There are many fantastic scenic routes in Southern Utah. But in our opinion, one of the best is the Burr Trail. We at the Lodge recently drove along this route again, and we thought we’d give you an in-depth look at what to expect on the Burr Trail.
Since we are located near Torrey, Utah, we chose to drive up Boulder Mountain and then down into Capitol Reef National Park, and then home. This would allow us to drive the best sections of the Burr Trail without ending up in Lake Powell. (Which, of course, you may want to do.) Here’s a map to illustrate:
The Boulder-Grand Staircase Section
The Burr Trail can be divided into two logical sections. The Boulder-Grand Staircase Section and the Capitol Reef Section. For us, the first section on our trip was driving up Boulder Mountain. Being a particularly warm October, the leaves were still pretty awesome.
After about an hour of brilliant scenery we arrived in the little town of Boulder, Utah. When you visit take the time to visit the Anasazi Village Museum and grab a bite to eat at Hell’s Backbone Grill. (It’s worth the cost.) Check them out here. The turnoff to the Burr Trail is clearly marked. This is where the fun really starts.
The first section will take you through the Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument, which is a sparsely vegetated mesa. The sandstone stretches impossible distances on either side of the road. But eventually the road drops into Long Canyon. This is one of the highlights of the drive for many people, and it’s our second-favorite descent.
The drive through the canyon takes about twenty minutes (depending on how often you stop to take pictures.) And afterward, you get to see this:
We drove for about another hour (with frequent stops) though a high-desert juniper forest. All the while the Henry Mountains drew closer and closer, indicating that we would soon enter Capitol Reef.
Capitol Reef National Park Section
Just before entering the park, there is a little turn off with some information on the history of the Burr Trail. We can all thank John Atlantic Burr, his cattle and his mines for the scenic route we enjoy today. The pavement abruptly ends as you enter Capitol Reef, so if you brought a high-clearance vehicle you will be grateful. But if not, you should still be fine. A cautionary warning: if there has been recent rain don’t drive the the unpaved parts of the Burr Trail. You will probably get stuck.
But since the weather was fine, we continued on. The rock formations quickly became more extreme.
There are several pull-outs and trailheads here. Both Upper and Lower Mulley Twist can be accessed from the Burr Trail, and if you’ve got the time, we recommend that you check one of them out. (We prefer Lower Mulley Twist.) Finally, we came to the best part of the entire trip – the Burr Trail switchbacks!
If some of your passengers are unsure of the ride down, or up, depending how you do things, consider walking. It’s quite enjoyable. And don’t worry, if you watch out for other vehicles (which are usually sparse) you will get down just fine. (Vehicles going up always have the right-of-way.)
At the base of the hill, you will see this sign:
As stated, we chose to drive back to the Capitol Reef Visitor Center. You may have other plans. Either way, you will be driving through the Waterpocket Fold – our favorite part of Capitol Reef. Take the time to stop and do some sight seeing. You won’t regret any time spent in this sparse, beautiful place.
We ended our trip with a picnic lunch near the Gifford House in Capitol Reef. And we suggest you do the same. The Gifford House sells all sorts of goodies (homemade pie, anyone?) and doubles as a museum of the early settlers of Capitol Reef.
The Burr Trail is definitely worth taking the time to check out. Plan on a solid day to make this round-trip journey. Longer if you want to do some serious hiking. The views are simply incredible.