How a Canadian couple share the love in southern Utah’s canyon country.

Craig and Kathy Copeland have hiked the equivalent of twice around the Earth researching a dozen guides and books about hiking. They’ve crunched on gravel on some of the best known hiking destinations on the planet, from Nepal to New Zealand, the Alps to the Canadian Rockies. They could have started a hiking guiding company anywhere in the world, but they chose the nearly trailless high desert of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, in southern Utah.

“On 90 percent of our hikes we’re pretty much guaranteed not to see another person,” Craig says. “It’s rare, rare to be able to hike so many places and not see any sign of other humans at all. And the scenery is unique in the world. It’s world class.”

They discovered the area around Boulder, Utah, while researching and writing Hiking from Here to WOW: Utah Canyon Country. Once the book was complete they stayed on, further exploring the canyons, creeks and slick rock with Adam Harmon, a local. Together the three started Utah Slickrock Guides in 2017. It’s one of the only guiding companies with permits to operate in the area.“To hike very far, you need navigation skills and you need route finding experience,” says Craig. “We have knowledge of an area and the skills to explore it—something few people have.”

Their trips range from easy to challenging, flat to fifth class scrambling. They spend hours walking in the water, navigating slot canyons or climbing high on slickrock massifs for views stretching from Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef and all the way to Arizona.

“The Escalante River was one of the last rivers in the U.S. to be named,” says Craig. “It gives you an idea just how isolated and little visited the area is. The solitude and serenity of the place is intrinsic to its beauty. It’s a big reason why we’re here.” 

—Ryan Stuart