Pine Creek in "The Box"
Pine Creek and "The Box" are located in the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness Area to the south of Boulder Mountain, just north of the town of Escalante. (See map)
You don't hike into The Box for the fishing. You hike there because of the amazing scenery and the experience of being in an area unscarred by mankind. The fishing is a bonus – the frosting on a deliciously rich, double-chocolate cake.
High cliffs of pink and carmel colored stone protect The Box from the outside world. Massive cliffs. Many sandstone structures in Utah's canyon country are formed of "slickrock," huge slabs of smooth rock – sometimes a hundred feet thick and miles long. Not so here. In The Box the stone is broken and splintered and twisted and contorted. Amazing stone. You see examples of it when you drive over the Hell's Backbone Bridge, located on the north edge of the wilderness area.
The lower end of The Box is located at an elevation of about 6400 feet – on the edge of a high desert ecosystem with juniper, cacti and sage. The stream gains elevation slowly and attains an altitude of about 7740 feet at the point where it crosses the road just above The Box. Here giant pines dominate, with quaking aspen just a short way up the mountain.
There is a wide variety of vegetation represented in The Box. The rocks, the colors, the vegetation make the area reminiscent of the backcountry in Zion Park. Indeed, the entire Box could be plunked down in Zion and it would fit in well. It's a very scenic canyon, comparable to those found in our most beautiful national parks.
A trail follows the stream through The Box. It fades in spots but that's not a big problem because you can't get lost here. You can go upstream or downstream (north or south), but you just aren't going to go very far to the east or west – the walls are too steep. If you lose the trail just hike upstream or downstream a ways and you will pick it up again.
The hike through The Box is moderately difficult. It's about 6.5 miles one way and requires some scrambling up and down steep hills and over rocks and fallen logs. The trail crosses the stream numerous times and in most places you can cross from rock to rock without getting your feet wet.
The ideal way to explore this area is an overnight backpack. Start at the top and camp about halfway through. Taking most of two days to make the hike will give you plenty of time to explore, enjoy the area, and fish.
Strong hikers can do the entire Box as a day hike but that leaves little time for fishing or other activities.
Another approach is to day-hike in from the top or bottom, fish and explore, then hike back the way you came.
Backpacking The Box would be a great activity for a Boy Scout Troop or family group.
Fishing in Pine Creek is best in The Box because the difficult access protects it from overuse. But fishing is also usually good in the stream above The Box, around the Blue Spruce Campground.
The stream is small but offers deep pools and plenty of riffles. Fly fishing is definitely the best approach. The water is crystal clear and stealth is needed no matter what type of fishing you choose. Approach the stream slowly and quietly or you will scare the fish before you get a hook in the water. Cast from behind a stand of brush or a rock. Get your hook into the water softly – don't thrash the water's surface.
We found that "dabbing" with a dry fly was effective. Hide on a rock well above the stream and extend your arm and pole so you can lower the fly down onto the water. You can let the fly hover over the water, then dance it on the surface. Aim for a seam or eddy, or the edge of a rock. Let the currents play with the fly for a minute, then softly raise it off the surface and hop it back to your starting point. This technique can drive the fish crazy. It will produce strikes when other techniques fail.
Most small, dark flies or nymphs work well in this stream.
Wonderful primitive campsites are found at the top and bottom of The Box, and through the canyon.
Developed Forest Service campgrounds are located at Posy Lake and Blue Spruce Campground. Both are fee areas. Posy Lake offers 23 units, including a group site. Blue Spruce offers only six units. Both campgrounds are open only during warm weather months.
A modern campground offering flush toilets and hot showers is available at Escalante State Park, on the west edge of Escalante. The state park offers a group site and is open year-round.
The Hell's Backbone Road is graded and can be driven in a passenger car. It is steep and narrow in spots.
If you are serious about hiking here you need the USGS 7.5 minute topos: Posy Lake and Wide Hollow Reservoir.