The Grand Staircase: Utah’s Best-Kept Secret
By Barry Eitel
For a truly unique Utah hiking experience, go where the locals go: the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, which expands over the largest land area of any national monument in the country. Stretching from Bryce Canyon to the Arizona Boarder and from Kanab to Lake Powell, the Grand Staircase is filled with vast and varied wilderness landscape and millions of years of geological history. The area is roughly the size of Delaware and was the last region in America to be explored by settlers.
That’s right, the first American explorers didn’t set foot in the area until 1866. But people have inhabited the surrounding landscape since roughly A.D. 500. The ruins of several settlements from the pre-Columbian era, as well as some striking rock art, can be found scattered throughout the monument’s land.
Even the names of the geological features found in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument spark the imagination: examples include Fifty-Mile Mountain, the Devil’s Garden, Spooky Gulch and Peekaboo Canyon. Since dinosaur fossils are continually found in the area, we know that the massive national monument has been inhabited for millions of years
Today, this immense space is perfect for touring of all kinds and has surprises around every corner. Scientists and hikers alike flock to the Grand Staircase for an unparalleled experience in the remote, rugged terrain. While the dinosaurs died out eons ago, the area is home to over 200 species of birds and nearly 60 species of mammals, as well as dozens of reptiles, amphibians and fish.
The rock formations are breathtaking and attract thousands of hardened climbers every year – although you can enjoy the views fine without any rope or carabiners. Even driving around the perimeter of the Monument on Scenic Highway 12 or 89 provides plenty of spectacular beauty.
The climate of the Grand Staircase area is temperate and arid, with thunderstorms moving across the area from June to September. The best times to visit are late March to June and early September to October. Summers can get very hot and winters are cold and snowy, so the weather is least extreme during the late spring and early fall. Come prepared for a true wilderness experience, as the interior dirt roads of the Monument are best suited for high clearance four wheel drive. Be sure to bring plenty of water and supplies, and check local conditions before heading into the interior. But we promise an adventure!
The giant Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument abuts several other notable natural areas: the Glen Canyon National Recreation area, the Capitol Reef National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park and the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. Don’t let this massive expanse of natural beauty remain a secret for the locals – come see one of the most extraordinary natural areas in the world. The Grand Staircase is sure to be an exceptional experience you’ll never forget.