A Guide for Hiking Lower Calf Creek Falls [Utah]

A large waterfall coming out of a crevice in the rocks with the white water cascading down the different rocks.

Located outside of any national park or even state park in Utah, Lower Calf Creek Falls is a delightful waterfall hike that offers incredible views, a gorgeous trail, and a relaxing waterfall in the middle of the southern Utah wilderness.

This is one of our favorite hikes in Utah, and the waterfall felt incredibly refreshing in the blazing summer heat!

In this guide, we’re sharing all the details of how to do the hike out to Lower Calf Creek Falls, including all the tips you should know before you go.

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Where is the Trailhead for Lower Calf Creek Falls?

The trailhead for Lower Calf Creek Falls is located in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah. This area is part of BLM land (Bureau of Land Management), and is just south of Capitol Reef National Park.

The Lower Calf Creek Trailhead is located right off of Highway 12. The drive in on Highway 12 is absolutely stunning – the road goes along a ridge overlooking the valleys and hills, with mountains in the distance.

The view from the top of the mountain looking over the valley with small trees and large mountains

From Highway 12, you’ll turn in at the sign for Lower Calf Creek Falls. The parking lot is medium-sized and right next to Calf Creek. There is potable water for filling water bottles (available April-October), as well as picnic tables and flush bathrooms.

Between the parking lot and the official trailhead is a very small campground. There are 13 campsites here that are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, and cost $15 per night.

The official start of the Lower Calf Creek Falls trail is right after the campground, about a 5-minute walk from the main parking lot.

Hours and Entrance Fees

Entrance to the Lower Calf Creek trail is $5/car or you can get free entry from the National Parks Pass. The trail and falls are always open.

Trail Stats + Map

  • Distance: 6 miles (10 km) round trip
  • Trail type: Out and back
  • Elevation Gain: 531 feet. While the waterfall is about 200 feet higher than the trailhead, there is a lot of elevation change from small hills throughout the path. You’ll have similar ascents and descents on both legs of the hike.
  • Difficulty: I would rate this hike as moderately difficult due to the sand, the distance, and the summer heat. If you’re hiking outside of the hot summer months, I’d give it a “low end of moderate” difficulty score. The hike itself honestly wasn’t too bad – what made it hard for us really was the heat on the way back. More on all of this in the following sections!

Trail Map

The Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail

A large mountain side with the sun barely peeking out from the large yellow mountains and trees.

The trail to Lower Calf Creek Falls goes through a valley between two tall cliffs. The canyon walls surrounding the valley are an absolutely stunning red and white.

This is not a slot canyon- the area is quite wide, but the rock formations are really incredible. There are striations and large colored variations, and even some petroglyphs and other Native remnants.

A large rock wall with different colored  rocks with engravings scattered around from erosion

The Calf Creek River runs through the valley, creating a veritable oasis – truly, it’s a little shocking to see such lush vegetation in the heart of southern Utah in the middle of July. This is, of course, due to the creek which joins up with the Escalante River just a few miles downstream from the trailhead.

People walk on a dirt path throughout the bottom of the valley next to large mountains and brush.

While the trail does loosely follow the creek, you really only see it right at the beginning of the hike, and then again at the last ½ mile of the hike. 

A dirt trail leading on the side of the mountain winding throughout the valley next to the large tree line.

The terrain on the trail varies. You’ll often be hiking in deep sand, and occasionally on a slick rock path dusted with sand. Select parts of the trail are just on dirt or on slickrock.

Sometimes the path is completely open and exposed, and at other times, there are trees lining the path, or you’ll walk through fields of grass or stalks.

A lot of the trail is fairly flat, and the waterfall is only 200 feet higher than the elevation at the trailhead. However, you’ll end up climbing over 500 feet of elevation on the hike, thanks to the many small hills that you’ll ascend and then quickly descend over the course of the hike.

The Trail Guide

Near the bathrooms in the parking lot is a little stand with some Calf Creek Falls Trail Guides. We grabbed one of these and thought it had some interesting information in it.

A black and white pamphlet describing the trail.

Along the trail, you’ll see different wooden posts stuck into the sand, with a number of each post. The number corresponds to the list of Interpretive Stops enumerated in the Trail Guide.

Of particular note is stop #8, which points out 3 pictographs on the canyon wall on the opposite side of the valley that resemble 3 possible deity-like figures.

A limestone rock wall with red petroglyphs in the shape of three men.

The Waterfall

The very last 1/4 mile of the 3-mile hike to the falls is very beautiful, as you’ll join up with the creek again.

A small stream running through the mud in front of a small rock mountain

You’ll walk through thicker trees and vegetation until suddenly, you’ll turn a corner, and the waterfall will be right in front of you; all the effort will feel absolutely worth it.

A woman holds her hands out in the water in front of the cascading Lower Calf Creek falls.

The waterfall is tall – 126 feet high – and was impressively strong for July (although we did visit during an unnaturally high precipitation year for Utah). The waterfall drops down over an orange-tan cliff, ending in a shallow, calm pool of water.

The water is a couple of feet deep right under the falls, and there’s a very gradual incline in depth from the shore to the deepest part of the pool. The water was chilly, but pleasant enough that people (my kids included) were jumping in to swim and play. 

Surrounding the clean, clear water is a sandy beach lined by trees, which creates a really comfortable place to sit and relax for a while. The whole area is super beautiful and chill, and during the summer was a cool and incredibly refreshing temperature.

When to Hike + Temperature Considerations

During summertime, I’d highly recommend starting this hike first thing in the morning, as close to sunrise as possible.

We started around 7:30am, (when sunrise was at 6am) and the sun was still low enough that we were hiking in shade for about ¾ of the trail out, and the air was cool and very pleasant. We stayed for over an hour at the waterfall and started hiking back around 10:30am.

By then it was very hot in the canyon, with very little shade. That being said, there still were some shady spots under trees that we could rest under on the way back. 

Doing the hike in the shade of the morning made the entire experience much more enjoyable overall, and is what I would 100% recommend for anyone hiking this trail in summer.


Lower Calf Creek can be a popular trail, with high crowds on weekends, holidays, and particularly during spring and fall when the weather is very pleasant. You might have a hard time finding a parking spot during these high times, and the trail can be very busy.

We hiked first thing in the morning on a weekday in July, and saw just a few people as we were hiking out. There were only 1-2 other groups at the falls when we were there. As we were hiking out, we passed 10-15 groups, and some of them were quite large (groups of ~15 people).

No matter what time of year you go, hiking first thing will be your best bet for lower crowds.

Tips + What to Bring

A family of six stands on the outskirts of a deep water pool in front of a large cascading white waterfall.

If you can, wear shoes that don’t easily take in sand. Matthew was wearing good hiking shoes and the rest of us were just wearing regular sneakers. Matthew was the only one who didn’t have a mountain of sand in their shoes during the hike.

Make sure you pack lots of water – by 9am the trail is almost completely exposed and it gets hot fast. We packed 3-4 liters of water per person – a full gallon of water is recommended for adults in hot weather.

Dogs are allowed on the trail but must be kept on a 6-foot leash, and you must pick up after your dog.

Please follow Leave No Trace principles – don’t damage the vegetation or scratch into the rocks, don’t go off-trail, and absolutely pick up and pack out your trash. This is a gorgeous trail – let’s all help keep it that way!

The Wrap Up

I was absolutely delighted with the Lower Calf Creek Falls hike and waterfall. The trail was incredibly picturesque, with the greenery contrasting with the gorgeous red canyon walls, and the waterfall itself was refreshing and scenic. Add it to your Utah bucket list!

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