The shortcut to Jacob Hamblin Arch is also known as the Sneaker Route, Water Tank Trail or Jacob Hamblin Trail. But "shortcut" does not mean "easy." The lack of accurate information on this route can make it dangerous! We've had unprepared guests pulled out by helicopter simply due to the heat in July. Not to mention the 200 foot 45 degree cliff that some decide is just too steep to attempt. We thought we better check it out for ourselves during cooler weather. The last day of April was a perfect time to go. While Escalante temperatures were 80/50, we estimate this nearby desert wilderness was 85/60, though the low may have been lower if we had camped above the protected Canyon.
What's with the different mileage estimates? Must be due to the fact that the downhill route to the canyon edge seems like 2 miles (still could take over an hour plodding through sand and rocky mars-scape) but the uphill route back seems like 3 miles and may take 2 hours, and that's after (and if) you make it up the 200 foot cliff. A 6 mile round trip is the best estimate all the way to the arch and back, plus more exploring in the canyon.
Do I need a Rope? For the Sneaker Route, YES! Even young fit hikers have been known to loose footing and slide 20 feet on skinned knees. Serious injury is possible! At the very least, take a 30 foot length of webbing - that's if one of you is a confident climber and can help the others through difficult spots by holding the rope. To be even more safe, take 150 feet of rope to tie (using a bowline knot) around a large boulder about 1/3 of the way down, to the left. It's true that you might get lucky and find a rope already there, like we did, but it will likely be removed by the owner right before you exit the canyon, leaving you in a hard place! This is exactly what happend to us, but we did have our own rope and yes we needed it!
To find the trailhead: Set your odometer when you leave highway 12. Drive down Hole In The Rock Rd for 36.2 miles, then turn left at 40 Mile Ridge Rd (or Coyote Gulch Rd on your map) for 4.3 miles. Depending on your vehicle, this will take 1 1/2 -2 1/2 hours! Cars won't make it if muddy. The trailhead is uphill on the left, by a water tank. At the trailhead, don't forget to fill out your free backcountry pass, so the rangers will know where to find you if you don't return. Other Routes: We have heard there is an easier route by way of Chimney Rock, but you may need a local guide to find the trail. To hike a loop and see more of the canyon, drive a little further to the Coyote Gulch Trailhead (with a 4-wheel drive) and take the Crack-in-the-Wall Route, a 14-17 mile loop depending on your map & navigation skills.
The Trail: The sandy trail gets more difficult to follow when you get to the slick rock, but there are plenty of cairns, passing just to the left of a high ridge. If you do get lost, head due north to the canyon edge, then look for the huge white "bird" mark on the far-side of the canyon (See photo). This marks the "sneaker route" down. Maps: We highly recommend two trail Aps. It's worth it to pay $20 a year for a dependable App like Gaia GPS. We also like the free version of All Trails for certain things, like hiker commentary, but the free maps sometimes disappear when you need them most. If you are into paper maps, stop by the visitor's center in Escalante.
The Descent: Once at the cliff edge, go carefully down the center crack as far as it is safe. If a friend can hold a rope, you can continue straight down, looking for dim carved foot-holds here and there. If you have a long rope to tie off, go to the left and look for the large blackish boulder. Leave your rope even if one is there! Near the bottom, there is another place where a short rope could come in handy, especially for coming back up. Maybe bring a second short rope?
Left to the Arch: Once at the bottom of Coyote Gulch, turn left and you will soon come to amazing Jacob Hamblin Arch, where there are a number of camping areas nearby. They are somewhat close to the river, so please don't camp here if a storm is expected! If you don't have camping equipment, you can do this in one day, if you start very early, then cool off & re-fuel in the canyon before the tough hike out. Much more relaxing to set up camp, explore down the river a bit, rehydrate some backpacker food on a tiny camp stove (no fires allowed), get a good night's sleep, then climb and hike out the next morning.