Utah has more than its fair share of astonishing landscapes. In fact, there are so many beautiful attractions and parks in this state that even frequent visitors just scratch the surface. State parks in Utah are often overlooked and lightly trafficked because of the fame of national parks like Zion and Arches. However, you don't want to miss Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, easily one of the best places to visit in Utah.
Surrounded by over 30 national parks, wilderness areas, state parks, and thousands of acres of DNR land, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park is in the middle of everything southern Utah has to offer. As a bonus, this state park has lakeside camping with electricity, miles of hiking with petrified wood-lined trails, desert kayaking, and rare proximity to civilization. With a dizzying array of destinations and activities in the area, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park is a perfect base camp.
The Wide Hollow Campground and Lake View Campground have room for RVs and trailers up to 40 feet long and offer electricity at six sites, hot showers, drinking water, and a dump station. The campsites are all reservable online, and the park is open year-round. The entire park and campgrounds are on the edge of Wide Hollow Reservoir, which is the focal point and center of most activities. The lake is stocked with trout for fishermen and open to non-motorized boats like kayaks, paddleboards, and canoes, which are also available for rent through the Visitor Center.
Two hiking trails follow the unique beauty of petrified wood-covered hillsides and a unique array of plant and animal life. All of this, as well as the area's history and park's founding, are explained through displays and hands-on exhibits at the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park Visitor Center. Many people utilize the state park as a base camp while exploring the surrounding areas of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The nearby town of Escalante, one of very few in southern Utah, has shopping and dining as well as being the launching point for numerous tour companies and guides.
With an elevation around 6,000 feet, the park experiences a wide range of temperatures year-round from 10-degree lows in January to 90-degree highs in August. Be sure to come prepared with layered clothing because nights can get chilly even in the summer. No matter what time of year you come, you're sure to love this RV destination.
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park is very remote. At a little over four hours south of Provo, almost five hours west of Grand Junction, CO, and two and a half hours northeast of Colorado City, AZ, you can leave it all behind and get lost in the Utah wilderness.
Just five minutes away, the town of Escalante is probably your only option for gas, groceries, and eating out in the area, so make sure you fill up and stock up on everything before venturing out to the park. Always carry extra drinking water and blankets in case you have to stay somewhere unexpected. Be thoughtful about where you park, as many low-lying ravines and canyons flash flood when storms arrive. In the park, you shouldn't have any trouble maneuvering or parking RVs under 40 feet in length.
Escalante Petrified Forest offers a group tent site that can host from 16 to 50 people. The group site can house 14 vehicles of 10 feet or less. Restrooms, showers, and drinking fountains are nearby as well as picnic tables and fire rings. This site is ADA-accessible and must be reserved in advance.
Wide Hollow Campground offers 13 standard sites and three sites with partial hookups, including 30-amp electric service. Sites can accommodate up to eight people and are pet friendly. Each site has a fire pit, picnic table, and many have a tent pad as well. Most sites are paved and level. Sites available are pull-through and back-in that can accommodate rigs up to 40 feet in length. There are restrooms, showers, a drinking fountain, and a dump station available nearby.
A significantly more affordable camping option than the nearby national parks and RV parks, camping in Escalante Petrified Forest State Park will have you conveniently located near swimming, fishing, hiking, and the numerous guided tours that depart from nearby Escalante.
In the Lake View Campground, there are three partial hookup sites with 30-amp electric service. These sites can take RVs and trailers up to 40 feet in length. Sites are gravel and level and are right next to the lake. The campground has drinking water, hot showers, flush toilets, and a dump station. There is a small dock and boat launch on the lake, and pets are welcome as long as they are on a leash. All sites are reservable online.
Although reservations are highly encouraged, you may be able to rent any unreserved sites on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Escalante Petrified Forest has over 250 bird species that inhabit the park or migrate through during the autumn months. Visitors to the park will delight in seeing one of the park's permanent residents, the roadrunner, but in the off-season, the park hosts some unusual guests to the area, such as the cedar waxwing and a ruby-crowned kinglet. The Rufous hummingbird is also a frequent traveler to the region in the fall.
Not only does the park have numerous species of birds, but there are over 300 types of amphibians in the park as well. Additionally, the park is home to mule deer and a variety of big cats, such as mountain lions and cougars. You'll want to keep your distance from these though, so pack your telephoto lens in the Class A and see how many you can spot.
Amateur and professional photographers alike will want to photograph the dramatic landscape of Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. The rainbow-like colors of the bluffs against the blue of Wide Hollow Reservoir create a striking contrast with the sage-colored foliage and the red stone of the surrounding hills. Whether you like to shoot gorgeous landscapes against a clear blue Utah sky, or if you want to capture the native wildlife in your lens, you won't be disappointed in the available subject matter in this state park. Make sure to pack your best lenses in your motorhome before heading to this RV destination.
Built in 1991 and open year-round, the Visitor Center exhibits explain the park's founding and Escalante area history. The unique geography, plant life, and desert creatures are identified along with several great examples of the petrified wood found throughout the park. In addition to petrified wood, there are dinosaur bones and ancient seashell fossils on display. Please leave the petrified wood where you find it in the park, as it is illegal to move or take anything home. Plenty of rock shops in nearby Escalante offer specimens for you to take home without disturbing the state park.
The Petrified Forest Hiking Trail is a one-mile hike that guides visitors through a landscape of gnarled desert juniper, interesting sandstone and lava formations, and petrified wood - lots of it! The petrified wood occurs in a rainbow of colors with bright and waxy-textured rocks that still reveal the shapes of tree roots and trunks half-buried in the earth. Those interested in geology will enjoy the fossilized dinosaurs as well as marine fossils, but please leave the rocks alone, and do watch out for cactus and sunning snakes on the trail.
It is illegal to remove petrified wood from the park, and some even say there is a curse on anyone who does. Ask a park ranger to tell you one of the many stories of cursed thieves who sent their stolen wood back to the park in hopes of removing their bad luck.
This Utah state park rents kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards right by the boat launch so that visitors can explore the 130-acre Wide Hollow Reservoir. The lake is a terrific swim spot as well, so the paddle boarding will be extra enticing. The colors of the surrounding desert are amplified when viewed from the water. The reservoir only allows non-motorized access, and this creates a tranquil place for paddling, especially in the mornings before the swimmers arrive. If you're willing to get up early enough, seeing the sunrise behind the distant peaks across the lake is truly magical.
The town of Escalante is home to many local tour and excursion companies. Shuttles from here depart in all directions to explore the over one million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Artist hikes, photography tours, slot-canyon explorations, and horseback rides only begin to scratch the surface of all that is offered here. Check online for the many different year-round options, all departing from Escalante, minutes from the campground.
Even with historically low rainfalls and snow in the region, there is still plenty of water in Wide Hollow Reservoir. After a morning of hiking trails, you'll be ready to cool off in the refreshing water of Wide Hollow Reservoir's shallow swimming area. The shore area is rocky, so consider buying water-shoes to protect your feet. It is not a very private place to swim, so come expecting some splashing youngsters. There is no lifeguard on duty, so swim at your own risk.
The 130-acre Wide Hollow Reservoir is stocked with rainbow trout, bluegill, largemouth bass, and black crappie. Since the lake is restricted to non-motorized boats, it is a nice quiet place to catch a bite. Anglers in the area suggest using bait rather than lures for the best results. The fishing dock provides good access to those without a boat, but they do rent canoes and kayaks in the park as well. In the winter, the lake often freezes thick enough to allow ice fishing as well. No matter what time of year you come for your camping trip, check with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources about regulations.