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Bull Valley Gorge / Willis Creek Loop - Grand Staircase Escalante

Summary: A long loop hike connecting two very pretty canyons with a long sandy slog in between.
Directions: From the small town of Cannonville drive south on Cottonwood Rd. Turn right (southwest) on Skutumpah Rd. at the sign for Bull Valley Gorge 9 miles, Kanab 61 miles (this is also Forest Road #500). Follow this pretty good dirt road south. In 6.3 miles you will cross the perennial Willis Creek (parking and trail register on the right). Another two miles will bring you to Bull Valley Gorge (some small one car pull offs in the area).
Road Conditions: Passenger Car in dry weather if you go slow
Navigation: Easy
Length: ~15 Miles
Date Hiked: November, 1999 & November 2002
Weather Conditions: Cold
Required Skills:
Hike Description: Most people probably just hike down a ways then back out of each of these canyons, but I will describe them as a loop. If doing an out and back trip in Bull Valley Gorge, make sure you don't climb down something you can't get back up.
From the Bull Valley Gorge bridge, walk on the trail up canyon (on the right side facing up stream), through the stile & past the trail register. In about 15 minutes the canyon will become shallow enough to climb down into it. Head down canyon. You will encounter a few drop offs in the upper section that will require decent climbing skills to negotiate safely and possibly a few puddles (be aware that if water is present the canyon can be very muddy, making climbing considerably more difficult). The canyon deepens quickly into a nice and pretty slot. The yellow/gray walls aren't great for photography, but they are nicely sculpted. As you pass under the Skutumpah Rd. bridge, look up and check out the old pick up truck wedged in the slot over your head. This was the scene of a 1954 car wreck that claimed the lives of 3 men (the second Michael Kelsey reference below recounts the story of this incident). Continue hiking and rock hopping your way down canyon. Eventually the canyon will widen and you will reach the confluence with Sheep Creek. There is nothing terribly interesting about this wide drainage and it is full of deep sand. You may find vehicle tracks in the middle from ranchers or 4-WD enthusiasts. Nothing to do except pick a tire track, head left and begin slogging your way up Sheep Creek (the puns are all too easy). Remember to look up once in a while and scan the left (west) wall for the prominent drainage of Willis Creek (if you miss it, don't worry, you'll wind up back at Skutumpah Rd. either way). Once you find Willis, turn left and head up canyon. There will be water in the bottom, but it is fairly easy to hop over it when you need to, and you can keep your feet dry. Willis is nice all the way through with no major obstacles. As you hike, the canyon becomes more and more narrow as you approach Skutumpah Rd. Once you reach the road turn left and it's a short half an hour road walk back to your car. 
Rating (1-5 stars):
On their first trip to this area, the author and his wife completed the loop described above in about 8 hours. We returned in 2002 but Bull Valley Gorge was wet and muddy and too cold for wading. We went down canyon a ways before backtracking.
Maps: Trails Illustrated - Canyons of the Escalante
Books:  Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau - Michael Kelsey
Hiking and Exploring the Paria River - Michael Kelsey
Photos: Click picture for larger view, click your browser's 'Back' button to return to this page.
Climb down in BVG. Bull Valley Gorge
Willis Creek. Another view
in Willis Creek.