Backpack Reflection Canyon

18 miles  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Kathleen Buenviaje

Take in views of Reflection Canyon from eye level (made famous by Nat. Geo photographer Michael Melford and by Apple in 2012 as a desktop background for the new Mac. Book Pro). It's highly possible you see no other people the duration of your trip.

Backpacking Reflection Canyon is not for the faint of heart. It's an intense, challenging hike that takes you through slot canyons, climbing up and down shifty sandstones and traversing rugged terrains and ravines. Although the elevation gain is almost nothing, the up and down climbs from one ravine to the next really messes with your head once you've gotten 3.5 miles into the hike, knowing you have another 7-9 miles left to go. Just think of a balloon deflating every so slowly.

With that said, you'll be blessed with a view like no other of Reflection Canyon, and if you're lucky, paired with a sunrise you'll never forget. It's worth it when that happens. Is it challenging? Yes. But you'll get unrestricted views, zero crowds and camp on a ledge 60+ miles away from civilization.

Enter Grand Escalante Staircase National Monument, from there you'll be traveling on Hole in the Rock Road (You'll need a 4WD for this trip.) The last 5 miles of the trip is where you'll enter Glen Canyon territory. Keep a look out for a small parking area on the right (37°15'21.70"N, 110°57'47.25"W).

The straight edge cliffs on your right while facing south are your number one marker for this trip. Make sure you keep these cliffs on your right while you're hiking. Veering away from the cliffs will land you in sea of slot canyons that shoot 60 ft up. Not good, and you'll find yourself backtracking a lot more. You'll see the cliffs square off, this is the point where you'll want to turn your back to the cliffs and head SE. The canyon is two miles from there ( 37°11'15.72"N, 110°55'8.54"W).

When you backpack in, remember to bring in everything you bring out. Let's keep mother nature as undisturbed and tainted as possible. Enjoy the hike, and don't forget a GPS, you'll need it when you're off trail.

Photographing Reflection Canyon is an experience you will never forget. Partially because of the permanent blisters you'll have from the 20 mile hike, but more so for the view and the everlasting images you'll capture of this gorgeous extension of Lake Powell. Reflection Canyon is in a remote section of Glen Canyon and can be photographed by air, boat or land. This adventure will take you through the land version.

Because it's a canyon you're shooting, the time of day is essential to how your photos are going to turn out. You can absolutely make the 20 mile roundtrip hike in one day if you want to, but when you wake up and every muscle in your body is in a permanent spasm, you'll know why. If you time it correctly, you can shoot the sunset, the midnight sky and stars and the sunrise in a two day one night backpacking adventure.

Shooting at sunrise proved to provide the best light while keeping the canyon shadows at a minimum. Similarly sunset provided the same even light, but once the sun was gone, the light quickly followed.

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🥇Top Contributor

7 months ago

No longer off-the-radar

This is an incredibly beautiful place to camp and if you hit it on a weekday outside of peak season you might have it to yourself! That being said, it's pretty well known and visited now due to its popularity on Instagram. The rough road still keeps enough people away that I've only seen it crowded on a weekend, but that might change with improvements to Hole-in-the-rock Road.

Worth Every Step

Visited from March 29th-30th. There was a break in the wet spring weather so it was clear and warm the entire trip. Hole-in-the-Rock road is washboard for most of the 40 or so miles to the trailhead. When it isn't washboard, large boulders and loose gravel will test the limits of your vehicle. From Escalante to the trailhead is about 2 hours. Once you get the the trailhead, you head SSW for most of the trip. There are a few meandering trails in the beginning so a GPX file on a GPS app or GPS is ESSENTIAL. The first 4 miles are up and down slot canyons. The closer you stay to the cliffs to the west, the better. There were a few times we slotted out and we had to travel due west to find a way down into the canyons. If you have the energy, going down and up the steep sides of the canyons will shave quite a bit of distance off but it does wear you out. After you clear the canyons, you will begin to see the beginnings of a trail. Feel free to follow that trail for the next 2 miles or so. You should stay in the brush and be heading south. If you head east or you start to drop elevation quickly, try retracing your steps. Again GPS IS ESSENTIAL. Cows are plentiful along the trail depending on what time of year you go. They keep to themselves. We had a late start so we ended up camping about 5 miles from the trailhead. The next morning we packed up and continued to follow the trail for the next mile or so until the GPX file we were following had us start heading ESE. You drop elevation and you start to climb up and down slickrock faces. As a general rule, if you head ESE you should eventually reach a point where there are really deep sandstone pot holes. Continue going ESE until you reach a really steep sandstone face. Climb to the top of that and then you will be faced with a vista that is breathtaking. No it's a looooong hike back to the car. TO BRING: Water (I took 4 liters and ran out about a mile from the car.) Water filter (There were a few potholes that had water, but not many.) Food (Lots of snacks, you plow through calories) Camera (Take a good one if you can. There is so much to capture.) Shoes (I did the hike in Altra Lone Peak 3.5's and only had blisters on the side of my heel. Those came from hiking along the side of steep rock faces. Gaiters were a blessing!) Hat Sunglasses Suncreen (I got roasted.) And finally A GOOD ATTITUDE! (This hike sucks. It is physically and mentally demanding. But it is a must-do!)


Amazing, and a once in a lifetime adventure! Here's my full review and trail guide:

Tough Hike With An Amazing Payoff

Make sure to bring enough water as there is nowhere to replenish your water on this hike. It's a very tough hike even though there is little elevation change. There is no path so make sure you have a GPS and are comfortable navigating. We only saw one other person so if you get lost you're on your own. Don't go in the slot canyons or you'll be stuck and end up backtracking quite a way. A great hike for those adventurous enough to try it.

Absolutely an adventure

My friends and I backpacked to Reflection Canyon over Thanksgiving weekend and it was absolutely an adventure. If you want to be in a desolate and remote location, you've chosen the right trip. Be sure to arrive in a 4WD/high clearance vehicle because you'll be driving 50+ miles on a dirt road with some washed out sections. Listen to Kathleen and stick to the straight edge cliffs to your right because travelling away from the cliffs will get you stuck in a labyrinth of slot canyons. We learned the hard way when we went off path to take a shortcut. Although awesome, there is absolutely no way out of the maze of slot canyons. This is one of those once in a lifetime trips that was worth the experience.

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