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  • Writer's pictureBryan Donoghue

Hunting for Hoodoos in Southern Utah

Camping and Hiking in Bryce Canyon and Escalante

Lower Calf Creek Falls: Escalante, UT - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue


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As far as backup plans go, one could do a lot worse than a camping trip to Bryce Canyon! After having plans fall through to camp in the Grand Canyon, we were stuck seeking alternate locations to head out to for the week - preferably somewhere in the vicinity of Las Vegas, where I was staying at the time. Generally speaking, my only stipulation when it comes to finding a place to camp is that campfires are permitted, as building (and poking) a fire might be my favorite thing to do on the planet.

Well, I suppose building fires, poking fires, and writing about building and poking fires are my favorites. Want to write about a recent fire-poking or other outdoor adventure you’ve recently experienced, and have it published on the Pathloom blog? Check out this link for our Guest Blogger Submission Guidelines!

So while we weren’t terribly picky when it came to location, the Weather Gods seemed to be doing all in their power to compromise our best intentions regardless. Extreme dry conditions in the heart of wildfire season meant that there were total campfire bans in effect in Southern California and Nevada. We had just been hiking in Phoenix and camping in Sedona, so we ruled Arizona out in favor of something new. That left Southern Utah - a region I have been utterly obsessed with for years now but had not yet had a chance to visit. With a week left of my trip to the Southwest before I needed to return to the Bay Area, this seemed like the ideal time to pay a visit to some of the National Parks that have captured both my attention and my imagination since I first read about them.

Escalante, UT - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue

But how do you choose between 5 National Parks, all in the same region (to say nothing about Escalante, currently under negotiations to become the 6th in the state)? Under no circumstances did I think this was going to be my last trip to Utah, so it was more of a question of which parks to hit this time and which to save for the next trip. Well, Zion, the closest of the parks to our location, was still under a strict fire ban, so that was out. Moab is a 7+ hour drive from Vegas, so let’s rule out Arches and Canyonlands too. Capitol Reef’s developed campgrounds were all booked up, and the primitive sites were inaccessible due to road conditions within the park, so that looked like a no-go as well. That left Bryce Canyon - 4.5 hours from Vegas, a long trip but not entirely unreasonable. No campfires at dispersed sites, but they were permitted at the 150+ first-come-first-serve developed sites within the park. Oh, and it just so happens to be one of the most beautiful places on the entire planet. OK, I suppose that’ll do nicely.

Like Indiana Jones picking the right Grail in The Last Crusade, we had chosen… wisely.

Bryce Canyon is flat-out breathtaking. Even the drive to get there wound through some of the most beautiful and alien terrain I’ve ever borne witness to. We left Vegas around 4:30am, ensuring we’d be able to get there early enough to jump on one of the available sites before they all became occupied. We caught the sun rise over the Valley of Fire outside Mesquite, NV as we hurtled northeast on the deserted early morning freeway. Valley of Fire is another one of my favorite places on the planet, but that’s another story altogether.

Bryce Canyon, UT - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue


Bryce Canyon National Park


We made it to Bryce Canyon in ample time to get a campsite at Sunset Campground that featured an expansive opening in tree cover directly over our firepit. This proved to be an ideal vantage point deep within a certified International Dark Sky Park for the Orionid Meteor Shower, set to peak over the course of our stay. The stars themselves were immeasurable in number as well as sheer beauty - well worth the 28 degree nighttime lows we shivered through. CampDog kept himself busy, and warm, by chasing the embers dancing off of the fire as we watched meteors rain across the sky each night.

Words cannot possibly describe the striated red rock hoodoos, goblins, towers, arches, and other formations interspersed throughout the park. Fortunately, through the power of the internet, words don’t need to. Here are a few pictures from the dozens of vista points we visited throughout our explorations.

Bryce Canyon, UT - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue

Bryce Canyon, UT - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue

Bryce Canyon, UT - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue

Bryce Canyon, UT - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue


Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument


As Bryce Canyon is a National Park, dogs are not permitted on the trails, which meant in order to get our hiking fix we had to make alternate arrangements. Fortunately, some of the best trails in Escalante were only about an hour away, and entirely dog-friendly. After some deliberation, and some quick research on the Pathloom App, we opted to head to Lower Calf Creek Falls - CampDog has short, stubby little legs, so we didn’t want to work him too hard on a more ambitious trail that might prove overly difficult for him. This proved to be another wise decision indeed - the trail wound along the side of a box canyon carved out by the serpentine creek, leading to a 130-foot waterfall crashing down onto the cliffside.

Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail: Escalante, UT - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue

Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail: Escalante, UT - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue

Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail: Escalante, UT - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue

While I am eternally grateful to have the opportunity to foray into two parks that have fascinated me for so long, I've also kept in mind that this will not be my last trip to Utah. There is still so much of both to explore - I doubt I covered even a small fraction of Bryce’s 36,000 acres - to say nothing of the million acres that make up Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Next time I’ll bring a truck, as many of the best roads and trails in Escalante are only accessible by a vehicle with 4 wheel drive. Also, much as I loved having CampDog with us, the prohibition of dogs on National Park trails would certainly dictate my future destinations. Regardless, I can’t wait to get back to Utah - satisfying as this initial experience was, it only left me ready to see so much more.

Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail: Escalante, UT - Photo Credit: Bryan Donoghue


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