Upper Calf Creek Falls

Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah, USA

About Upper Calf Creek Falls

Hiking Distance: 2 miles round trip scramble
Suggested Time: 1.5-2 hours

Date first visited: 2006-09-16
Date last visited: 2018-04-02

Waterfall Latitude: 37.85533
Waterfall Longitude: -111.45252

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

Upper Calf Creek Falls was a little known 88ft waterfall that was further upstream from the wildly popular Lower Calf Creek Falls. I think the big reason why this waterfall was rather hidden in obscurity was because it wasn’t easy to find (at least it wasn’t when we first found it back in 2006). As a matter of fact, it took me three tries before I finally managed to find it, but even on that third attempt, we almost got lost looking for it despite starting at the correct trailhead. Furthermore, as you can see from the photo above that this waterfall had noticeably lighter flow than its more famous downstream counterpart, which made it also less photogenic.

Once we managed to reach the correct trailhead and parking area (see directions below), we were greeted by a trailhead register (basically a stand that revealed a pencil and notebook when opened, where we’d let the authorities know when we set out and return in case we get lost). Behind the register, we had to scramble down a steep sandstone incline with volcanic boulders. The incline on this descent was steep enough where wearing hiking boots would be a good idea to get better traction.

Mom making the steep initial sandstone descent from the trailhead down towards Calf Creek Canyon
On our first successful attempt at reaching Upper Calf Creek Falls, many of these boulders seemed to be thoughtfully lined up (perhaps by the Bureau of Land Management or BLM, who were the administrators of this section of land) to help us find our way down. Those boulders would also help us going back up as well, where it was probably even easier to lose the trail and get lost. Of course, when Mom and I came back here in 2018, there were more obvious cairns (stacks of rocks) set up in the sandstone sections where it was not possible to blaze a trail.

Once we were at the base of the initial steep friction pitch decline, we then proceeded along a mix of sandy trail and other sandstone stretches marked with rock cairns. We had to pay careful attention here because it was pretty easy to lose the trail (especially those rock cairns). In fact on our first successful visit, my Mom and I almost got lost here as we were further downstream along Calf Creek Canyon than we were supposed to be.

Context of Mom going across another trail-less sandstone stretch as she headed towards a sandy trail just on the other side of this stretch
Ultimately, the path became more trail-dominant with shorter sandstone sections. After rounding a bend, which made us skirt alongside Calf Creek Canyon instead of towards it, we would eventually reach a fork. As of our April 2018 visit, there were rock cairns set up on the left fork, which descended. The slightly more obvious trail on the right ascended. Keep to the left fork to descend towards the base of Upper Calf Creek Falls. The path on the right would eventually lead to the top of the falls.

On the descent, the path eventually hugged sandstone ledges where the mild dropoff exposure dropped into Calf Creek Canyon. Opposite the canyon, there was what appeared to be a very large alcove or cave, where another branch of Calf Creek (or at least a spring) seemed to be coming from. Since this was still downstream of the Upper Calf Creek Falls (we were already starting to glimpse part of the very top of the waterfall at this point), I suspected that this might help to explain some of its noticeably light flow compared with the Lower Calf Creek Falls.

Mom on the final approach to Upper Calf Creek Falls. Notice the cave or alcove opposite the canyon, which I suspect had a creek or spring that sourced part of Lower Calf Creek, which the upper falls didn’t benefit from
After one slight obstacle (where the trail could appear to be lost on the final approach to the falls) and passing through some overgrowth, we were finally within the quiet confines of the Upper Calf Creek Falls and its plunge pool. Unlike the Lower Calf Creek Falls where there was a gentle beach-like area around the fringes of its plunge pool, there was more of a swampy and muddy terrain (not to mention buggy) fringing the plunge pool of the Upper Calf Creek Falls. So while it was more tranquil and serene here, it wasn’t exactly as inviting for a dip as the more famous waterfall further downstream. There was also an overhang or alcove where we could appreciate the lower parts of the plunging waterfall and its colorful algae-covered wall from an angle.

When Mom and I had our fill of the base of the Upper Calf Creek Falls, we then backtracked to the fork, where we then followed the ascending path we had skipped earlier. The remainder of this trail was easier to follow as it stayed on the rim of Calf Creek Canyon until it eventually ended at an inviting pool between a small cascade and the very top of the steep plunge of the main waterfall itself.

While it was tempting to peer over the dropoffs to improve the view of the Upper Calf Creek Falls from its top, we definitely kept back as we knew it was a direct fatal plunge if we strayed too close to the edge. Yet while the views of the waterfall may not be as interesting from up here as opposed to its base, the pool at the top of the falls was probably the main appeal for making the effort to come here, especially if it’s a hot day.

After having our fill of this spot, Mom and I then returned back the way we came to the trailhead. Again, we had to pay careful attention to the thoughtfully-placed rock cairns so we don’t lose the trail on the return. Plus, the steepness of the climb meant that our calves were burning, our knees were sore, and we were breathing heavily by the time we made it up to the trailhead again. Each time Mom and I have successfully done this hike, it was during the shoulder seasons of Spring and Autumn. I can only imagine how brutal this sun-exposed ascent would be on a hot day in the Summer.

Overall, we spent about 2.5 hours away from the car to take in Upper Calf Creek Falls from both its top and bottom. However, this roughly two-mile round-trip excursion could be done relatively comfortably in two hours.


The turnoff for the trailhead of Upper Calf Creek Falls is unsigned (at least as of our latest visit in April 2018) and is between mile markers 81 and 80 (actually very close to mile post 81) along the UT12 a few miles north of the Calf Creek Recreation Area. According to my GPS logs, this turnoff was about 5.7 miles north of the Calf Creek Recreation Area turnoff or roughly 21 miles east of Escalante.

In our first successful visit to the falls back in September 2006, the unsigned spur road was pretty beat up with some muddy puddles though Mom’s high clearance SUV was able to handle it. However, on our April 2018 visit, it appears that this unsigned spur road had been tamed considerably and was actually not in bad shape on the short spur to the now-signed trailhead parking area. That said, if this spur road would degenerate back into dicey territory for low clearance passenger vehicles, then we would leave the car at the start of the spur road and walk the remaining 1/4 mile to the trailhead.

For context, Escalante was about 28 miles (40 minutes drive) south of Boulder, 65 miles (about 90 minutes drive) south of Torrey, 39 miles (about 40 minutes drive) east of Tropic, and 184 miles (over 3 hours drive) northeast of St George.

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Video starting with an angled view of the falls with plunge pool before descending towards the muddy base whilst examining the area from there

Long video starting off at the pool atop the Upper Calf Creek Falls before glancing over the brink of the falls then walking towards a partial view of the falls' top

Sweep from a viewpoint of the top of the falls

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Tagged with: grand staircase, escalante, garfield, utah, waterfall, scramble, boulder, calf creek

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