Misc, Photography

Reflection Canyon: A Grueling Yet Rewarding Journey

This post is a bit different than most of my blog posts. I wanted to highlight a fantastic trip I took in September 2023 to Reflection Canyon near Escalante, Utah.

This hike is roughly 16 miles round-trip. I did it over two days, hiking in on day 1, camping on day 2, and hiking out on day 2. Few people make this hiking trip due to its grueling nature (and yes, it was grueling). What makes it grueling? The hiking trail was not well marked; there was a lot of hiking on slick rock, and the sun was beating down on us (even though it was only 72 degrees).

Getting to the Reflection Canyon Trailhead

To get to the trailhead, you’ll take Highway 12 southeast out of Escalante, UT, for about 5 miles. You’ll turn onto the Hole-in-the-rock Road (BLM200) and drive for about 50.5 miles. The trailhead is not marked, but you’ll know you are there when you see a bunch of Slickrock on the sides that look like parking (and perhaps there will be other vehicles there).

A Google Maps screenshot is attached below for reference.

Getting to Reflection Canyon, Escalante Utah
Getting to Reflection Canyon, Escalante Utah

Hiking Reflection Canyon:

  1. Trailhead: The hike begins at a nondescript pull-off along Hole-in-the-Rock Road. The GPS location for the trailhead can be found here.
  2. Distance and Difficulty: The hike is roughly 16 to 20 miles round trip (depending on your route) and is considered strenuous due to the lack of defined trails, steep inclines, and the need to carry all your water and supplies.
  3. Navigation: GPS and map navigation skills are essential, as the route is not marked. You must navigate through desert terrain, including slickrock, sandy washes, and rocky ledges. I used the all-trails route and took the “lower” route to Reflection Canyon. You can find that route here. I also used Gaia GPS to keep an eye on the route – you can find the Gaia route here.
  4. Best Time to Visit: Spring (April-May) and fall (September-October) are ideal due to milder temperatures. Summer hikes are not recommended due to extreme heat, sun exposure, and the lack of water sources.
  5. Permits: A backcountry permit from the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is required for overnight trips. You can get a permit at many of the more significant/official trailheads on Hole-in-the-Rock Road.
  6. Be Prepared: Have plenty of water. And more water. Print out a paper copy of the map and be knowledgeable about navigating without electronic devices if you lose your phone (or its battery). Take an external GPS device like a Garmin (one with an SOS is preferred).

Notes on Reflection Canyon

  • Take plenty of water—more than you think you’ll need. There is usually no water on the trail. There may be a few puddles after rain but plan on no water.
  • Start early. Beat the sun and the heat and get onto the trail early. Start early, whether overnight or hiking in/out in one day. This will let you take your time hiking in (and out) and beat the afternoon sun.
  • Be prepared to stake your tent without stakes. There are some grassy/sandy areas to pitch a tent in, but most of the area is rock. Take some rope to tie to rocks to tie your test down.
  • This area is “pack it in / pack it out,” including your waste.

What I carried on the hike:

Me - Day 1 - before the 8-mile hike of Reflection Canyon Utah
Me – Day 1 – before the 8-mile hike.

In/on my pack, I carried the following (See the next photo for a good pic of my pack) items:

  • Garmin GPSMAP® 67i (with inReach technology)
  • iPhone
  • Paper map and compass
  • Camera/Lenses/Tripod
  • Food/snacks
  • First Aid Kit
  • Personal Care items (Toilet Paper, Wag Bags, etc)
  • Change of clothes
  • 1-person lightweight tent
  • lightweight/warm weather sleeping bag
  • Ten gallons of Water (3 gallons per day + extra for cooking). NOTE: I ran out of water about a mile before the end on the way out….I should have carried much more.
Me - Day 1 - On the way in
Me – Day 1 – On the way in

My pack weighed in at 48 pounds(!).

Aside from running out of water about a mile from the trailhead on day 2, the only other negative was the blisters. I made the idiotic mistake of buying new socks for the hike. The socks turned out to be too big and immediately started causing issues and blisters. When I finished the hike, I had two massive blisters across both feet and lost 3 toenails. The blisters and toenails weren’t a fun experience, but it only slightly diminished my enjoyment on this trip.

Here are a few more pictures:


About Eric D. Brown, D.Sc.

Eric D. Brown, D.Sc. is a data scientist, technology consultant and entrepreneur with an interest in using data and technology to solve problems. When not building cool things, Eric can be found outside with his camera(s) taking photographs of landscapes, nature and wildlife.
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