this loop on November 19, 2017. We did it as a day trip, beginning and ending at Ruby’s Inn, near the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park. We were spending a few days at the inn, hiking nearby attractions like the Fairyland Trail and Riggs Spring Loop.
lower Dry Fork Canyon