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Backpacking Reflection Canyon | Everything You Need To Know

Reflection Canyon is one of the most famous spots on Lake Powell. It is located in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area of Southern Utah and boasts an amazing view from the ridge above Lake Powell.

Jake and I had always dreamed of seeing it in person, but its location right in the middle of this enormous and remote lake makes accessing this beautiful spot a real challenge. So it’s remained on our bucket list ever since we first visited Lake Powell 4 years ago.

Emily with her feet out of the tent with a view of reflection canyon at sunrise
Camping on the ridge at Reflection Canyon

Backpacking Reflection Canyon is an absolute adventure, from the gnarly dirt road drive, to hiking in the desert sun, to camping on the edge of a cliff!  It is often visited via houseboat, or even airplane, but if you are up for the challenge, we think it is best visited by foot!

If you are considering visiting Lake Powell on a boat, we have an extremely detailed guide for planning a Lake Powell Houseboat Trip.

Emily jumping into Jakes Arms with excitement that we made it to reflection canyon
View of Reflection Canyon

If you are up for an epic adventure, you won’t be disappointed with the end result!

But, you will want to be a pretty experienced hiker or at least travel with one. This is a quite stenuous hike. Everything you need to know for backpacking Reflection Canyon is shared below. 

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Hiking Stats For Backpacking Reflection Canyon:

  • Distance: 18.7 miles
  • Elevation: 1873 Feet
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Type: Out & back
  • Permit: Yes
  • Bathroom: No
  • Dogs: Yes

Permits for Reflection Canyon

Backcountry permits are required for backpacking Reflection Canyon.

It is free, but you must acquire one from the Escalante Visitor Center (in the town of Escalante, UT) before heading to the trailhead. 

View of Navajo Mountain along the Reflection Canyon Hike
View of Navajo Mountain along the Reflection Canyon Hike

Preparation For Reflection Canyon:


After you get a permit, be sure to fill up on gas before driving to the trailhead. There are 3 gas stations to choose from in the town of Escalante.


Also, make sure you pack in enough water, because there is no water source along the road.  One gallon per person per day is a good benchmark to work from. You cannot get down to Lake Powell at any point during this hike, so don’t count on being able to filter lake water.

There is a free water-fill spigot at the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center in the town of Escalante.


There is a small grocery store in Escalante, but you can expect higher prices than supermarkets in bigger towns.

Air Down

We also suggest airing down your tires 25%, because you will be traveling for over 50 miles on a heavily washboarded and rocky dirt road. But only air down if you are comfortable with the process and have the right equipment (i.e. tire deflator, pressure gauge, and air compressor). Or you can use the air compressors at the gas stations once you get back.

Reflection Canyon Trailhead:

View of the parking lot for Reflection Canyon Trailhead
View of the parking lot for Reflection Canyon Trailhead

Getting to the trailhead is a whole nother adventure in itself. You access the trailhead parking area via Hole In The Rock Road. The road is 51 miles long and can take anywhere from 2-5 hours depending on road conditions, your vehicle, driving ability, speed.

We highly suggest putting the trailhead into your GPS while in town when you have service, because there isn’t much service along the road. And the trailhead is not well marked. 

The first section of the road is manageable in any car. It’s a sandy road that is graded, but it can get very bumpy in sections. This road is notorious for having some brutal washboard. The speed limit is 35 miles per hour, so this is where you can track the most ground if you want to make it there faster than 4 hours.

A view from the car of the rutted road along Hole In The Rock Road to Reflection Canyon
Rutted road on Hole In The Rock Road

But the second portion of the road will slow you down as it gets much worse. There are a handful of washes that are very rocky and windy.

In dry conditions you don’t particularly need 4×4 to get to the trailhead, it is definitely a plus. We traveled there in the “dry season”, so we were able to make it in our rwd 2010 Ford E350 Van. But, I can imagine that after heavy rains having 4WD or AWD is a must. 

A view of one of the washes on the way to Reflection Canyon
One of the washes on Hole In The Rock Rd to Reflection Canyon

And having high clearance is definitely suggested, as there are many spots where a normal car would bottom out. Also, make sure you have good tires and a spare, because many people have gotten a flat out there (including our friends). The road gets very rocky in the last 7 miles or so.

For the second portion of the road we had to go about 10-15 mph. Occasionally going down to 5mph in very rocky sections and when winding through the washes. The last 10 miles took us about an hour. 

The small parking area for the trailhead is just a flat rock section right off the road.

So before sending it out to the trailhead, make sure you are prepared for this long and rough drive out there.

GPS is A Must:

Reflection Canyon All Trails GPS Map
Reflection Canyon All Trails GPS Map

In order to do this hike, we strongly advise tracking the trail via GPS. We use AllTrails, by downloading the map while we have service. That way the map is downloaded and you can GPS track yourself along the route. We love AllTrails, because it’s free, and you will most likely already be carrying your phone with you, so there is no added weight.

(You don’t need Alltrails Pro to download the maps. Just pull up the map anytime beforehand when you have service, add it to your favorites, and it will be available offline)

But if you want a more high-tech GPS tracking device, you can check out Digital Trends recommendations on tracking devices.


Along the hike, you will notice cairns (stacks of rocks) strategically placed to help keep you on the trail. If there is ever a spot where you aren’t sure what direction to go, look out for a cairn.

Cairns are nearly essential for the next section of the hike.

Beginning Of Reflection Canyon Hike:

It can be a challenge to find the trail from the start, but if you head toward the rock cliff uphill from the parking lot you will run into a dirt path.

View from the beginning of Reflection Canyon hike
View from the beginning of Reflection Canyon hike

The trail follows this ridge nearly the whole way to Reflection Canyon. If you spot cairns, it will direct you to the trail.

Just after this inital slick rock section, the first 6 miles are easy to follow because it’s mostly a well-worn dirt path.

About two miles in there will be a split in the trail. It’s right after you pass an area for farm animals. You will see a drinking trough and some barbed wire fences.

Right after you pass this area, take the “low road” to the left, because it is easier and climbs less elevation. (We took it on the way back and it was way easier). The two paths will meet back up eventually, but again the “low road” is much flatter.

Do be aware that this hike is fully exposed the whole route with no shade. During the hotter months, it may be best to travel early in the morning. I wouldn’t recommend doing this hike between June-August because the heat will be unbearable. Also, be sure to check for rain in the forecast, because you don’t want to be there if are flash floods.

Last 2+ Miles:

This is where the hike gets a bit more challenging.

You will be walking on mostly solid rock from here on out. There are multiple routes to get to Reflection Canyon at this point. But try to follow the dirt path for as long as you can. 

Emily walking on the solid rock for the last 2 miles of Reflection Canyon
Last 2 miles of Reflection Canyon walking on solid rock

We split to the left a little bit early, which made it a bit more challenging for a longer portion of the hike. So if you can follow the AllTrails GPS recording, it will help lead you to the easier path. The cairns are your only way to stay on track because no “trail” is visible across the solid rock.

If you get off trail there might be times where you get cliffed out, so either try to follow cairns you come across or follow the GPS as precisely as you can. But you will get there! 

Reflection Canyon:

You made it! Now it is time to take off those heavy packs and enjoy the view!

Once you reach Reflection Canyon, you can venture both right and left. To the left you will reach the famous view looking down upon Reflection Canyon from the edge of Lake Powell.

View to the right once you get to Reflection Canyon

And to the right will lead you to a canyon view of Lake Powell and a beautiful view of the Navajo Mountain.

Some people also hike along the cliff to the lookers-right for a different perspective, but we didn’t have the energy for it.

Jake and Emily smiling at each other with reflection canyon in the background peering through the tent door
The most incredible campsite at Reflection Canyon on the ridge

The water level of Lake Powell will have a significant impact on what Reflection Canyon looks like. At lower water levels, you see more of the winding sandstone. At higher water levels, there is more surface area to create those magical reflections of the canyon walls.

Lake Powell’s water levels typically follow a regular annual pattern; peaking in late summer and hitting its lowest elevation in the spring. However annual snowpack and precipitation can have a large impact on the total water elevation provided by the Colorado River.

The evening you arrive and the next morning are typically the best time to view the canyon. This is usually the best chance for calm water that creates those famous reflections.

Camping At Reflection Canyon:

There are only a few good spots to camp on the ridge. So if you want to have one of the best campsites of your life, try to snag one as soon as you arrive.

They are actually quite intimidating because you are camped just steps away from the cliff face. Definitely not the best campsite if you are a sleepwalker, haha.

If you don’t score a campsite on the ridge, there are also a handful of other sites right before you get to Reflection Canyon.

It can be challenging to pitch a tent if it is windy, because you can’t stake down your tent into the solid rock. But when we went, there was little to no wind, so we just put a couple of rocks on the corners to hold it in place and threw in our packs so if a gust did come, we wouldn’t lose our tent. 

Showing a view of the ridge we were camped on

Many people also skip the tent and just camp out on the rock. But there are persistent rodents who might try to camp with you or go for your snacks.

We brought our bear canister (BV 450) because it doubles as rodent protection and a seat. It’s kind of overkill for a hike like this, but Jake doesn’t mind carrying it for the peace of mind. We just left it outside the tent at night with a couple heavy rocks on top, so rodents couldn’t push it off the c,liff.

And during the time we went there were swarms of annoying bugs that liked to hang out around your head. So we liked having the tent as a shield from both the rodents and bugs!

How To Go To The Bathroom At Reflection Canyon:

There is no toilet at the trailhead. So plan ahead and try to use a restroom i ofn Escalante if possible. There are a couple drop toilets at popular trailheads and one about 10 miles from the trailhead right off the road. 

But backpacking Reflection Canyon requires you to carry all human waste back out with you. So be sure to pick up a human waste bag before heading out there.

Best Time To Visit Reflection Canyon

Reflection Canyon is located in the high desert. The trail has no shade and no water.

So you really want to time your visit to ensure a comfortable experience. The best time to visit Reflection Canyon is Fall and Spring. This is you best chance for warm daytime temperatures and cool nights. I prefer Autumn because it’s usually less windy that the spring.

Visiting in the summer can be extremely dangerous. The heat paired with lack of shade on the trail is a recipe for heat stroke, heat exhaustion, or just a miserable time.

Visiting Reflection Canyon in the winter is sometimes possible. But temperatures can get down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit, and snow is possible. For those reasons, it’s not recommended to backpack Reflection Canyon in the winter unless you are specifically prepared and experienced in winter backpacking.

Are Dogs Allowed At Reflection Canyon:

Dogs are allowed on this hike, but it isn’t an ideal trip for our furry friends. The trail is exposed with no shade and you must carry extra water for your dog! It is also required to carry out your dog’s waste as well.

There are also very steep sections of the hike once you reach Reflection Canyon, so be sure your dog doesn’t get too close to the cliff.

What To Pack For Backpacking Reflection Canyon:

Preparing for any backpacking trip requires a specific set of gear to ensure and safe and comfortable experience. We highly recommed starting your packing list with the “big three”. That is a tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad.

Here’s our list of backpacking essentials:

Ultimate Backpacking Checklist

But backpacking in this environment requires some special considerations.

There is nowhere to get more water anywhere along the trail. So you must bring all the water you need for the entire backpacking trip. In Spring, Summer, and Fall this can be an extremely hot hike, so you must bring at least 2 gallons per person.

Also pack enough food to replenish the extreme amount of calories burned on this long trek.

View of Navajo Mountain along the Reflection Canyon Hike
View of Navajo Mountain along the Reflection Canyon Hike

And to combat the hot weather, we love to soak a neck buff in water for the evaporative cooling. But it drys out incredibly fast, so you will probably have to keep adding water every hour, so don’t forget to account for this in the water you carry.

There are no viable places to hang a hammock at Reflection Canyon, so do not plan on hammock camping.

The ground under the campsites is slickrock, so a comfortable sleeping pad is highly recommended.

Day Hiking Reflection Canyon:

This is possible as a day hike, but it would be very challenging. We highly suggest taking your time to truly explore and enjoy your time at Reflection Canyon.

If you do decide to day hike, be sure to bring at least 1.5 to 2 gallons as the hike is very demanding. And start early in the morning, so you have enough time to return before dark. 

Takeaway | Backpacking Reflection Canyon | Everything You Need To Know:

Emily looking out at Reflection Canyon from our campsite Campsite
Reflection Canyon Campsite

Reflection Canyon is truly one of the most beautiful places. I’m not sure we will ever have a cooler campsite than the cliffs above Reflection Canyon.

It is a very challenging hike that’s only recommended to experienced hikers/backpackers. It is also a bonus to have GPS tracking experience so the last section of the hike is seamless. But after all the hard work, the reward at the end is so worth it!

Grand Staircase Escalante Pin

If you are looking for more awesome adventures in the area, check out our:

Grand Staircase Escalante Guide

It’s packed with tons of information about the best hikes, slot canyons, natural arches, waterfalls, and more!

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