Looking across the horizon, all one can see for miles is petrified sand dunes, yet in the middle of the desert, you’ll find this oasis. Lower Calf Creek Falls is a beautiful waterfall tucked away at the end of a canyon in the middle of the desert in southern Utah. It’s a rewarding hike for all ages and has a natural beach and pool at the base of the falls that children will enjoy for hours!
Lower Calf Creek Falls Hike Details
Distance – 6.0 miles round trip
Approximate hiking time – 2.5 to 3.5 hours
Elevation at the trailhead – 5340 feet
Elevation at Lower Calf Creek Falls – 5512 feet
Elevation gain – 298 feet
Difficulty – Easy Trail – well maintained, most of the trail is sandy
Amount of water recommended 2 liters
Bathrooms – Yes, located at trailhead
Season to hike – can be hiked all year long, but the best time is mid-Spring
Pets: Permitted, must be on leash
How to get there:
The largest populated town nearest to Lower Calf Creek Falls is Escalante, UT. which is 16 miles to the southwest along scenic Hwy 12. If coming from Escalante, take the main road through town, Hwy 12, and head east. For 16.3 miles the scenic Hwy 12 will take you through some beautiful vistas, and winding curves. The turnoff for Lower Calf Creek Falls is on the left side of the road, and should have a sign for the parking area. It is a popular place during the heat of the summer, so get there early, or parking could be an adventure. If coming on Hwy 12 from the north through Torrey, UT, continue on to head south Hwy 12 for about 50 miles to reach the trail head. You’ll pass through the small village of Boulder, UT, (population 180) which is 35 miles south of Torrey, did not have electrical power until 1947, and was the last community in the continental United State to receive their mail via mule. After passing through Boulder, go about 15 miles and the turnoff for Lower Calf Creek Falls with be on the right.
Hitting the trail!
At the parking area, on the outside walls of the bathroom facilities, you may find a brochure to take along with you on the hike which has a map with about 10 or 11 points of interest that are marked with small posts along the trail while you hike to the falls. The Anasazi Indians used this canyon between 800 to 1000 years ago, and some remnants of their ancient granaries can be spotted along the canyon walls from the trail. The Calf Creek Campground has twelve sites. It’s first come, first serve, and costs $15 a night. Get there early to find a campsite. When you start the hike, you’ll walk right by the campground. As you pass the facilities continue down a paved road for only 100 feet or so. You will then see a well worth trail on the left that climbs a couple of feet up and off the road and on your way the falls!
For a good portion of the hike, the trail will be over sand, which makes going a little slow, but luckily the hike gains less than 300 feet of elevation over three miles, so the hike is pleasant. The trail is partially shaded, and after about 1 mile, you will walk beside the small Calf Creek, which has tiny fish darting around, and also is the home to beavers. It is common to see signs of beavers on the trees along the creek bed.
After hiking a little over 2.8 miles from the trailhead, you’ll spot some large shady cottonwood trees ahead, and hear the sound of the waterfall, and you may even see the top of the waterfall coming down off the canyon wall. The canyon ends at the waterfall, which makes it a wonderful oasis. A sandy beach and refreshing pool makes for a great way to relax after you reach Lower Calf Creek Falls, which cascades 126 feet from the top of the canyon wall. When the sun is out, fungi and other lichens that can span the color spectrum, grow on the walls next to the falls, providing vivid photographs. You’ll find the pool below the cascades to be remarkably cold even though it may be 100 degrees outside. Cool off, play in sand, take a cat nap under the shade trees, and take plenty of pictures before you turn around and go back the way you came. In the early 1900’s white settlers came and built some homesteads and let their cattle graze in the canyon, which led to the name of the canyon creek and waterfall.
As you may have guessed, there is an Upper Calf Creek Falls above the lower falls, but there is no access from the lower falls to upper falls. You will have to drive up Hwy 12 about 3 miles or so and turn off on a sandy side road to find the trailhead and make your way down. It’s about a two mile hike to the base of the falls. It’s not nearly as scenic, nor as tall as the lower falls, cascading about 110 feet over the edge of the canyon wall down to a deep, frigid pool. When hiking to the base of the upper falls, beware of poison ivy, it is everywhere on the trail. You can also hike to the top of the upper falls and stand right next to the edge of the falls which I found much more picturesque and free of poison ivy. Above the upper falls is a freezing cold swimming hole, fondly named Blue Belly by enthusiasts, that many hikers like to jump into. An 8 foot leap from the one of the sides of the swimming hole makes for another great way to cool off.
What should you bring?
Some of my favorite hiking gear: