Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Located deep within Southern Utah near Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was the last area to be mapped in the lower 48 states and is still an isolated area today.

Why was the Grand Staircase Created

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument wasn’t designated as a National Monument until 1996, when legislation was finally passed to protect this amazing area.  A land of canyons and cliffs, wilderness and ancient ruins, the Staircase is a unique and diverse landscape still untouched by the masses.

How do you get to Grand Staircase

Grand Staircase Airports- The closest major airport to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Salt Lake city is a close second.  Cedar City, Utah is a little over 1.5 hours away and has delta connection flights.  St George UT at about 2.5 hours away has daily flights from Los Angeles and Salt Lake City.  

Grand Staircase Car Rentals- You can hire private shuttles that go to the Staircase, but you really need your own vehicle (preferably a 4X4) to explore this area.  There are no rental agencies in the Monument, but nearby Cedar City or St George do have rentals if you don’t pick one up at the airport.  Many of the roads through Grand Staircase are dirt, especially roads that lead to the amazing hikes and slot canyons throughout the Monument, bur even with a car you can still drive Scenic Hwy 12 and enjoy the Staircase and nearby Bryce and Capitol Reef.  There are also local outfitters that will shuttle you to trailheads.

Grand Staircase Shuttles- There are a few companies that offer shuttles to the Grand Staircase, but most of the local shuttles cater to hikers and backpackers within the Staircase.

Grand Staircase Fees and Other Costs

There is no entry fee for Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, and backcountry permits as well as undeveloped campgrounds are also free.  There are a few established campgrounds that charge a reasonable nightly fee, and Calf Creek Recreation Area charges a small day use fee.  The area around the Grand Staircase is fairly isolated and local towns have prices lower than most Park Lands.

Grand Staircase Weather and Climate

Grand Staircase Escalante has a temperate desert climate with an average annual rainfall of 10 inches, and snowfall of about 30 inches.  Summer days can be hot with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees in lower elevations, while nights are generally cool down to the 60’s or 70’s.  Summer also brings heavy thunderstorms that can wash out roads.  Spring and fall are the best time to visit the Monument with warm days and cool nights.  Early September through October offer some of the best weather because of the temperature and lack of precipitation.  Winter temperature drop below freezing at night, with day time highs in the 40’s on average.  The winter season is also when the most precipitation falls in the area.  

When to visit Grand Staircase

The best time to visit the Grand Staircase is the late spring mid-April through May, and the fall season of September through October.  Summer is also a popular season, but temperatures can be quite warm for serious out door activities, unless your doing some canyoneering that involves wading through cold canyon pools.  The winter season is cold and road can become impassable.  Although there are few visitors, you can find solitude in the Staircase any time of year with an average annual visitation of about 1 million people for a 1.9 million acre wilderness.

Environment of the Grand Staircase

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is huge, and its 1.9 million acres protect more land than the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce Canyon combined.  The literal Grand Staircase is much larger than the Monument itself, and makes up an area of geologic steps stretching from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the upper most layer of Bryce Canyon.  The Grand Staircase is made of 5 distinct layers with colors used for their common names.  The bottom layer (Chocolate Layer) is the Kaibab Limestone of Grand Canyon’s North Rim.  The Vermillion Cliffs (Red Layer) near Kanab Utah make up the next layer, followed by Navajo Sandstone (White Layer) a common formation in Zion National Park.  The next layer is the Grey Cliffs (Grey Layer), a shale and sandstone formation found between Zion and Bryce.  The Pink Cliffs (Pink Layer) or Clarion Formation formed the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park, and are the top layer of the Grand Staircase.   Other major geologic areas of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument include the Kaiparowits and Paunsaugunt Plateaus, and the Canyons of the Escalante and Paria Rivers.  The Grand Staircase has some of the most rugged topography on the Colorado Plateau.  This land of buttes and mesas, canyons and arches, and unique beauty still hold a true sense of adventure for modern day explorers.
Grand Staircase Flora and Fauna

The unique landscape of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a unique and fragile ecosystem with a unique community of plants and animals.  The Monument has 11 species of plants found nowhere else, and over 300 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians.   Mountain Lions and Bighorn Sheep roam the land, and wildflowers blanket the spring earth in a rare wilderness with native flora and fauna still intact.

Grand Staircase Accommodations

There are many small lodges and B&B’s dotting Grand Staircase but you will find the most options in the towns of Escalante and Tropic.  Boulder, Utah has a very popular eco-lodge, and a few other lodging options.  Right up the road in Torrey, Utah is the entrance to Capitol Reef National Park and several hotels and lodges.  Tropic, Escalante and Torrey all have RV parks and campgrounds.  As far as tent camping there are many options from developed campgrounds, to primitive backcountry campsites.

Grand Staircase Activities

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a land of hiking, exploring, canyoneering and scenic backroads.  The hikes and slot canyons within the Monument are world class and it is quite likely you won’t see anyone else on many of the trails.  For those of you with 4WD or high clearance you can take a leisurely drive down one of many amazingly scenic dirt roads, or cruise Route 12 the main highway through the Staircase.  Taking out an ATV is also popular, and there are many roads to explore. For peddle powered adventures  there are some great mountain biking trails and some popular road bike routes within the Monument.  During years with high snowfall, it is also possible to raft the Escalante River, but do a little research before you head out. 

Grand Staircase Canyon Food and Drink

Most of the small towns within the Monument have some options for restaurants and groceries, but you’ll find the best selection in Tropic, Escalante, and Torrey.  The Boulder Mountain lodge, in Boulder has the best Restaurant around, but it is pricey. 

Grand Staircase Health, Safety and Hazards

Due to the remote nature of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument the biggest danger is not being prepared.  Make sure if you’re heading out of town you are self sufficient, and let someone know where you’re going.  If you get in trouble out here it could be a while before someone finds you.  If you’re planning on hiking and especially if you plan on canyoneering, be sure you check on the weather and local conditions, flash floods are a real danger in canyon country.

Grand Staircase Culture and History

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is rich with culture and history.  The area is named after Spanish Missionary, Father Silvestre Velez de Escalante who explored the area in 1776, but the first permanent human habitation dates back 1500 years.  Large numbers of Ancestral Puebloan sites can be found throughout the canyons of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, where they farmed squash corn and other crops.  The Monument was also settled by the Fremont Indians, hunters and gathers who made their homes below the Plateaus of the Escalante Region.   

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