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Fortymile Gulch & Willow Creek - Grand Staircase Escalante

Summary: A scenic, non-technical slot canyon loop hike with lots of wading (maybe swimming), great narrows and a huge natural arch. This trip is located off of Hole in the Rock Rd in Grand Staircase Escalante.
Directions: From the small town of Escalante, UT.  Drive east on Utah State Highway 12.  Turn right on Hole-in-the-Rock Road and follow to just past kilometer post 65 to the signed Sooner Wash (UTM 494536mE, 4131438mN). There is good parking on the west side of the road. Since you'll be coming out via Willow Creek, you can shorten your trip by spotting another car at one of the Willow Creek drainages located (north to south on Hole in the Rock Rd) at: UTM Willow 1: 496564mE, 4129565mN; Willow 2: 496398mE, 4128897mN or Willow 3 (has a small place to park near a metal culvert): 497367mE, 4128468mN. Note: it's a bit tricky to know which one you'll come out on.
Road Conditions: Passenger Car if you take it slow (except after heavy rains, in which case you may need a 4-WD)
Navigation: Moderate
Length: 11.5 miles roundtrip
Date Hiked: May, 2003
Weather Conditions: Nice
Required Skills:
Hike Description: From the car park at Sooner Wash, walk across the road and begin walking down the wide rocky creek bed  with a bit of brush. After 5 minutes, you'll pass a plastic 'No Vehicles' sign and 10 minutes later, you'll encounter a dry fall of about 50 feet. Follow the use trail on the left side of the canyon until you can locate a place where you can climb down (the author went in at the first side drainage, but it requires a little climbing; there is an easier way in further down canyon). Once in the canyon, continue down canyon and in another 1/2 hour or so, you'll reach the junction with the main fork of Fortymile Gulch (which enters from the left). Continue down canyon and soon you'll encounter surface water, you'll be able to keep your feet dry for quite a while but in the end you'll be wading, so don't expend a lot of effort. About 2 hours into the hike, you'll reach another drop off, that can easily be bypassed by following a trail around on the right. At the bottom of the drop is a nice little water fall. Shortly below the falls, the wading begins. The canyon begins to constrict and wall to wall pools appear. The canyon has a number of seeps and small springs which support ferns and plant life along the walls and fish in the pools. Nice grottos await around each corner, and provide quite a contrast to the stark surrounding slick rock hills. There are several spots where deep pools have formed. Good climbers should be able to stem across the deepest parts (avoiding a full swim). After some nice walking in narrows you'll reach the junction with Willow Creek which enters from the right. If you have some extra time to kill, like I did, you can continue to do some exploring down Fortymile, but the canyon is not that great and the walking becomes a bit mushy as you near Retention Pond Powell (let's call it what it is) . The author walked down as far as the North Fork of Willow Creek which enters from the left, but this was only possible due to very low water levels in the Retention Pond. When ready, head up Willow Creek. It's nice enough at first, and after about 30 minutes, you'll arrive at Broken Bow Arch which is on the right (facing up canyon). There are use trails on either side of the stream bed which allow for good views and photos. Continuing up canyon, the views become less interesting, the water recedes underground and the canyon walls shrink. In the upper end of the canyon you will be faced with several choices as the canyon splits. All roads lead pretty much the same direction, as long as you keep heading towards the Straight Cliffs you'll eventually reach the road. I went right at the first split and left at the second and came out on Hole in the Rock at Willow 3 above. Turn right, and follow the road back to your car.
Rating (1-5 stars):
The author and his wife completed this hike in a leisurely 7 hours exploring down Fortymile Gulch as far as the North Fork of Willow Creek. It took another hour for the road walk back to our car. By climbing over the deepest pools, we never went in more than knee deep.
Maps: Trails Illustrated - Canyons of the Escalante
Books:  Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau - Michael Kelsey
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
Nice, fern covered
Some stemming may be required
if you don't want to swim
Wading in Fortymile. Broken Bow Arch.