37.4047° N, 111.6841° W
GRAND STAIRCASE-ESCALANTE NATIONAL MONUMENT IS ONE OF LARGEST PROTECTED AREAS IN THE USA - SO OBVIOUSLY THERE IS A LOT TO SEE. HERE IS THE MOST IN-DEPTH GUIDE ON THE STUNNINGLY RUGGED NATIONAL MONUMENT.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) is one of the largest federally protected areas in the whole contiguous United States. Measuring 1.8 million acres in size, this ginormous park is a treasure trove for adventurers looking to get off-the-beaten-path and explore a place that still feels incredibly rugged and wild. Plus, thanks to its location in southern Utah, the national monument is full of incredibly beautiful locations and landscapes just begging to be surveyed.
In this in-depth adventure travel guide to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, you will find everything you need to know; including, the top adventures, camping information, and the best time to visit.
So with that, let's get adventuring!
HISTORY OF GRAND STAIRCASE-ESCALANTE NATIONAL MONUMENT
The human history of the Monument starts around AD 500 when the first people arrived in the area of the present day region. Both the Fremont and ancestral Puebloan people lived in the area, with the Fremont people mostly hunting and gathering below the plateau and near the Escalante Valley and the ancestral Puebloans farming in the canyons. Both groups grew plants like corn, beans, and squash and built pithouses with brush-roofs. Similarly, the two groups also took advantage of the wide array of well-sized rock outcroppings and caves and built numerous natural rock shelters. Some of these ruins can be found throughout the Monument (along with various rock art panels).
The first record of white settlers reaching the region was in 1866 when Captain James Andrus led a group to the headwaters of the Escalante River. But it would be another 5 years until another white settler actually traveled the entire length of the Escalante Canyon.
Interestingly enough, while people have been venturing into the rugged landscape, and even living there, for hundreds of years, the present day Monument was the last region to be mapped in the contiguous United States.
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: another fun fact is that the nearby town of Boulder only got electrical power in 1947. It also claims to be the last town to receive mail through the postal service by mule train.
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
The Monument actually got its name way back in 1776 thanks to two Franciscan priests - Atanasio Domínguez and Silvestre Vélez de Escalante - who were tasked with the job of finding an overland route from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Monterey, California. The two priests were joined on their journey by three guides from the Timpanogos tribe (Ute people), 10 men from Santa Fe and a Spanish cartographer.
The group journeyed through some of the most rugged and harshest landscapes in the whole USA. Those challenges eventually led the group to abandon the job and return to Santa Fe. While the journey failed to connect Santa Fe with Monterey, the maps made and documents produced did eventually aid future travelers who wanted to head in the same direction. In fact, what became known as the Dominguez-Escalante Route was the earliest template for the Old Spanish Trail.
Besides Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Francisco Silvestre Velez de Escalante’s name was also used for the Escalante Desert, Escalante River and the town of Escalante.
THE ULTIMATE GRAND STAIRCASE-ESCALANTE NATIONAL MONUMENT ADVENTURE GUIDE
\\ Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument | Fast Facts
1,880,461 acres / 7,610 square kilometers
NUMBER OF VISITORS
923,236 people in 2016
COST TO ENTER
Canyoneering, hiking and camping
\\ Important Things to Know About Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
The Monument is home to four different visitor centers scattered around southern Utah: one in Cannonville, Big Water, Escalante, and Kanab. One thing to know is that each visitor center focuses on one specific theme, from geology to paleontology.
This visitor center offers interpretive displays on human geography and Native American and Pioneer history in the Monument.
This visitor center, located on the southern side of the Monument focuses on the early geologic and paleontological discoveries in this region (including dinosaurs).
This visitor center, located in the heart of GSENM (near Hole in the Rock Road) is packed with information on the local geology and ecosystems.
This visitor center is located within the Paria River District in the town of Kanab (on the southern side of GSENM). It offers interpretive displays that focus on both geology and archaeology within the Monument.
If planning to visit any of the four visitor centers above, make sure to check their websites to make sure they are open. Some of them have condensed their hours depending on the season.
Besides the visitor centers, there are very few services within the Monument. If planning to spend a couple of days exploring its numerous sites, then come prepared with plenty of water and food and have a full tank of gas.
While there are towns close to the Monument, for the most part none of them (besides Page, Arizona) really have a lot to offer in terms of groceries or restaurants (they all do have gas stations though). Similarly, cell phone coverage is spotty at best so make sure to have everything downloaded ahead of time.
💬 INSIDER TIP: the app iOverlander (which we always use for camping) also has points for things like free potable water, laundry services, showers and trash/recycling centers. We recommend downloading the app ahead of time and orienting yourself so you have an idea of what is around you (just in case).
\\ The Best Time to Visit Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Like much of southern Utah, GSENM has four very distinct seasons. The summers are blisteringly hot while the winters are very (very) cold. The best time to visit would be in either the fall (September - early November) or spring (March - May).
We have visited the Monument twice in November and once in December and all three trips consisted of very nice midday temperatures (mid-50s to 60s) but extremely cold nights. If planning to explore during a similar time we recommend either bringing as much cold winter camping gear as possible or booking a spot at a cabin, lodge or hotel/motel (we really like this one!).
❔ GOOD TO KNOW: if planning to go canyoneering in GSENM during the late fall, be prepared for a bit of icy water in many of the canyons. Even in canyons that say DRY except at least a couple of pools - especially in keeper potholes and slot canyons.
\\ How to Get To Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
As you might expect for the last place to be mapped in the USA, GSENM is relatively difficult to reach. And by difficult, we just mean it is way far away from really any form of civilization (the roads are totally fine).
FROM LAS VEGAS
303 miles / 4 hours and 40 minutes