The Pine Creek Box
8.8 miles (plus 11.1 miles by car)
Elevations: 1,300 ft. loss
• Upper Box Trailhead (start): 7,740 ft.
• Deep Creek Confluence: 7,010 ft.
• Lower Box Trailhead: 6,440 ft.
Trail: This hike follows a small, fast running creek down a narrow, tree-lined canyon. Frequent stream crossings are necessary, so wettable boots should be worn. There is no reliable trail for the first five miles and the ground cover is thick in places, so wear long pants.
Season: Late spring, summer and fall. Access to the trailhead is usually blocked by snow in winter and early spring. For current information call the Escalante Interagency Visitor Center at (801) 826-5499.
Vicinity: Box-Death Hollow Wilderness Area, near Escalante
This hike is a very pleasant walk down an unusually scenic canyon of Pine Creek known as the Box. Conservationists fought hard to have this area included in the Utah Wilderness Act of 1984, but there was strong opposition from local ranchers who use the area for summer grazing. The Box was ultimately included as part of the 25,750-acre Box-Death Hollow Wilderness Area, but only after the exclusion of a long, narrow plateau that separates the Box and Death Hollow. Now the map of Box-Death Hollow Wilderness Area looks like a mitten, with Pine Creek running down the thumb. Cattle fences have been built to keep cows out of the Box, but the numerous cow pies in the canyon suggest that the effort hasn’t been completely successful.
From the upper Box access point, park your car and walk down the slope east of the road, dropping about 80 feet to the bottom of Pine Creek Canyon. Once you reach the creek, just start following it downstream. There are bits and pieces of an unmaintained trail, but for the most part you are on your own. Don’t hesitate to walk across the stream if the terrain looks a little flatter on the other side, and don’t work too hard at trying to keep your feet dry. You will be fording the creek many times before this hike is finished, so you might as will plunge in now and let your feet get used to the cold water.
The first few miles of the Box are particularly scenic, with steep cliffs coming down to the water’s edge first on one side and then on the other. Fortunately no rock climbing is necessary, as there is always a passable route on at least one side of the canyon. Also, the water is seldom more that shin-deep at the crossing points. The banks of the creek are lined with spruce in the upper Box, with an occasional Douglas fir.
After about 3.0 miles the canyon widens slightly and the rim becomes much higher. After 4.3 miles you will meet Deep Creek, a tiny creek flowing in from the west. At this point you have lost about 730 feet in elevation, and you are a little less than half way through the hike. The canyon rim is about a thousand feet above you. Below the Deep Creek confluence the forest gradually turns from spruce and Douglas fir to ponderosa pine, and the trail also gradually improves. You are more apt to encounter other hikers here-picnickers who have entered the Box from the lower trailhead. As the canyon widens the trail also becomes more and more sandy, the result of erosion on the sandstone cliffs that surround the Box.
Finally, 4.5 miles below Deep Creek, Pine Creek makes a sudden, dramatic exit through a slot in the cliffs out of the Box and onto Lost Creek Flat, where your shuttle car or bicycle is parked. Hell’s Backbone Road is another 0.3 mile from the end of the trail.