Hiking Utah - Steven's Arch - Part 2 in our Hiking the Escalante Series

Stevens Arch

Hiking Utah has its rewards for all southwestern hiking enthusiasts, from seasoned explorers to the novice backpacker. In today’s post, we continue with our Hiking the Escalante series by turning our focus to perhaps the single most impressive natural feature in the West: Stevens Arch.

Considering that this part of the country includes some of the most amazing scenery on earth, including the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Yellowstone, it says a lot. But for the adventurous, hiking Utah’s no man’s land and standing underneath the sublime spectacle of Stevens Arch, this claim is not overstated.

This enormous bulk of an arch is located along the lower Escalante River, just beyond the boundaries of Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument. The Escalante is an untraveled land of spectacular canyons, amazing geology and light and shadow. It is interesting to note that the Escalante was the last river of its size to be discovered in the lower 48. To access this hike, refer to the directions to Coyote Gulch, previous article in this series:


From the trailhead, you will enjoy an easygoing stroll for two miles along a sandy trail to reach the rim of the canyon. Then an exciting squeeze through Crack in the Rock and an exhilarating hike to the bottom of Coyote Gulch. A breathtaking desert landscape of red rock towers and cliffs will unfold. At the canyon bottom, head downstream a short distance to the Escalante River. It is important to head left at the here; a right turn will eventually land you at the mouth of the Escalante near Lake Powell.

It won’t be long before the gigantic monolith of Stevens Arch makes its grand appearance. The eye of Stevens Arch, 220 feet across and 160 feet tall, looms above the Escalante River like a sentinel. The stream snakes and twists dramatically in this tortured landscape where every bend of the canyon reveals another spectacle to behold.

At some point in the next quarter of a mile, look to the right to locate a route through the tamarisk trees to gain a use trail and a steep scramble up the talus slopes on the east wall of the canyon. There is only one area where the cliffs are sufficiently broken with loose talus and there are one or more paths going up. As you near the bench above, work your way to the right a bit to overcome the last of the rock obstacles. The path will switch back up the crumbly cliffs and lead to the top of the Kayenta Formation, a reddish-brown rock which comprises the middle third of the three-part series that makes up the Glen Canyon Group. The rock directly above the Kayenta is the Navajo Sandstone, a geologic layer which frequently occurs as spectacular rounded domes, bluffs and immense vertical cliffs up to 2,200 feet high. Stevens Arch, as well as neighboring Coyote Gulch and the Escalante River canyons, was eroded out of Navajo Formation.

As you continue to gain elevation and reach the highest ledge, the scenery will become even more glorious. The huge bulk of Stevens Arch will now appear to be on the same level as the ground you are walking on. As you work your way along the ridge line, the route will resemble a superhighway in comparison to the scrambling you completed just a few minutes earlier.

Stevens Arch is one of the largest arches in the world, ranked number four by some estimates. From this vantage point, it resembles a window blasted out of a wall of rock. The view of the arch almost directly in front of you, towering above the Escalante River as well as the splendid surrounding scenery, is incomparable. It is one of the most dramatic I’ve ever seen.

Continue your hike and in no time, you will be directly underneath the massive span. Take this opportunity to rest for a while and take in the views. Looking down the other side of the arch, you will observe the long sinuous Stevens Canyon winding its way to the Escalante, originating on the southern border of Capitol Reef National Park. This is true desert wilderness where only the hardiest desert rats dare venture. Speaking of desert rats, one member of our group couldn’t resist the urge of climbing even higher onto the lower part of the arch, making an already superb hike even more interesting!

The famous western writer Edward Abby, known as the “Thoreau of the American West”, perhaps said it best when describing this region:

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs.”

Carefully retrace your steps back down to the Escalante River, lower Coyote gulch, the trail skirting the red sand dunes to Crack in the Rock and the trailhead, capping one of the most beautiful and memorable hikes in North America that one can only experience when hiking Utah.