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Backpacker Magazine – November 2010

Best Hikes Ever: Willow Gulch, UT

Explore resurrected sandstone slots.

by: Kelly Bastone

Tent beneath Broken Bow Arch, Willow Gulch. (James Kay)
Tent beneath Broken Bow Arch, Willow Gulch. (James Kay)

Glen Canyon “was heaven on earth,” says Ken Sleight, a Moab rancher and former river guide who explored its recesses before a dam famously flooded what is now Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in the 1960s. In 2004, when four years of drought shriveled Lake Powell to just 32 percent of its former capacity, Annette McGivney lit out to hike its newly exposed treasures (“Paradise Found,” April 2004), including Willow Gulch. The lake water has since regained ground, but only to 55 percent of its former level, so you can still explore three to four miles of Willow Gulch’s recovered canyon. Here, native vegetation has taken root and matured—cottonwoods that were mere saplings in 2004 now grow 10 to 12 feet tall, as do the canyon’s namesake willows—and the recovering ecosystem has brought back mammals like deer, mountain lions, and bobcats.

Do it The 11-mile (round-trip) hike begins among twisting slot canyons near Sooner Wash, then descends to a wide streambed to visit Broken Bow Arch at two miles (several nearby alcoves make superb campsites) and continues to the edge of Lake Powell. Between Broken Bow and the water’s edge you’ll pass several waterfalls, including McGivney’s favorite. “This brand-new, 30-foot-tall waterfall crashes over a scoured orange sandstone wall that was not visible seven years ago, when it was buried underneath the stagnant waters of the reservoir,” she says.


From Escalante, head south on Hole-in-the-Rock Rd. for 43 miles and turn left on Kane County 9080, about 1.2 miles past Sooner Wash.

Trails Illustrated Glen Canyon NRA, Capitol Reef NP, and Rainbow Bridge NM ($12,

Contacts (435) 644-4300;, (928) 608-6200;

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