Stevens Canyon is a classic Escalante drainage which remains relatively infrequently visited thanks to its remote location. With no major obstacles, Stevens makes for a great backpacking destination. Combined with the historical Baker Route, it makes for a great “connector” for longer hikes and is becoming a popular alternate for hikers on the Hayduke Trail looking to avoid the long tedious segment along the Escalante River.
Here is my description headed UP the canyon from the bottom. If you are prefer, change directions and reverse the description for heading down canyon.
Lower Canyon (Escalante to Slickrock Ramp)
Most hikers will begin an adventure up Stevens Canyon after already visiting Coyote Gulch and possibly even doing the side hike up inside Stevens Arch. In any case, this description begins where the small trickle comes out of Stevens Canyon at bottom where it meets the Escalante River and Stevens Arch looms high above (photo above right).
The lower canyon is highly entrenched in Wingate Sandstone, but the towering Navajo walls are still frequently visible high above. One will likely be in and out of shallow water while traversing the lower canyon.
There are a few points where deeper pools appear to block one’s progress, but there is always a way around — usually by climbing upon a slickrock shoulder nearby. The only point that might require removing the pack is at the “rock stack” climb — an 8′ to 10′ climb which is assisted by, you guessed it… a stack of rocks.
A little farther up canyon one comes to “Poison Ivy Hill“. Here progress up the main water course is stopped by a fall which creates a scenic grotto with a hanging arch. True to its nickname — there is a lot of poison ivy in the area.
The bypass heads up through the overgrowth on a muddy, slick path. Luckily there are enough exposed roots which provide hand-holds to get one up through the quagmire. The hill quickly dries out and one continues up the steep talus slope of a rockfall. In 2015 and 2018 the route was fairly easy to follow to the top where it quickly drops back down into the watercourse which is dry at that point.
NOTE: a bend above the “Poison Ivy Hill”, a scramble route climbs up to the Kayenta ledges which can then be followed all the way back down the canyon and through Stevens Arch. From there it’s possible to descend to the Escalante near the confluence with Coyote Gulch. I do not recommend this route for thru-hikers because a) the climb up is difficult, especially if solo or with a big pack and b) the lower part of Stevens Canyon is really great. Instead — just do the short hike up-and-back to the arch from the river. This route is shown on the Hayduke Reference Map. and more detail is given on the Stevens Arch Page.
Above Poison Ivy Hill one follows the twisting “subway”-like canyon where once again pools of water appear along with more poison ivy which is extremely difficult to avoid. One will pass the only major side canyon branch on the right. I’ve read reports that there is a “climber’s route” which exits this way, but I have not explored the route.
Soon one arrives to the next milestone in the canyon — the exit ramp on the right one must use to gain access to the high route. If you miss it, you will soon come to a pool and a 10′ dryfall. Turn around and head about 3 minutes back down the canyon.
The bypass route is loosely cairned and heads up a jumble of rocks to exit the wash. Then it uses a steep slickrock ramp of about 100′ to gain access to the higher Kayenta ledges. The climb up may give those afraid of heights some pause, but it’s really not that bad as the exposure is minimal.
Lower Middle Canyon (The Kayenta Ledges)
The next 1.5 to 2hrs will be spent walking the Kayenta ledges (or Wingate rim) along the southern side of the canyon. As one travels around one bend after another, there are many spots that look quite daunting from afar as the route traverses the loose edge high above the entrenched canyon below. One might find themselves saying “there is NO way I’m walking along that edge!” However, as is often the case, things look worse from afar and once you arrive at the “scary” spot it’s really not that bad. In fact, turn around and look back and you might be saying “I just walked along that?!”
A little more than an hour up the canyon there is a talus slope which provides access down into the inner canyon once again. This is not the route, but an opportunity to explore if one so desires. Below one would likely find water and nice campsites if needed. However, retrace your steps back up to the ledges when finished exploring as there is no other escape from this section of the canyon.
After a few more scenic bends one sees a major dryfall ahead in the inner canyon. The route drops down via a large dune and once again you find yourself in the main watercourse. Check out the arch where the main watercourse cuts its way through the dryfall.
Upper Middle Canyon (Dryfall to Baker Trail Exit)
Above the dryfall the canyon is again dry for a while. Shortly up canyon, multiple canyon branches come together and the canyon seems fairly wide open. One can easily see a branch headed to the right (south) as well as another straight ahead (east), but it’s actually the somewhat hidden main canyon on the left that you want (which runs north). The route away from the “Triple Junction” becomes clear if you climb over slickrock ridge to avoid a short narrows section.
From here the canyon becomes very sinuous as it winds its way north of the “Tower” — the prominent landmark pinnacle in this part of the canyon. Soon one may begin to see water again as the canyon enters another short narrows/subway section.
As you make your way around a prominent right-hand turn, look for cairns on the right marking the beginning of the Baker Route climbing up and out of the canyon to the east. If you pass this point, you will soon come to HEAVY vegetation which surrounds the spring that provides all the water for Middle Stevens.
I have not explored Upper Stevens, but it is possible to continue up the canyon. Steve Allen’s guide Canyoneering 3 details this part of the canyon. Ambitious hikers/climbers can even gain access to Fold Canyon via a pass/saddle and make a loop back down to the Escalante (ropes required.)
The Baker Route (Middle Stevens to Halls Creek)
The route out of Stevens climbs quickly up the slickrock shoulder to the east providing excellent views of the lush area around the spring to the north and the Tower to the south. The route soon levels off and then runs atop the Wingate sandstone on the south side of the drainage which heads east. This first section is quite scenic running above the entrenched inner canyon.
Before long the route returns to the main watercourse. During wetter seasons one will likely find water in the many of the potholes along this section. A little farther up is a relatively large pothole which is reported to frequently hold water throughout the year.
Less than ¼ mile past the large pothole is where one needs to exit this side drainage into another a smaller side branch entering from the north (left). This segment is maybe the trickiest part of the route and must be followed precisely as all other routes are impassable. Study my map to get the gist of the route through this section. The direct route up the side drainage is immediately blocked, but a simple (but steep) bypass is apparent. One then heads up the drainage several hundred feet before exiting to the left (west). I call this the “Switchback” and it seems like the wrong direction, but continuing straight will lead to a dryfall and exiting to the right leads to an impassable route. However, doubling back to the left a sparsely marked route leads to a break in the cliffband. Once topped, one is in the land of Navajo domes. Here one can rimwalk around this side drainage all the way around the dryfall and then back south towards the original side canyon. A well-worn route from here short-cuts back toward the main wash — the upper reaches of which are likely to be sandy and bone-dry.
The walk up the wash continues for about ¾ a mile before climbing out on the right side up a hill. Here the trail will wind its way through some domes gradually gaining elevation before making it to the crest of the Waterpocket Fold in about another ½ mile. The trail is sporadically marked in this section and it will be easy to lose in spots, but generally if you keep heading east toward the high ridge you will be fine.
Once on top the views are great even though it’s not as prominent as other places along the fold. Back behind are views across Stevens to Fiftymile Mountain and ahead is a great panorama of the Henry Mountains, the rolling domes/fins of the Fold and the Bullfrog Bay and Marina on Lake Powell. This location is also one of the spots that has Verizon cell reception so check in if needed.
The route down to the east and into the Grand Gulch of Halls Creek can also be confusing. At some points the route is marked every 10 feet, but then other sections there’s not a cairn to be found. In general I found it easiest to just pick my own route of least resistance. When I do, I frequently then find myself coming across route markers. A word of caution though: this is an extremely remote location and you likely won’t see anyone one else. Make sure you generally know where you are as you don’t want to wander aimlessly along the Fold in the wrong direction. FYI: my linked map includes coordinates for several confirmed waypoints/cairns.
Depending on the season, one is likely to find multiple potholes going down the eastern slopes. They seem to be more prevalent on the lower slopes unfortunately. On the map it appears that it might be possible to shave off some mileage by angling north and continuing through the slickrock. This may indeed be the case, but it’s likely more work than it’s worth as walking a straight line in this country is impossible. Each time I get near the bottom, my shins are quite sore from walking along the steep slickrock and I have no desire to fight the undulating domes any more so I usually just try to get down asap. A final bit of advice — once down in Halls Creek, try to stay in the wash or along its eastern side to avoid the deep brush that chokes the small streams entering from the fold.
- N37.435471° W-110.982170° — Stevens Canyon meets the Escalante
- 37.441261° -110.974921° — Poison Ivy Hill
- 37.456455° -110.959043° — Inner Canyon Exit Ramp (south side)
- 37.472523° -110.935138° — re-enter main drainage above dryfall
- 37.474815° -110.926551° — Triple Junction (main canyon runs north)
- 37.486306° -110.927106° — Leave Stevens for Exit Canyon
- 37.501749° -110.906932° — Exit Canyon Bypass
- 37.502556° -110.907140° — top of “Switchback” bypass
- 37.507823° -110.890982° — Baker Route exits wash and climbs toward summit
- 37.509143° -110.887013° — confirmed cairn along Baker Route
- 37.510955° -110.883167° — confirmed cairn along Baker Route
- 37.518723° -110.877286° — confirmed cairn along Baker Route
- 37.518281° -110.875464° — confirmed cairn along Baker Route
- 37.519900° -110.872542° — confirmed cairn along Baker Route
- 37.524010° -110.868782° — confirmed cairn along Baker Route
- 37.527753° -110.865784° — confirmed cairn along Baker Route
- 37.533815° -110.858845° — My route down off slickrock
- 37.538538° -110.852807° — My exit point near bottom of Baker Route