3-day trip ideas (15-20 miles or so) for late May/early June with good water


Mar 1, 2015
I would like to do a 3-day backpacking trip in Southern Utah with my 11-year-old son the Thurs-Sat after Memorial Day (straddling the end of May and the beginning of June). I don't like hiking in the heat---in the past, I’ve done Utah trips in April or late October---so at that time of year I'm only interested in doing something with a lot of water to cool off in. I'm assuming Escalante is where I should be looking? If so, I don't know that area (it's very far from Denver!), so any suggestions are greatly appreciated! Here are some criteria/requirements:

-My son has been on 5 backpacking trips with me, but all of those have been in the CO mountains and he has very little scrambling/canyon experience. So nothing beyond basic/beginner-level scrambling. Also, any full swims for him should probably be fairly short. I'm fine with some off-trail navigation, but nothing too crazy.

-As a point of reference, last summer we did a 3-day trip that covered 18 miles and 3k ft of elevation gain/loss, so a little more than that would be fine this year. Less mileage/elevation gain would also be fine, as long as there is sufficient opportunity for side explorations. So basically, something in the 15-20 mile range or so. I would like to have three full days of hiking (we will drive on Wed and Sun)

-Desired highlights: lush desert oasis, swimming holes and/or waterfalls and/or hiking in stream/creek (regular opportunity to cool off), fun slickrock hiking/scrambling, slots/narrow canyons, rock art, solitude (perhaps impossible to find all of these I know)

-Want to avoid: long slogs through the desert heat (even if it's spectacular), bugs (please let me know if biting flies or no-see-ums or the like will be out by early June)

-trailhead must be accessible by a Subaru Outback

My first thought was lower Death Hollow (BMT to HWY12 bridge)---I planned a tentative trip there last year that got cancelled---but I'm worried that the poison ivy there might forever ruin my son's love for the outdoors. I'm also worried that it might be too long of a slog through the heat on the way in and out, and I'm not sure about the exposure (for him) on the BMT. So I think I'll save this one to do solo at a different time.

Coyote Gulch:
-Enough consistent water to cool off in? In most of the pics I’ve seen, the water is ankle-deep
-too crowded? I’m fine seeing other people, but want to be able to find a flat quiet campsite fairly easily (doesn’t need to be spectacular, just reasonably close to water and flat and quiet), and use the bathroom in solitude

-Too hard/exposed for son? (and for me for that matter) I haven't read up on this much yet, but I seem to recall mention of a class 3/4 section?

I really don't know much about Escalante, so if you even point me in the right direction, I can research it more. Any other suggestions (including hikes elsewhere on the CO Plateau), or tips on the above ideas, are greatly appreciated!
My first thought was lower Death Hollow (BMT to HWY12 bridge)---I planned a tentative trip there last year that got cancelled---but I'm worried that the poison ivy there might forever ruin my son's love for the outdoors. I'm also worried that it might be too long of a slog through the heat on the way in and out, and I'm not sure about the exposure (for him) on the BMT. So I think I'll save this one to do solo at a different time.
That's a pretty good assessment, at least as far as the heat. I did it in early May at about 70-75 degrees, but it still felt incredibly hot during the hike on the BMT. Probably going to be hotter later in May and into June. You can avoid the poison ivy nearly entirely by walking in the creek the whole time; your shoes will frequently fill with sand and need emptied though. Just have to watch out for it when you get out and set up camp. I thought I did a good job avoiding it, but I still ended up with a bit of rash on my arms.
Grand Gulch....
It can be pretty hot on the lower Escalante in late May/June. If you don't want that, I'd aim for higher elevations. Death Hollow is a good option. I don't think many people would have issues with the descent from the BMT. It's pretty well sloped so that it doesn't feel that exposed. And in the 5 or so trips I took there, we never had issues with poison ivy. But your mileage may vary.
Thanks all!

Bob---I'd love to do Grand Gulch, but I fear it'll be too hot for my liking by early June. I haven't been to Grand Gulch yet but I had the impression that it would be better earlier in the Spring. If there are any routes there that have regular water (to cool off with at regular intervals, not just to filter 1-2 times per day) or that are particularly shaded or otherwise cool at that time of year, please let me know!

fosanna---Both of those suggestions sounds great, but like Grand Gulch I worry that they might be a little warmer than I would want for this trip. Halls Creek sounds wonderful, but I just looked it up quick and it sounds like it's a 7-mile hike before you get to the water? That would be a full day of hiking with my son, and probably a longer stretch than we want for this trip. That 24-mile loop looks really nice, too; I just added that to my ever-growing list inside my head. But it looks like most of it is dry (correct me if I'm wrong). Or is it high enough elevation that it's fairly cool? I like the idea of the ice cream stop in any case!

Nick---thanks, it sounds like the exposure on the BMT won't be too much of an issue for my son. I think he might still be on the young side for this though for other reasons (hiking the BMT section in the heat, hiking in the river, needing to avoid the poison ivy). I may well do this myself that week though! Maybe I'll keep on an eye on the weather forecast, and if it's cooler than normal we could head to Coyote or thereabouts, while if it is hot, I will go solo and do the Death Hollow route or something around Zion.
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There's at least one spring in Spring Canyon (3.3 miles below the Chimney Rock Canyon junction), plus the Fremont River. NPS says the springs may be seasonal; there was plenty of water in Sep of last year. There's a campground near the ice cream stop to refill as well.
Have you considered Paria Canyon? We loved this trip in late June 2014 and made great use of the water in the river to dunk and cool off as often as necessary. Our trip from Wire Pass through Buckskin Gulch then all the way to Lee's Ferry took 4 days and was 40ish miles, so that wouldn't work for you, but perhaps you could do an out-and-back from White House TH to the confluence, set up camp, explore up Buckskin Gulch and downstream but then come back to your camp in the afternoon, then hike back out on your last day. I think your Subaru could handle the drive but am not 100% sure, since we hired a shuttle to take us to Wire Pass. Even though it's quite hot then, the narrow slot canyons are shaded and might be comfortable enough, and then you'd have the Paria river next to you much of the time. You'd need to get a permit in advance, and permits for May are available starting tomorrow (Feb. 1). It might be hard to get a spot that weekend. If you want more information, let me know asap!
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Brendan---The airport route looks fun, but based on some descriptions of it (and a photo from Nick's trip report), I think it'll definitely be more than my son can handle; again, he really hasn't done anything with exposure before (I haven't even done much with exposure myself, so the airport route is probably the absolute limit of what I would be comfortable doing with a heavy pack myself). Definitely on my list now though!

fossana---thanks for the info. Yeah, I saw water in some of the pictures in your trip report, but I was more of looking for a hike where you hike in (or right by) the water for the majority of the hike (something like the Zion Narrows, only slightly easier and maybe longer) to cool off in. Basically, if we're driving all the way down there from Denver, I want to make sure the heat doesn't make it miserable!

Janice---I was hoping to do Buckskin/Paria myself this April, but limited vacation time pushed that one back to a different year (I'm going to the Needles instead for a shorter trip). That's probably too far of a drive for me for just a 3 day trip (don't get me wrong, it's probably worth the drive, but I'd just rather save it for when I have 4-5 days of hiking). I think if I'm going to drive that far I'd rather do it a little earlier in the Spring as well. If I can ever manage to get a full 6 days off during the Spring or Fall, I'll do Wire Pass to Lee's Ferry for sure!