Slot Canyons and More
Do you know what we love about Capitol Reef National Park? It really does have it all. If you’re looking for grand sweeping overlooks, it’s got you covered. Perhaps you’re looking for canyon views? Capitol Reef has those too. Want towering monoliths? Check. Narrow slot canyons? You know it. In fact, slot canyons are what we want to talk about today.
Got to Head South
Unfortunately, not many people get to experience Capitol Reef’s slot canyons. This is partly because their more famous cousins in Zion National Park usually get all the attention. But it’s mostly due to the fact that they’re a little hard to get to. If you want to see the best narrow canyons in Capitol Reef, you have to head south to the Waterpocket Fold. But if you’re willing to visit this more remote section of the park, then here are the three places you should go to for a slot canyon adventure.
All of these narrow canyon hikes are located in the Waterpocket Fold. To access them, you’ll need to take the turnoff from Highway 24 to the Notom-Bullfrog Road.
Burro Wash is located about 8-miles south of the turnoff. There is a clearly marked trailhead, where you should park. Hike up the stream bed for about a mile and a half, until you get to the canyon. (There are several junctions in the wash, to get to the narrows take the left-hand junction every time.) Once in the canyon, you will have to scramble over several obstacles, and possibly wade through a few pools. At about three and a half miles, there is a particularly difficult chockstone that must be negotiated to get to the last section of narrows. And at about four-miles up the canyon you will find yourself underneath an impassable 30-foot dryfall. Most people head back at this point. But if you have the gear and skills, you can continue past this blockage by backtracking and climbing to the top of the Waterpocket Fold above the canyon. Roundtrip to the dryfall is about 8-miles.
This is probably the trickiest hike of the three, and maybe the hardest in the whole park. There is a large deep pool that is present for most of the year, and it’s located right in the middle of the canyon. So you might need to go for a long swim to see all of the narrows. But if that doesn’t bother you, then here’s what to expect at Cottonwood Wash:
Drive about nine miles from the Notom-Bullfrog Road turnoff. Park at the trailhead sign, under the Cottonwood trees. You’ll need to hike up the (usually) dry riverbed for a little more than a mile to reach the narrow section. As you continue up stream, you’ll get to a section of the riverbed that is exceptionally rocky. There is a little trail made by hikers that will take you out of the wash to bypass the rocks, so be on the look out for that. You will find the narrows soon after the rocks. There are several obstacles to climb around in the canyon, which makes this section pretty strenuous. And the daunting pool of water is just ahead. Many hikers turn around here, but if you want to swim through it, there is about another mile of canyon to be explored. Roundtrip to the pool is about four and a half miles. Roundtrip to the end of the canyon is about six miles.
This might be our favorite slot canyon hike in the park. It’s a little less strenuous, and you get to the slots sooner. Plus it has an arch. The trailhead is located about 12-miles from the Notom-Bullfrog Road turn-off. Hike up the hill and into the wash. You’ll have to hike a little more than a mile before you get to the canyon. When the gulch seems to split, follow the cairns and take the path to the right. The first section of slot will be found shortly there after. Sheets Gulch has three distinct narrow sections, interspersed with more open sections. The entire route is 9-miles roundtrip. Not everybody makes it to the end of the third slot canyon, but we recommend that you try to get through the second narrow section, so that you can see the impressive Sheets Gulch arch.
Don’t forget, when you’re exploring the wilder place in Capitol Reef (such as these slot canyons) it’s important to think about safety. The trails are only sparsely marked with cairns, the temperatures in the summer can be blistering, and flash floods can happen during our rainy season. So do some research, let people know where you are going, and take lots and lots of water. Also, it’s a good idea to stop by the Visitor Center to get a detailed map and chat with the Park Rangers about your plans.
Get to the Slot Canyons
We told you that Capitol Reef had it all – slot canyons included. Go out there and explore this often overlooked part of our favorite national park.