Hiking and exploring in Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reff cliffs

A few showers on the cliffs

After a few days in Zion, we moved on to Torrey, UT in order to check out Capitol Reef. We have been in the area a few times—in fact, we made a brief stop here a year ago. I wanted to find some new areas to explore and specifically hike Sulphur Creek.

After our adventures in Zion, we were physically tired, and weren’t recovering by the next day—the price of getting older I guess. Perhaps this caused Karen to become more tentative. Whatever the cause, she did not want to do rock scrambling, so we did not try some of the more adventuresome hikes.


Goosenecks on Sulfur Creek

In particular, we did not try Sulphur Creek, even though I kept holding it out as a possibility every day. Sulphur Creek has year-round flow, and the stretch between Chimney Rock and the park visitor center can be hiked (mostly in the creek) with just three waterfall barriers to cope with. There are good on-line descriptions on how to get past these falls, and I even brought along a climbing sling and a short rope. That probably just increased Karen’s anxiety.

Cassidy Arch

Cassidy Arch

On the first day we hiked up to Cassidy Arch, starting at the trail head in Grand Wash. The trail follows shelfs up the side of Grand Wash before traversing slick rock to the top of the arch. It is possible to walk over the top of the arch, although I didn’t. It looks to be very difficult to get to the base of the arch since it more or less hangs on the edge of a cliff.

The tanks

Looking down on the “tanks”

The next day we hiked some offshoots from Capitol Gorge, first heading up a dry wash immediately opposite the trail head to The Tanks. This wash is immediately blocked by a 30 foot dryfall that can be easily bypassed by ascending the bank of the left. After a half-mile or so we encountered another small falls with a pool of water at the bottom. Traction on the slick rock was iffy—it felt like I could climb but I was slipping a bit. The problem was a fall would dump me into the pool and I just didn’t want to get me or my camera wet. We returned to the gorge and did the short hike up to the tanks—a series of pools in a small canyon. Some of the pools are deep and difficult to access.

Headquarters Canyon

Karen in Headquarters Canyon

On our final day we did a bit of driving by heading south on Notom-Bullfrog road. We could have driven all the way to the east end of Lake Powell, but we stopped just south of the Burr Trail intersection at the Surprise Canyon trailhead. We hiked into Surprise Canyon—a short hike into a narrow, but not really a slot canyon. We stopped at a rock slide that I’m sure we could have climbed over but it didn’t seem worth the effort.

We moved a couple of miles south to the Headquarters Canyon trailhead and hiked through it. This has some nice slot sections—just a little wider than shoulder width. I think Headquarters Canyon is a nicer hike than Surprise Canyon. Following our hike we drove back on the Burr Trail, making the drive a large loop. The Burr Trail climbs the east wall of the “waterpocket fold”, switchbacking back and forth several times. It was well-graded and wide enough to not be a problem for normal 2WD vehicles. We stopped at Boulder for coffee and then continued on north over Boulder Mountain, hitting the high point of our trip at 9,600 ft.

Photo gallery for Capitol Reef 2013

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