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Escape from the Crowds in Capitol Reef

Torrey, UT, United States
6 Kudos
Zion, Bryce Canyon & Moab seem to grab all the glory as far as National Parks in Utah goes (not without reason). But a good trip through Utah should include this, under-visited park.

If you've been to the bigger parks, you know how big those crowds (and the trails!) can get. There are far fewer visitors in Capitol Reef, and the crowd seems to be more active and outgoing.

After driving from Salt Lake airport, we spent a day and a half in Capitol Reef. Because it was late, we really just needed to set up camp, cook, and watch the sunset over the beautiful white navajo sandstone.

Which brings me to my favorite part of living in the western United States. Camping is free on all BLM land, as long as it is dispersed (1/2 mile from any road) and off the trail. We picked up a backcountry permit at the visitors center, drove just outside the park, turned right on Notom-Bulldog road and headed for the trails. We ended up camping on a lovely rock overlooking the Burro Wash trail.

The next day, we did a few side canyon visits (short, 1 mile or less trails), and then headed for our most anticipated hike: Sulphur Creek. Sulphur Creek starts across the street from the Chimney Rock Trailhead, ending 6 miles later at the visitors center. You'll walk across mostly field for a while, and then you hit the slot canyon.

We knew going into this that swimming/wading were required, so we wore our swim suits under our hiking clothes, packed our valuables in drybags, and sandals to switch into when we had to cross water.

The canyon was just gorgeous. I had to stop every once in a while at first, just to take in how amazing my surroundings were.

It didn't take long until we hit water, something slot canyons are known for. At first it was a small creek, and we hopped back and forth over it in our hiking boots. Eventually, we had to make the switch to sandals and wade our ankles through it.

I kept wondering when we were going to hit the water - and then we did. Took off our outer clothes, packed the dry bags, and slid down our first rock into a pool. We decided to mozy a while under the waterfall, our feet just touching the bottom.

We get back out, move on about 2 miles and start missing water. The canyon starts to narrow and we see others stripping their clothes: time to swim again! Only this time, wading wasn't possible. The water was deeper than we were, and about 60 feet across. Packed our dry bags, through our daypacks on and swam across.

After that swim, the canyon widens just a bit until there's a 15 foot waterfall and somewhat steep edge. It looked possible to scramble down, but without a rope I didn't want to risk it. Thankfully, I saw another hiker just jump off the edge, away from the waterfall. A nice jump in a cool pool topped off the hike quite nicely.

Story Details

Points of interest

Burro Wash
Backcountry permit required, but camping is free!
Capitol Reef National Park
Red rock & white navajo sandstone slot canyons.

Special activities

Capitol Reef National Park Visitor Center
The visitor center closes earlier than other national parks. Plan on being there by 5:30 to get a permit.

On The Map