Cosmic Ashtray in Escalante, Utah – Directions and Hike Details

Cosmic Ashtray in Escalante, Utah – Directions and Hike Details

United States
United States

When Is the Best Time

The name is already promising, and this place looks like being on another planet. The Cosmic Ashtray also called the Volcano or Cosmic Navel, is located in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, abbreviation GSENM. 

The Cosmic Ashtray and the surrounding landscape
The view from higher elevations.

It is the largest weathered sandstone pit in the world and unique in its kind. Geologists name this type of landform "Inselberg Pit", which is German and means island mountain.

A hiker at higher elevation looking into the Cosmic Ashtray
Our first glimpse into the Cosmic Ashtray

It is half an hour's drive from the town of Escalante and one hour from Bryce Canyon City to the trailhead. None of the hidden gems in Escalante is easy to reach, only on a gravel and sandy road that turns into clay if it rains.

A hiker deep down at the Cosmic Ashtray
Shoes with good traction are helpful.

The best time to visit the Cosmic Ashtray is from late September to October and April until mid-June, and the best daytime with sunlight into the Cosmic Ashtray is the morning. 

View from the top down to Cosmic Ashtray
These two guys climbed into the Cosmic Ashtray **

During summer, the rainy season starts in mid-June and lasts until late September. If it is raining, it is pouring from one moment to the other. Roads and trails can get flooded, and cars stuck on Spencer Flat Road and Hole in the Rock Road, the most famous to get to Grand Staircase Escalante's main spots.

Huge clouds built up on the horizon in GSENM
We had to hurry to get back because a thunderstorm had built up

Day temperatures reach 90°F/ 32°C in the shade, and hiking is challenging without any shelter. 

The flower season in the desert
The flower season is at its peak in mid-June

If you like to learn more about hikes in Grand Staircase Escalante, check out this guidebook.
The hikes featured in this book range from family-friendly day hikes to multi-day backpacking trips that will excite the most adventurous of spirits and will educate readers.

Best Months to Visit

Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec

Location and Tips

Utah, Grand Staircase Escalante
United States
United States

The Cosmic Ashtray in the GSENM is otherwordly and still a hidden gem. Exploring the greater Escalante National Monument always provides new fascinating masterpieces of mother earth. We got addicted to this monument and have already planned our next trip to Escalante.

What is the Cosmic Ashtray?

View into the Cosmic Ashtray from higher elevations.
The rock pillar in the pit is estimated to be 30 ft/ 9m high.

The Cosmic Ashtray is dome-like with a hollow and a rock island in the middle. The rock pillar in the middle is surrounded by reddish-orange sand developed by erosion.

The pristine orange sand in the Cosmic Ashtray
The orange sand in the Cosmic Ashtray. **

This orange sand in the pit is a moving sand dune changing its appearance by strong wind events. The cylindrical sandstone pit has an estimated depth of 65 ft/ 20m  at the highest point and 16 ft/ 5m at the fractured part of the rim, where you can enter the Cosmic Ashtray.

How to Get to the Cosmic Ashtray?

The sandy part of the track
The first part of the track leads through deep sand.

It is off the beaten path and not easily found. Two hiking trails lead to the Cosmic Ashtray. It doesn’t matter which route you choose; you definitely need a 4 WD with high clearance.

Our tent and 4 WD car
Our tent and 4 WD car in the wilderness of GSENM

Please, take it seriously and don’t come in a 2 WD, there are deep sand potholes, and you find yourselves quickly stuck. These two trails are not marked! To find the Cosmic Ashtray, you need a mobile hiking app or excellent map and navigation skills!

Do NOT go into the expansive Grand Staircase without this detailed map. For large amounts of time, you will not have cell phone service. It's a great alternative to a mapping app or for planning. The map delivers unmatched detail and valuable information to assist you in your exploration of this remote and colourful wilderness. It is printed on durable synthetic paper, making them waterproof, tear-resistant and tough.

1 From Harris Wash Google Maps

Harris Wash Sign

It is an almost 11-mile drive on Hole in the Rock Road until Harris Wash to the left. It is another 6 miles from here on a narrow, sandy road to the trailhead. This hike is roughly 9 mi/ 15 km long, longer than the one we’d chosen. Honestly, this track is a bit boring just walking through a bushy plane field in the sand.

2 From Spencer Flat Road – Hiking Details - Parking Trailhead Google Maps

A butte along the Spencer Flat Road
Already Spencer Flat Road is spectacular.

A shorter hike is coming from the north from Scenic Road 12 to Spencer Flat Road to the right. Continue on this gravel road for 9.5 miles until the dirt road forks.

The road forks
Take the narrow gravel road to the left

Take the minor left road for 1.2 miles until you reach a huge tree and plane area. This is the new trailhead; you can’t continue furthermore by car. The Spencer Flat Road is already spectacular, with incredible rock formations and buttes to the right and left. 

Parking at a tree
The huge parking

It took us 4.30 hours – 8.8 mi/ 14.13 km return and elevation gain of 290 m. However, there is no track; you need good navigation skills in the end; your hike can be shorter or longer. Our hiking route

Trailhead of the Cosmic Ashtray
The trailhead - it is impossible to continue by car

First, you walk on a sandy path, and it looks like it always goes straight forward, but you have to turn right, going downhill direction southeast.

The trail forks to the right
It is hard to see, but here leave the main trail to the right

You continue another 10 minutes through sand but then most of the time over fascinating colourful rock formations with patterns like the Wave. The entire landscape is spectacular, with huge rocks in the distance. During the drive and hike, I already took tons of pictures. 

The wave like formation and a hiker
The track leads above a fragile sandstone floor covered in stone ripples and swirls.

The later you start, the hotter it gets from spring to autumn. Bring plenty of water, at least one gallon for each hiker and a snack for this not-marked track. To find the Cosmic Ashtray, you definitely need a mobile hiking app!

A hiker is looking to his mobile
Markus is checking our hiking trail.

You climb up and down on the rocks until you can see a piece of the Cosmic Ashtray. It looks so close, but it still takes 20 minutes to get there. 

How Do I Get Into the Cosmic Ashtray?

The Cosmic Ashtray in the distance
The first glimpse of the dome of Cosmic Ashtray to the right

The Cosmic Ashtray is otherworldly and pristine. If you wish to climb into the Cosmic Ashtray, you leave footprints inside.

Footprints in the Cosmic Ashtray in the red sand
The Cosmic Ashtray from inside **

This unique and natural wonder gets destroyed until the wind erases all human traces. Definitely, don't climb into the Cosmic Ashtray if you are hiking alone.

A tough woman climbing out of Cosmic Ashtray
It is tough to get out here **

It is possible to climb out but much safer with a 33ft/ 10m long rope.

A tiny person to the left in comparison to the vast Cosmic Ashtray
This tiny person to the left in front of the Cosmic Ashtray is me.

Enjoy the solitude of this stellar place and be aware of the desert-like climate. 

Can I Camp at the Cosmic Ashtray?

Camping in the GSENM
Our breathtaking tent site in solitude

Literally, yes, but you need an overnight permit if you want to stay there during your hike. You quickly get your permit at the information centre. What I like most about Grand Staircase Escalante it is located on BLM Land, Buro of Land Management. This means you are allowed to camp almost everywhere.

Entrance sign of Grand Staircase Escalante

If you plan to stay at the trailhead, Spencer Flat Road or the Harris Wash, where you get to by car, it is allowed without a permit. However, try pitching your tent or parking your vehicle where others already did. Take out what you took in. 

Geology – How Did the Cosmic Ashtray Form?

View from lower elevation to Cosmic Ashtray

The Cosmic Ashtray is estimated to be at least 200.000 years old, a giant pothole filled with sand. It is mainly created by weathering and erosion. Strong winds occur; sandblast the pit and modelled the walls. The wind in the Cosmic Ashtray constantly changes the sand's height. 

View to the Cosmic Ashtray from the highest point
Wear shoes with good traction to hike on this rock. **

According to the Smithsonian, the sand inside the pit can be as high as the rock island in the middle and as low as you can see the bedrock.

The entrance sign of Escalante
The lovely Escalante town established in 1876

Looking for more hidden gems? Are you sick of trying to win the Wave lottery? This is the best Wave alternative which we checked out in late June.

Yellow Rock with yellow, orange and white sandstone locking like icecream
Yellow Rock in Escalante

And there are more such places off the beaten path, not overrun, with no soul in sight, just you and this magnificent piece of mother nature, the Wahweap Hoodoos, just half an hour from Page.

The white Ghost with a clear blue sky in the morning
The White Ghost - The most famous hoodoo.

Escalante Photo Collage with 5 highlights of this monument.

Do you wish to know more about the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument? Check out my new guide and the 17 Must-Visit Places and where they are located. Not all are difficult to get to, some are even family and dog friendly.

Do you want to obtain the usage right for my images? Contact me, but I will take action against picture theft.

** pictures by Rob

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