I just returned from a fun adventure trip exploring the Hole-In-The-Rock-Trail area in Utah south of the community of Escalante. We camped and hiked and explored dirt roads and had a great time.
We found the trail to be in great shape, graded and drivable by all kinds of vehicles including family cars. Spur roads are rough and some require 4-wheel drive.
The trail provides access to great hiking and canyoneering routes including the Peekaboo Gulch/Spooky Gulch loop, Coyote Gulch and Forty-Mile Gulch. There are also some great play areas along the road including Devils Garden, Dance Hall Rock, Sunset Arch and the Hole In The Rock area on the edge of Glen Canyon.
I took some teenagers on the Peekaboo/Spooky loop hike and they had a great time. When we reached the mouth of Spooky Gulch they were ecstatic, gushing about how fun the hike was. Then they asked if we could hike the route backwards. We did, and got twice the fun.
Spooky was busy - there were several groups working their way along the route. In many spots the gulches are so narrow it is impossible to pass others, we had to find wide spots where we could get buy our fellow explorers. It was fun to meet them and earn about their experiences.
Some were having a hard time getting through the narrow slots. Near the top of Spooky there is a choke stone that you must slide down or climb up, depending on which direction you are going. We helped a number of people get up and down that tricky spot. Helping others is part of the fun.
The Hole-In-The-Rock Trail was blazed by Mormon pioneers seeking a shortcut from the Cedar City area to the Bluff area on the San Juan River. The pioneers skirted the rugged Escalante Canyons as drove horse-drawn wagons through the sandy landscape to the edge of Glen Canyon. They then blasted a trail down the cliff face and lowers wagons via block and tackle. After fording the Colorado River they continued through incredibly rough country across Cedar Mesa and on to the San Juan.
We camped at Escalante State Park, which offers a very nice, developed campground with heated restrooms and hot showers. For a mixed group of kids, it was great. We were there mid-week and the campground as pretty much full. I'm sure it fills up ever weekend now that the weather is starting to get nice.
On many trips I choose to camp in primitive areas. Within Grand Staircase, you are allowed to camp at areas away from trailheads and popular attractions. (Devils Garden is a popular spot and so camping is not allowed there.) I've camped at Dance Hall Rock a couple times and I've found it to be a great spot with plenty of room for kids to chase and play. There are no facilities at these backcountry locations.
April and May area perfect months to explore this area. Daytime temperatures are warm but not hot, so it is very pleasant to do open desert hikes. Nights are cool but not too cold.
Late September and October are also great times to visit this area. The Forty-Mile Gulch hike involves wading and so it is suitable for summer days.