When it comes to weather, it's easy (and expected) to associate southern Utah with summer heat. And yes, it sure does get cookin’ by July and August. But in late-spring, the wisest outdoor denizens of northern Utah head south when temps are pleasantly warm, redrocks are brilliant under the cool blue sky, sunsets are out to impress, and evenings are mild and starry.
Now just happens to be this most perfect season for stashing some snacks in your CamelBak, throwing a few beers in the car cooler, and slipping into your Chacos for an excursion into the wilds where ancient cliffs tower above stream side wildflowers. Indeed, this is magic season in the desert.
Now that you’re in the mood to revel in the redrocks and tempt the sunburn gods, here are a few of our favorite redrock hikes—some off the beaten path, and some that happily embrace the goodness of a well-loved place. Remember, wherever you hike in southern Utah, bring way more water than you think you’ll need, and check the forecast for flash floods. Sunscreen and edibles are always a bonus.
Buckskin Gulch: In It For the Long Haul
Buckskin Gulch is one of the longest and deepest slot canyons on the planet—and it’s found just a ways outside Kanab, Utah. Over the course of 13 miles, it rarely gets wider than 20 feet, and in many sections it’s just wide enough to walk through with your pack.
The hike is long enough that many people make an overnight backpacking trip out of it, leaving a shuttle car at one end. Or you can just go as far as you can for the day, then turn back to where you started. One high-stakes element to consider: Because the canyon is so long, it takes a while to get out of if a rainstorm comes through, which means you’re exposed to serious flash-flood danger in a contained area. Be smart about only hiking it when there are no storms in sight—and no storms upstream either.
You need to snag a permit for this hike, and remember to wear water-friendly shoes in case you end up slogging a bit deep in the canyon. A detailed guidebook and topographical map are a strong choice as well.
Calf Creek: Emerald Waterfall in the Desert
The Escalante region is, at first glance, a dry martian landscape of dinosaur tracks and twisting redrock slots. But Calf Creek, an idyllic watering hole nestled between Escalante and Boulder, is a little oasis of life in the desert. This hike is just shy of three miles round-trip, and the trail hugs the stream the whole way. You’ll spot little fish darting around in Calf Creek, desert wildflowers showing off amidst the sandstone, and petroglyphs on the rocks. (Apparently, people have known this little area was special for a very long time.)
At the end of the trail, you’ll be greeted by a 126-foot waterfall that pours into a large swimming hole. Set up on the sandy beach along the water and settle in for a tasty lunch. You’ve earned it.
Little Wild Horse: Untamable and Perfect
You’ll want to budget the better part of a day to explore Little Wild Horse canyon’s eight miles of winding redrock slots and stunning open spaces. The trailhead is found in the Goblin Valley area, which has a lot to explore and ample camp spots. But Little Wild Horse is a treasure within an extraordinary landscape.
The hike makes a loop that brings you back to the trailhead lot—and along the way you’ll wind, scramble, and shimmy through narrow rock slots, then open up in a flat riverbed, amble along a dirt path, and finally land back in rocky narrows as you complete the loop back to your car.
Fiery Furnace: Into the Depths
Fiery Furnace is unlike any hike you’ll ever do. In fact, this densely-packed “furnace” of labyrinthine rock fins is so hard to navigate that Arches National Park requires that you hike with a guide or with a person who has been before. The terrain is so rocky that it’s impossible to even have a proper, follow-able trail. You go so deep into the rocks that GPS units are unable to gain a signal, so you’re dependent on human knowledge.
If it sounds otherworldly, that’s because it is. And it’s so cool that you won’t even mind having to pony up for a guide. The Arches Visitors Center has all the beta and signup info for going with a guide.
Once you descend into the Furnace, all reference points in the outside world vanish. Now you’re in a churned-up maze devoid of direct sun, gazing upward at the formations and arches overhead. You’ll work your way through a couple miles of notches, slots, ledges, cracks, and passages. Even though the distance covered is minimal, it takes hours to navigate while stopping regularly enough to absorb the awesomeness around you.
Angel's Landing: Get High Enough to Earn Your Wings
Angel’s Landing is very well known, being perched right in the middle of famous Zion National Park. But it’s infamous for a reason, and if you get the chance to hike it, do it. It’s a steep trail cut into the tall redrock cliffs of Zion, winding nearly 1,500 feet in just a couple of miles. For the final portion, the trail narrows to the width of a rocky spine and you ascend the final ridgeline holding onto chains bolted into the rocks. So, leave the kids at home, and if heights make you shaky, skip the final portion.
But if you sign up for the landing’s full splendor, you’ll meet 360-degree views of this jaw-dropping national park. And as soon as you recover your wits, you can take a photo as proof you did it.