Ask Me: Where Should We Backpack in Capitol Reef National Park?
I am taking a trip in April to Capitol Reef National Park and I’m looking for a cool, three-day, two-night backpacking trip to explore some of that country. My wife and I are very experienced, accomplished backpackers and expert at navigation. Do you have any suggestions?
Capitol Reef is one of my favorites among the lesser-known parks: amazing backcountry, few people out there. I love the fact that you can show up at the backcountry desk and get a permit without needing a reservation. You can see and get some ideas by checking out all of my stories that are about, or mention, Capitol Reef.
The first suggestion that comes to mind is backpacking lower Spring Canyon, which I wrote about in this story (scroll down a bit in it). You can hike the nine miles from Chimney Rock Trailhead to UT 24 at the bottom of Spring Canyon in a day, but people often do it as an overnight hike because there’s nice camping in there (and year-round water once you’re several miles down canyon). It’s gorgeous. You can either whack through the willows and ford the Fremont River (if it’s not too high and fast, which it may be in spring) to the highway and catch a ride back to Chimney Rock Trailhead, or just hike out and back from Chimney Rock Trailhead, which is how we did it with our kids (it was late March and the river was high). It’s actually nice to hike in and double back because you’ll probably do it at different times of day, in very different light. Given the short distance, strong hikers could head in late afternoon and come out in the morning and do all their hiking in the cooler times of day. The side trip on the Chimney Rock Trail is well worth it, too.
You could backpack the full length of Spring Canyon, which I have not done, but it’s shown on maps as starting from Holt Draw (a short, 4WD road you could walk up) and looks like a reasonable, three-day trip to the bottom of Spring.
Given your level of experience, I’d strongly recommend the three-day, largely cross-country, very remote traverse that a friend and I did of the Waterpocket Fold formation, that I wrote about in this story (check out the photos). My friend Steve Howe, of Redrock Adventure Guides, mapped out that route and guides it; he calls it the Beehive Traverse. To be honest, it’s so convoluted and the terrain so vertiginous and severe that I don’t think even expert backcountry travelers would figure it out easily on their own; it’s not at all obvious when you’re on the ground out there. But if you hire Steve to guide you, I guarantee you’ll be blown away by it. And once you’ve done it, you could probably find your way on your own next time.
I’ve also done an overnight hike in Upper Muley Twist Canyon, which can be done as a long dayhike, but it was really nice to pitch a tent on the rim above the canyon, with a sweeping view of the surrounding desert canyonlands. Carry all your water.
Some trails that can be dayhiked also make for nice, short overnight trips, like the Frying Pan Trail, which puts you up on the Waterpocket Fold in terrain where you can explore off-trail almost endlessly (lead photo at top of story). Same with the Navajo Knobs Trail and the trails up Burro Wash and Cottonwood Wash, which are both along the Notom-Bullfrog Road (south of UT 24). In Capitol Gorge, Steve guided my family on a dayhike loop from The Tanks Trail to the Golden Throne Trail, with a lot of cross-country hiking in between and two rappels. Again, I think it would be very time-consuming and difficult to find that route without any info, but if you hike beyond the end of The Tanks Trail, you’ll enter some off-trail backcountry where you could explore and throw down a tent in a magnificent spot (carry all your water). I have not hiked Halls Creek Canyon yet, but I’ve heard its narrows is pretty nice.
Lastly, if you have time for any dayhikes, check out Cohab Canyon to Fruita Overlook, and the Goosenecks of Sulphur Creek from Chimney Rock Trailhead down to the visitor center.
Thanks so much for the info.
In Ask Me, I share and respond to a reader question. Got a question about hiking, backpacking, gear, or any topic or trip I write about at The Big Outside? Send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, message me at facebook.com/TheBigOutside, or tweet it to @MichaelALanza. I will answer the ones I can in a post, using only your first name and city, with your permission. I receive a high volume of questions, so I cannot always respond quickly.
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