May 9-15th, 2022.
Utah has always been one of my favourite states in the US. Growing up and spending most of my days in the rocky mountains, makes Utah’s landscape extra special to me. My first time visiting was back in February 2017, with my friend Andy. We drove around both Arizona and Utah in his van for 7 days and after leaving Utah, I already couldn’t wait to come back. The red rock, canyons, waterfalls, trails, the way the sun rises and sets, it’s just a gorgeous place to be and to explore.
My second time visiting was in 2019 with my husband (boyfriend at the time). We decided to take a 10 day road trip down to Utah, starting in Alberta, right after we graduated from our education degree. Having been before I was familiar with some of the National Parks and felt confident going back again having a better handle on what I was doing there, and this time able to show Craig some of the places I went, along with experiencing many new trails together too.
Both times I visited Utah, I never drove South enough towards St.George and the area where Coyote Gulch is, and told myself one day soon I would 100% be back to through hike it. When Trova Trip offered me the opportunity to host a 5 day women’s only backpacking trip, I was all over it, and launched it pretty quickly after, to take place in May of 2021. I launched it at the beginning of COVID, not knowing how long the pandemic would hinder travel plans for so unfortunately as May crept up we had to move it to May of 2022, and as much as postponement hurt, it ended up happening and it was well worth the wait.
The group size max’d out at 9, and then there was myself and 2 guides, Sam and Jessie, who are husband and wife. They had the lovely opportunity of guiding our group and work for a company called ‘Wildland Trekking’, and more often guide separately, but happened to be placed together to lead ours. They were absolutely amazing, from their organization, knowledge, experience, and humour to their cooking abilities, we were well taking care of. We did not have to worry about anything and very confident on the trail.
When I launched this trip I really did want to make it so women who have never backpacked before, or perhaps only a little bit prior, would feel comfortable joining. Whether you were an avid backpacker or a beginner, you were welcome to join and prepped well in advance to succeed on the trail! The trekking company really does provide almost everything you need, other then the clothes you plan to wear, your own toiletries, water bottles, and you do have to bring a sleeping bag or camp pillow if you so choose to (I used my puffy jacket rolled in a ball every night but that’s just me).
Here is a packing list of what I brought, followed by a list of things the trekking company provided us:
The trekking company will suggest what to pack, though this is what I packed:
- Sleeping bag (-7C, 20F)
- 2 tank tops
- 2 long sleeve – 1 to hike in, 1 to sleep in
- 1 puffy jacket
- 1 rain jacket
- 3 pairs of socks – 2 to hike in and 1 to sleep in/at camp
- 2 pairs of shorts – Guide Pro, and Departure Amphid Shorts. I brought the amphid shorts incase I planned to swim/go in the waterfalls
- 2 pairs of leggings – 1 to hike in and 1 to sleep in
- 4 pairs of underwear
- 1 buff – for the dust. Was so happy to have this!
- 1 hat – I would have packed a large brimmed hat if I had to hike it over again, cause of the sun.
- A pair of sunglasses
- Sandals – I ended up hiking in my sandals most of the trek and wore them at camp
- Hiking boots – the guides suggest trail shoes and not ankle high but I brought my ankle ones and they were fine. You are trekking through a lot of water so my sandals I found were better anyways!
- Toiletries – toothbrush, face wipes.
- Sunscreen, bug spray (luckily didn’t have to use it)
- 3 – 1L water bottles
The guides were adamant that I did not need this many clothes haha. They are expert backpackers, ultralight being the way to go and wore the same clothing items the entire trip, but for comfort purposes I packed a bit more and so did most on the trek.
What the trekking company packed/provided:
- 1 single tent each
- Sleeping pad
- Trail snacks – 16 snacks – 4 for everyday
- All the cooking supplies – stoves, bowls, plates, cutlery etc.
- Water filtration supplies
- First Aid supplies
- Backpacks – you can bring your own but they do supply them if you don’t have one
- Trekking poles
- Water sock booties (neoprene) – which you can put in your shoes or wear with your sandals so they keep rocks out. Everyone but me wore these. Depends on your comfort level. I was okay without.
- Emergency communication devices
The trekking company cooked up the most delicious meals, for breakfast, lunch, dinner AND dessert. We were so impressed the entire trip. I will be sharing some details of these meals throughout the blog post.
A bit about the hike itself:
‘This is our most popular hike in Utah and deservedly so. We give you a glimpse of what Glen Canyon was like before being flooded by Lake Powell, and as such this is a true treasure. Highlights include beautifully sculpted stream beds, intimate cascades and waterfalls, deep overhangs and alcoves, and numerous natural bridges and arches. This hike has incredible diversity, as we finish with an exciting ascent out of the canyon and across a stretch of signature Utah slick rock.
Our backpacking trip begins in St. George, Utah where we get an early start and drive to the remote trailhead. From the trailhead we’ll work our way down the Coyote Gulch drainage. For the next four days this dramatic canyon takes us through some of the most beautiful country in the United States. It culminates on Days 3 and 4 with an amazing arch, natural bridge, pictographs, waterfalls, fantastic side canyon exploration, and a memorable ascent out of the canyon. Our guests tend to fall in love with this route but we want to forewarn you, the power of this place awakens strong emotion. People often feel compelled to return again and again throughout their lifetime in search of more “good times!” – Wildland Trekking
Reading this over it’s 100% true! I did fall in love with this place and can’t wait to bring my husband back one day, and children to experience it.
We flew into Las Vegas airport (LAS) at different times on May 9th (some arriving the day before and staying in Vegas a night before meeting back at the airport) and together we all shuttled to St. George as a group.
Accommodations before and after the trek were at the Best Western right downtown St.George. This was a perfect location as we were able to walk around a little bit to get a feel for the place, with shops close by.
The hotel provides you with a secure/safe storage room for you to leave your gear in, that you do not wish to bring with you on the trek, seeing as some spent longer in Utah, before and after, and after the hike meeting some people chose not to bring some gear they originally planned to, or brought with them.
We went for a welcome dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, before coming back to the hotel for a pre hike meeting.
During this meeting the guides went over EVERYTHING. You had the opportunity to unpack your backpack/bag and repack it with them present. They went over how the trek would look day to day, the mileage, the group gear and how that was going to work, separating the group gear amongst all of us. They handed out gear we were borrowing etc. Basically a few hours of making sure everyone had all the info and gear they needed for a successful 4 days out on the trail. This was a bit of a late evening, and we knew we had an early morning, so we all went to bed around 11, then up to leave by 630am the next day. They provided us with ‘breakfast to go’ the night before as we were leaving before continental breakfast started (though they gave us coffee, which is essential for me and some others).
Start of the Hike
We left the hotel at 630am, and had a 5 hour drive to the trailhead. 3.5 hours on pavement and 1.5 on gravel, with a few stops to grab water, snacks, use the bathroom etc. We got to the trailhead around 11 and we organized a few things in the parking lot, making sure everyone had everything they needed. Due to us arriving around lunch Jessie and Sam also prepped lunch, and we all had the opportunity to eat before heading out. We had taco bowls! YUM!
Jessie also went over how we were going to use the bathroom on the trek. This is the first time EVER that I have had to pack out my own poop. That’s right, you ain’t leaving that stuff behind in the desert. Each one of us were provided with 4 clean waste bags, one for everyday, that you would use and then pack back out with you. Poop doesn’t decompose out in the desert SO could you imagine if everyone went #2 out there and NEVER packed it out? GROSS. It was a bit intimidating at first, but we all got the hang of it and it ended up not being too bad.
- Mileage: 5 miles
- Elevation Loss: 300 feet
‘This Utah backpacking trip begins at a remote trailhead at the “headwaters” of Utah’s Coyote Gulch. From the trailhead we hike a short distance before entering an open and dry wash, the upper section of Coyote Gulch. The day’s hike continues downstream and gradually the wash begins to resemble a canyon as short walls of Navajo Sandstone begin to appear on either side of the wash and we come to several pour-offs and short waterfalls. Just as the canyon begins deepening we’ll find ourselves in a beautiful cottonwood grove and our camp for the evening.’ – Wildland Trekking
I started out hiking in pants, a longsleeve, hat and boots, and by lunch I was down to shorts, a tank and my hiking sandals. The guides did recommend we keep a sun longsleeve on, and pants because of the thick brush scraping against your arms and legs but I did not find it that bad and was too hot. It is all about your own comfort. I just made sure to wear a hat, apply sunscreen a few times and stay hydrated. It also felt so good to walk in the water in my sandals. A good pair of hiking Teva sandals would also be a good option, or light weight hiking shoes, not ankle hiking boots that are heavy.
We were never in a rush getting to camp, always stopping if anyone wanted to take photos, and the guides were so great at explaining the area around us and answering any questions we may have had. When we got to camp we set up the tents, and went for a little side hike, getting up above the trees. Camp back, had dinner (burritos), then a few of us all went back up to the view point for sunset before returning back again. Camping by the canyon wall was pretty neat.
- Mileage: 6 miles plus optional day hikes
- Elevation Loss: 200 feet
Breakfast first. Coffee. Always coffee, and a yummy rice pudding breakfast.
‘Continuing our hike downstream through stands of cottonwood and willows, the gulch deepens and narrows and encloses us in a towering corridor of sandstone. The creek is flowing continuously now and there are numerous crossings. As we progress, the day’s changing light plays on the canyon’s walls in a brilliant show of reds, yellows and browns. These imposing walls are the backdrop for features closer at hand: beautifully sculpted streambeds and intimate little cascades and waterfalls.
After a few miles of hiking, in an especially sinuous and narrow part of the gulch, we’ll hike by an amazing backcountry arch. Another half mile hike downstream brings us a natural bridge. We’ll walk directly underneath this unbelievable feature and make camp in the vicinity.’ – Wildland Trekking
This was an amazing day. Endless canyon walls, and arches, the winding trail through the gulch. Again taking our time, and enjoying it to its fullest along the way. We stopped for lunch at the Jacob Hamblin Arch which is an iconic photo spot, this is the place that really attracted me to this trip in the first place. There is a cool little side hike you can scramble up to get a bit higher and you’re then able to look down both sides of the rock face. Again the meal prepared by our guides was delicious, a backcountry charcuterie spread. Can’t ever go wrong with that!
We continued down the gulch, and were originally supposed to stay close to another iconic arch, though a group was already camping there, so we simply took a few photos and continued another km to an empty open space.
The wind was WILD this way, blowing dust, so we were very happy to have our buffs to cover our mouths/nose and the guides did their best to set up the camp spot/kitchen area in a place that wouldn’t be COVERED in dust.
We stayed up until 9pm (yes I know seems early but long days make you tired) chatting and then made our way inside our tents for a restful nights sleep.
Native American Ruins/Waterpark day
- Mileage: 2.5 miles and 2 miles optional day hiking
- Elevation Gain: 600 feet
- Elevation Loss: 600 feet
We woke up, had oatmeal for breakfast and then went on a little side hike before coming back to hike to pack up and head out for the day.
‘We ended up exploring the truly amazing Native American ruins nearby. Bands of Fremont people, a pre-columbian culture that lived contemporaneously with the Anasazi through 1300 AD, once called the Gulch their home. They farmed plots of land and made their dwellings beneath the canyon’s walls. Our second night’s campsite allows us to see a fine pictograph panel at the base of the Navajo Sandstone, a small ruin littered with artifacts, and a Fremont Indian dwelling.’ – Wildland Trekking
‘A casual morning and delicious breakfast will precede more beautiful hiking downstream. Several miles from camp we’ll hike beneath yet another wonderful rock feature, a spectacular arch several hundred feet above the canyon floor. The character of the canyon changes again as we progress, becoming wider with steep vegetated hillsides beginning to appear beneath the canyon’s walls. Larger pour-offs accompany a higher stream volume and sandstone terraces begin to appear above deep overhangs where the stream flows.
Later in the day we’ll use these terraces for easier hiking and ascend 200 above the stream to our dramatic campsite overlooking the confluence of the Escalante River and Coyote Gulch. after traversing a sandstone slab we’ll arrive at the confluence of Coyote Gulch and the Escalante River.
Camping here under a steep cliff wall, and looking directly through Stevens Arch. We’ll make camp here under steep cliff walls and, time permitting, we’ll have the opportunity to attempt to day hike to the confluence of the Escalante River or to a remote and spectacular side canyon. Those so inclined are more than welcome to relax in camp and enjoy the breathtaking views of the stunning Escalante Canyon rather than day hike.’ – Wildland Trekking
We didn’t have time to day hike to the Escalante River, but we enjoyed some time at camp in the later afternoon before going for a little sunset side hike up the sand dunes, for a better look over at Stevens Arch, and it had a great view up above of the campsite. This also gave us a good taste for what the day was going to be like tomorrow. The sand dunes are no joke, especially with a heavy backpack in the morning, and continued elevation gain.
One neat thing about this evening/night was the amount of bats around, don’t let this scare you, they were harmless, and ended up providing us with a lot of laughs. They were circulating around the campsite, swopping low to the ground and we had to dodge them, getting out of their way as they flew close to us.
- Mileage: 2.5 miles
- Elevation Gain: 800 feet
- Shuttle to St. George: 5-hour drive
‘Following breakfast we’ll break camp and begin our ascend up a long sandy slope. It is a strenuous hike in soft sand to the “crack in the wall,” a narrow crevice we’ll use to escape the canyon’s upper-most cliff wall. From the top we’ll have a brilliant view of the Escalante River and the surrounding canyon system.
After the guide hauls everyone’s backpack over the rim with a rope we’ll hike two miles across the desert to our ending trailhead and our vehicle. Refreshing drinks and a comfy suburban signify the end of our Utah backpacking trip and will get us safely back to St. George.
Please Note: participants must be able to fit through an 18 inch “crack in the wall” on the final day of this tour. To test whether you can fit through, we recommend opening up a door to 18 inches, turning sideways and shuffling through the opening. If you’re unable to, we recommend looking at the Boulder Mail Trail as a great alternative Utah backpacking trip.‘ – Wildland Trekking
What a day this was. I really did enjoy the crack in the wall, it certainly added to the trek. We had to work as a team to get everyone through the crack, and then all the bags up. Our guide Sam went up the crack first to check things up, and checked where would be a good spot to drop a rope down, to haul the bags up, and once that was done reported back. We all dropped our bags on the one side of the crack, and continued through it one by one, as 3 stayed back, 2 travellers and Jessie the guide to assist in tying the bags up one by one also. 3 ladies helped Sam at the top stringing the bags up. I hope the photos help to showcase the ‘art’ and thought put into this process. Once all the bags were up successfully, the 3 ladies at the bottom made their way through the crack and up to join the rest of the group. The views were unreal from up here. One way looking down into the canyon, seeing how high we really climbed, and the other was desert all the way back to the parked vehicle.
We hoped into the shuttles and started our journey back to St.George, but first we made a stop for lunch in Escalante.
We had lunch at the Escalante Outfitters Cafe, where our guides placed orders in advance, so it was quicker once we arrived there. The pizza, the salad, the iced coffees, etc. never tasted better. They also had a wide range of delicious sweets/desserts to choose from. It was such a treat!
We got back in the vehicles and then did the rest of our 3.5 hour drive to St.George. You can enjoy a beautiful picture of myself below, after being in the same clothes in the desert for 4 days. WORTH IT!
We stopped at the hotel quickly for a rinse off/dropped our bags and then headed to find a place for dinner. I recommend reserving a dinner place if it’s on a weekend, especially for a larger group.
This evenings farewell dinner was bittersweet, they always are. It’s at the end of the trip when you really start to feel like you have gotten to know people well, and making all those connections, just in time to have to say goodbye. I know it won’t be goodbye forever though, as I do hope to adventure with these ladies again someday, or meeting up in their home towns, or perhaps showing them around the rockies if they come to visit.
I woke up early this morning to get out for a run to explore a bit more of St. George. It is such a cool place and I do hope to return again one day soon to explore it even more. There are so many trails, for running, and biking which would be perfect.
When I returned back to the hotel, we all decided to go to a cafe down the street, called Feel love Coffee (pictured below), and wander around a bit downtown before our shuttle was picking us up at 10am. I would recommend staying ONE more day in St. George if possible so you could check out some of the local shops and walk the streets.
If you have any questions at all about the trip don’t hesitate to reach out, via instagram @brookewillson OR email me email@example.com and I will do my best to answer them!