Capitol Reef National Park
Traveling westbound on Interstate 70-Take Utah State Highway 24 west towards Hanksville (exit 149). Stay on Highway 24 for 95 miles to reach the visitor center. Capitol Reef offers many hiking options for serious backpackers and those who enjoy exploring remote areas. Marked hiking routes lead into narrow, twisting gorges and slot canyons and to spectacular viewpoints high atop the Waterpocket Fold. Popular backcountry hikes in the southern section of the park include Upper and Lower Muley Twist Canyons and Halls Creek. Backcountry hiking opportunities also exist in the Cathedral Valley area and near Fruita...the possibilities are endless! Stop in the visitor center for more information on backcountry hiking. If you plan to take an overnight hike, you need to obtain a free backcountry permit at the visitor center prior to your trip. Backcountry group size cannot exceed twelve people.
The Fruita Campground is often described as an oasis within the desert. Adjacent to the Fremont River and surrounded by historic orchards, this developed campground has 71 RV/tent sites, each with a picnic table and grill, but no individual water, sewage, or electrical hook-ups. There is a RV dump and potable water fill station near the entrance to Loops A and B. Restrooms feature running water and flush toilets, but no showers. Accessible sites are located adjacent to restrooms. The nightly fee is $10.00, or $5.00 for Golden Age/Senior Pass and Golden Access/Access Pass holders. An accessible site is located in Loop B adjacent to the restroom. Open year-round, the Fruita Campground is the only developed campground in Capitol Reef National Park and as a result often fills by early to mid-afternoon during the spring through fall seasons. Sites are first-come, first-served. Campground hosts (located at the beginning of Loop A) are available to assist you during the summer season.
The Cathedral Campground is located halfway on the Cathedral Valley Loop Road which traverses Capitol Reef's Cathedral District. About 36 miles from the visitor center, this primitive, no-fee campground has six sites, each with a picnic table and fire grate. There is a pit toilet, but no water available. The campground is open year-round; however, visitors should check road conditions with the Capitol Reef Visitor Center prior to planning an overnight stay. No reservations; first-come, first-served.
The Cedar Mesa Campground is located 23 miles south of Utah State Highway 24 on the Notom-Bullfrog Road. This primitive, no-fee campground has five sites, each with a picnic table and fire grate. There is also a pit toilet, but no water is available. The campground is open year-round, but visitors should check with the Capitol Reef Visitor Center for road conditions prior to planning an overnight stay. The 4.5-mile round-trip Red Canyon trail leads from the campground through Pinyon and Juniper trees into a large box canyon. No reservations; first-come, first-served.
The trail heads east from HWY 12 at Boulder to HWY 276. The trail is paved up to the monuments and will turn to dirt.
All three canyons are located within a few miles of each other and can be accessed from the Notom-Bullfrog Road; which is paved past Cottonwood Wash and usually passable to passenger cars. Each route begins where the wash crosses the road; all crossings are marked with signs. There are no developed trailhead parking areas; park along the edge of the road out of the bottom of the wash. Do not drive up the washbed. The first few miles cross B.L.M. lands along sandy wash bottoms surrounded by low hills. The narrows will begin abruptly 0.25-0.75 miles further up the washes where the canyons cut into the steep east flank of the Fold. The upper end of Sheets Gulch can be accessed via the South Draw Road at Tantalus Flat. The South Draw Road begins on the Pleasant Creek Road at the end of the park's Scenic Drive, and requires a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle. These are classic examples of "slot canyons" which so typify the canyon country of southern Utah; deep, narrow secret places within the Waterpocket Fold. The routes are largely unmarked. A few rock cairns may mark key points; carrying a topographic map is recommended. It is extremely hot in summer and water sources are unreliable; carry adequate water. Use caution in narrow canyons during flash flood season (typically July-September). All three canyons are difficult hikes and only experienced canyon country hikers should attempt these routes. All contain obstacles in the form of dry falls and chock stones (large boulders wedged in narrow slots) which must be climbed over. The canyons are extremely narrow in places; most people will have to work their way through sideways. Often there are pools of water that may require deep wading or short swims. Beginning at the Notom-Bullfrog Road, Burro Wash (8 Mile RT) and Cottonwood Wash (6 Mile RT) can be done as long day hikes. Sheets Gulch can be done as a long day hike or an overnight, depending on where you turn around. (One-way mileage to Tantalus Flat is 9 miles) Backcountry permits are required for all overnight trips and can be obtained at the visitor center.
The parking lot is at the beginning of Capitol Gorge, just off of the Scenic Drive, still three miles from the beginning of the Golden Throne Trail, and more than 5 miles from the far end of the canyon. This creates a wide range of distances for any hike. Visitors can hike from the parking lot to the end of the canyon and back, for a total of over 11 miles, or they can go the shorter routes. Capitol Gorge follows the Capitol Wash through the Waterpocket Fold of Capitol Reef National Park, going from the south end of the Scenic Drive on the west side of the Fold to the town of Notom on the east. Through the Fold, Capitol Gorge becomes deep and narrow, with several sections of almost slot-like proportions. This was the principal route through the national park until Highway 24 was built in 1964. The gorge takes visitors past Petroglyph panels, a pioneer register, and the famous water tanks.
Burro Wash, Cottonwood Wash and Sheets Gulch
Golden Throne Trail
4 Miles RT-Strenuous
Towering 1,400 feet above the road at the bottom of Capitol Gorge, Golden Throne is an icon of the park, and draws many tourists and photographers every year. Toward the east end of the canyon, hikers have the chance to climb up into the higher reaches of the Waterpocket Fold, to enjoy the view of Golden Throne from close up. The trail for this short but strenuous ascent follows switchbacks out of Capitol Gorge.
The waterpockets, potholes, or water tanks, however one wishes to describe them, play a vital role in the desert ecosystem. Ranging from potholes smaller than the bathroom sink, to cisterns the size of a large swimming pool, these natural water basins collect and hold the precious water that animals, plants, and indigenous people relied on to survive in this desert.
To reach the Chimney Rock trailhead from the Capitol Reef Visitor Center: Take Highway 24 west for 3.1 miles to the signed Chimney Rock Trailhead located at mile marker 76.8. All vehicles can access this trailhead and all roads are paved. The Chimney Rock Trail is named after Chimney Rock, an imposing formation that rises sharply from the desert floor. The trail begins through a field of sandstone blocks and up a series of steep and strenuous switchbacks onto the Chinle slopes. The switchbacks lead to the top of the mesa and the trail then flattens out into a loop around the mesa itself. The loop offers views of Chimney Rock and the surrounding area including views of the waterpocket fold. At .5 miles the trail splits for Chimney Rock Loop. Turn right at the sign and begin a steep climb to the Chimney Rock overlook. The route continues along the top of Mummy Cliff with views of the reef and the Waterpocket Fold. About 1.75 miles from the previous trail junction, you will encounter a second trail junction. The trail to the right will descend into Spring Canyon, while continuing straight ahead will lead you around to complete the Chimney Rock loop and head back to the trailhead.
The upper end of Sulphur Creek can be accessed by parking at the Chimney Rock trailhead. The route ends (or begins) at the visitor center. The route can be divided into four distinct segments: dry wash from Chimney Rock to the creek, easy walking along the creek, the narrows, and the last easy stretch to the visitor center. After parking at the Chimney Rock trailhead parking area, cross to the south side of Highway 24. Behind the reflector post directly across the highway is a short hiker-made trail that quickly leads down into the left side of a small wash. Walking in the wash bottom reduces hiker impacts on the sparse plant community. ConŽtinue in the small wash for 500 feet until it runs into a much larger wash. Bear left (southeast) and simply follow the wash for another 1.4 miles. Before the confluence with Sulphur Creek, the wash narrows and there are two minor pour-offs to downclimb. Once at the creek, turn left (east) and walk downstream. Several crossings of the creek may be necessary, but if the flow is low, this should be easy to do without getting wet. The canyon very quickly deepens. A half mile along is the first view of the fence at Goosenecks Overlook about 800 feet above. From here it is another pleasant mile of easy walking to the first falls and the beginning of the narrows section. To pass by the falls, keep to the right (south) and cross angled slickrock. Next to the wall scramble down a 10 foot pitch; this will require the use of hands to negotiate. Below the falls the canyon tightens dramatically, and there are impressive undercuts. It is only 750 feet to the next falls, also passed on the right (south). Here, until conditions change, pass under a large rock and scramble down three separate short pitches, slightly more difficult than the first falls. Beyond this falls there are narrows that usually require walking through water; bringing along sandals, watershoes, or old sneakers for this is a good idea. Note that flash floods rearrange Sulphur Creek significantly and have, in the past, created six foot deep pools that cannot be avoided. Ask at the visitor center for current conditions. The canyon widens slightly, but remains scenic all the way to the five mile mark and the last falls. Though only about eight feet high, this obstacle requires a short downclimb. A very faint hiker-made bypass trail can be accessed by returning upstream about 20 yards to a point where it is possible to climb out on the south side on a series of easy ledges. Climb the slope above to a point as high as the top of the lower cliffs to the south of the creek. The faint path then traverses the slope to the east, eventually descending back to creek level well beyond the falls. The homestretch can be completed by continuing along the creek until it passes by the park headquarters and visitor center. Alternatively, when the cliff to the north of the stream ends, find a hiker-made track that leads to that point, where there is an old lime kiln built and used by the early resiŽdents of Fruita. The trail continues over a low hill and down to Sulphur Creek behind the visitor center. Go around the building to the left (north) to the parking lot.
From the Visitor Center, proceed west on Utah 24) towards Torrey. At the Panorama Point turnout, make a left. Cross the paved parking lot and look for the dirt road on your left (hidden from Utah 24 by a knoll). Proceed approximately one mile on the dirt road to the Goosenecks/Sunset Point Parking Area.
The Goosenecks Trail begins directly at the end of the parking lot. The Sunset Point Trail is unmarked, but located next to the trashcans to your left as you go in. Make sure that you have found the trail before proceeding.
The Fremont Gorge Overlook trail is located in Capitol Reef National Park near Torrey, Utah. The trail begins at the trailhead near the old implement shed between the Visitor Center and the Fruita Campground. The trail starts off with a steep climb for about a quarter mile to the top of Johnson Mesa. The next mile of the trail is very easy as it crosses the mesa heading west toward the gorge. The last mile of the hike to the view point is once again a steep climb. The trail gains almost 1100 feet of elevation overall.
From the Visitor Center at Capitol Reek National Park, drive .07 mile south, and turn right into the second entrance to the campground. Follow the signs to the amphitheater parking area and trailhead.
From the Visitor Center at Capitol Reef National Park, drive 3.5 miles south to a dirt road and turn left. Drive 1.75 miles to the parking area and trailhead. The arch is actually visible from the road below. Cassidy Arch Trail forks out of Grand Wash about three quarters of a mile from the parking area. The Frying Pan Trail branches off of the Cassidy Arch Trail after 1.1 miles, and heads up toward Cohab Canyon. There are many viewpoints points along the rim of the gorge, accessible from the Cassidy Arch and Frying Pan Trails. The Cassidy Arch Trail ends above the arch itself, offering great photo opportunities from a higher vantage point. There are no official routes to reach the base of the arch. Named after the famous Butch Cassidy, Cassidy Arch is located in the central portion of Capitol Reef National Park, specifically just within the western walls of Grand Wash, beside the Scenic Drive. The arch trail is a spur off of the larger Frying Pan Trail, a route that climbs northeast atop the Waterpocket Fold before dropping down into Cohab Canyon and onto Highway 24. The arch is large and spectacular, photogenic at almost any angle. It sits 400 feet above the Scenic Drive and the Grand Wash Trail, offering a pleasant diversion on any trip. The climb is steep, but worth the visit. The 3.4 miles RT Cohab Canyon trail connects to the Frying Pan Trail, which in turn links with the Cassidy Arch Trail in the Grand Wash, offering a detailed tour of the northern section of the Waterpocket Fold.
Halls Creek Overlook is located on a spur road 3 miles west of the Notom-Bullfrog Road. The road is rough and requires a high clearance 4WD vehicle. The Notom-Bullfrog Road is hard-packed dirt, usually passable to passenger cars. Total distance from Highway 24 is 57.6 miles. The Halls Creek drainage is a large beautiful canyon bounded by the high cliffs of Hall Mesa on the east and the steep slickrock slopes the Waterpocket Fold on the west. Numerous side canyons beckon the hiker with sufficient time for exploration. The highlight of the hike is the 3-mile Halls Creek Narrows, a classic example of a "slot canyon". Deeply incised into the white Navajo sandstone, it is hidden, secret, and mysterious. A trickling perennial stream and deep shade from the arching canyon walls create a cool, moist oasis in the midst of the surrounding desert. Water can usually be found at the Fountain Tanks and in the narrows. Use caution in narrow canyons particularly during the flash flood season (typically July-September). From the Halls Creek Overlook, the total round trip distance is 21.9 miles and is best done as a three to four day trip. Backcountry permits are required for all overnight trips and can be obtained at the visitor center.
Halls Creek Overlook/Narrows/Brimhall Natural Bridge
Brimhall Natural Bridge-A rugged hike through a different narrow canyon rewards the hiker with a close-up view of Brimhall Natural Bridge, a double span. From the Halls Creek Overlook trailhead, the total round trip distance is 4.6 miles. This hike can be done as a long day hike.
The Post parking area is located at the end of a short spur road 3 miles south of the Notom-Bullfrog and Burr Trail Roads junction. Total distance from Highway 24 is 37 miles. The Hamburger Rocks are small dark colored hoodoos with hamburger-like shapes within the Navajo sandstone. The white colored slope they are perched on accentuates the rocks. Water can usually be found at the Muley Tanks about 200 yards north of Hamburger Rocks but would need to be purified. Total round trip distance is 9 miles from Halls Creek overlook or 12 miles from The Post parking area. The hike can be done as a long day hike or an overnight backpacking trip.
The parking lot along Highway 24 marks the trailhead to the Hickman Bridge Trail. Just a little way past the switchbacks that climb up from the Fremont River below, the Rim Overlook and Navajo Knobs Trail breaks off from the Hickman Bridge Trail, heading farther north before swinging around to the west and crossing through small canyons on its way to the viewpoints. The Rim Overlook and Navajo Knobs are extensions of the Hickman Bridge Trail, both towering over the Fremont River below. The Hickman Bridge Trailhead services both of these overlooks. The Rim Overlook offers a great view of the historic town of Fruita and Highway 24 from a vantage point of 1,000 feet above the surrounding valley. The Navajo Knobs are another 500 feet higher in elevation and another 2.5 miles further west than the overlook, and give hikers an 360-degree view of the park and its surroundings, including the nearby Henry Mountains. The listed mileage is for the Rim Overlook. Going all the way to the Navajo Knobs and back is a 10-mile roundtrip hike. At an elevation of 6,980 feet, the Navajo Knobs command an impressive view of the Waterpocket Fold and its surroundings. The knobs are a pair of small hills that sit atop a jutting section of the Waterpocket Fold, between the Castle and the Mummy Cliff.
The canyon is located at the top of the Burr Trail Road switchbacks, 35 miles south of Utah Highway 24 and 2 miles west of the Notom/Bullfrog Road and Burr Trail Road junction. The Notom-Bullfrog Road is hard-packed dirt and is usually passable to passenger cars. At times, the Burr Trail Road may require a high clearance vehicle.
Or at the Post parking area, which is located at the end of a short, spur road 3 miles south of the Notom/Bullfrog Road and Burr Trail Road junction.
The highlight of the hike is a deep, narrow, twisting canyon with large alcoves. The canyon offers many opportunities for side trips and exploring. From 1881 to 1884, the canyon served as a wagon route for Mormon pioneers traveling south toward San Juan County. The canyon was thought to be narrow enough to "twist a mule" hence the name Muley Twist. The Post Cut-Off Trail is marked with rock cairns and signs. Use caution in narrow canyons particularly during flash flood season (typically July-September). Beginning at the trailhead on the Burr Trail Road and hiking down canyon to the Post parking area via the Post Cut-Off Trail is a nice 6 mile hike, but necessitates leaving a vehicle at each end. If you don't have two vehicles, turn around when you get to the sign indicating the Post Cut-Off Trail for a 8 mile round trip hike. A hike through Lower Muley Twist Canyon can be done as a long day hike or as an overnight trip starting and ending at the Post parking area; total distance 15 miles. Hiking the entire canyon from the trailhead on the Burr Trail Road and back is best done as a two to three day trip; total distance is 21.3 or 23.4 miles depending on the route. Backcountry permits are required for all overnight trips and can be obtained at the visitor center.
From the Visitor Center: Drive southward on Scenic Drive 6.5 miles to the Old Wagon Trailhead on the western side of the road. The Old Wagon Trail Loop hike is different than many others in the park. It meanders up Miners Mountain along and old wagon road, then loops around back to the trailhead. The main attraction is the historical wagon trail, and the views of the Waterpocket Fold to the east from a distance.
Access Point #1-Upper end of Spring Canyon: Holt Draw, which is a dirt track on the right (north) side of Hwy 24, 0.9 miles west of the park boundary and 7.2 miles west of the visitor center. The road is closed to vehicle traffic beyond the gate at the forest service boundary.
Access Point #2-Midway, for access to the lower end of Upper Spring Canyon and to the upper end of Lower Spring Canyon: the Chimney Rock trailhead, located 3.2 miles west of the visitor center on Hwy 24.
Access Point #3-Lower end of Spring Canyon: across the Fremont River 3.6 miles east of the visitor center on Hwy 24 (just east of mile marker 83). Look for unmarked parking areas on both sides of the highway.
Spring Canyon is deep and narrow with towering Wingate cliffs and Navajo domes. It originates on the shoulder of Thousand Lakes Mountain and extends to the Fremont River. The route is marked with rock cairns and signs in some places. It is extremely hot in summer and the only usually reliable water source is at the spring in Upper Spring Canyon, 1.5 miles west of the junction with Chimney Rock Canyon. The canyon route is divided into Upper and Lower Spring Canyon sections. It can be accessed midway via Chimney Rock Canyon. The entire canyon is best done as a 3 to 4 day trip. Upper Spring Canyon is a good 2 to 3 day trip, while Lower Spring Canyon can be done as an overnight or long day hike.
The Upper Muley Twist Canyon Road is located 1 mile west of the top of the Burr Trail Road switchbacks. Passenger cars can be driven a half-mile in to the Upper Muley Twist Canyon trailhead. Four-wheel drive vehicles, and often high clearance two-wheel drive vehicles, can drive 3 miles up the canyon to the Strike Valley Overlook parking area. Check at the visitor center for the latest road conditions before driving into the canyon with high clearance two-wheel drive vehicles. Highlights of the hike are narrow canyons, expanses of slickrock, large arches, and dramatic vistas from the top of the Waterpocket Fold. The canyon offers many opportunities for side trips and off-trail exploring. From the Upper Muley Twist Canyon trailhead, the total round trip distance is 15 miles and is best done as an overnight hike. From the Strike Valley Overlook parking area, the trip is 9 miles and can be done as a long day hike or as an overnight.