Entering Coyote Gulch in Utah's canyon country is like taking a trip through the looking glass in Alice in Wonderland. At Hurricane Wash trailhead, the surrounding desert reveals only a blistered hide of sage and thorns. But before you know it, you've dropped into Alice's magical rabbit hole. Red Navajo sandstone cliffs rise like 300-foot fortress walls. Cottonwoods line the riverbanks. Each twist of the canyon reveals more fantastic architecture-natural arches and bridges, deep slashes in the cliffs left by flash floods, and petroglyphs etched in the canyon walls by ancient people.
The hike from Hurricane Wash to the Escalante River and back is more than 26 miles, but it's worth the effort. If the water level in the Escalante isn't too high, walk upstream a quarter mile for a glimpse of Stevens Arch, an eye-shaped hole about 25 feet across, high overhead in the canyon wall. Campsites are numerous. Water is usually plentiful, though it's worth checking on availability beforehand. Summer's heat creates bad conditions for chasing rabbits, so hike the shoulder seasons-April to June and September to November. Another reason to avoid summer: August thunderstorms can cause dangerous flash floods.
Where: 300 miles south of Salt Lake City. To reach the Hurricane Wash trailhead, drive 4.5 miles east from Escalante on UT 12, then head south for 35 miles on Hole in the Rock Road.
Maps:Escalante Canyons, #710 ($9.95, Trails Illustrated, 800-962-1643).
Trail Info: National Park Service, Escalante, (435) 826-5499.